The List: Best NBA Writers

I am an admitted hoops addict.

I love playing basketball, buying basketball accessories with no immediate need for it (hello shooting sleeves!), and analyzing the sport. From The Big Lead’s comments section to fiercely debating with friends, I’m in my element when discussing statistics, legacies, and match-up problems.

I’ve been reading basketball analysis on a daily basis since I was in elementary school. Over time, I’ve transitioned from reading Doug Smith’s Toronto Star newspaper columns at the age of 9, to biographical books, and eventually, the internet. In the last twelve years, I’ve read the works of many writers who discuss basketball for a living.

Based on that knowledge, I’ve compiled a list of the writers that I consider to be absolute must reads for basketball analysis . While some of these gentlemen are excellent at weaving on-court drama with narratives, others are distinguished in their ability to provide detailed on-court analysis. Each of them have their own strengths and distinctiveness. They are, in my opinion, the best in the business.

In no particular order:

Roland Lazenby – Laker Noise, Hoops Hype

Lazenby is likely not very well-known to people who only read the big four names in sports journalism on the net today (SI, ESPN, Fox, Yahoo). Essentially, being familiar with his writing either means that you’re a hardcore fanaddict (yes, I just made up a word) of the NBA, or, more likely, a hardcore Bulls/Lakers fan. Lazenby is best known for writing about these two franchises and its players, with the pinnacle of his work being (in my opinion) Blood on the Horns: The Long Strange Ride of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls (1998), which takes you behind the scenes into the last season of the infamous Bulls dynasty. You can currently find Lazenby’s work at Laker Noise or Hoops Hype. He also has a Twitter page he often updates.

Recommended reading: This will always remain one of my favorite articles on the web.

Bill Simmons – ESPN

The Sports Guy

There’s not really much left to say about Simmons that hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseam on the web. Chances are, if you’re a sports fanatic that cares enough to read about it on ESPN, you’re familiar with Simmons’ work. I started reading the Sports Guy around 2002 when I was just 13 years old, and have been reading him regularly ever since (though I was NOT prepared for his nasal voice when I clicked on my first podcast).

At this time, Simmons is probably one of the most popular sports writers in the world. Though the quality of his writing declined in the last year or so, he seems to have regained some of his vigor recently, as seen by his entries on Grantland (plus he gets to swear!).

I find him to be the perfect blend of pop culture and sports, and he seems to have (thankfully) decreased the amount of outdated TV and movie references in his columns. I think he’s done an excellent job connecting with his audience as he has progressed, especially his younger readers.

One thing that needs to stop however, are those morons typing “SIMMONS!” within the YouTube comments page after visiting links that Bill posts within his columns. The Sports Guy is an influential writer who has, over time, essentially transformed into the Tyler Durden of blog-based sports writing (seriously, find another sports writer on the web who has enough devotion from their followers to incite 50+ comments on a linked video simply proclaiming “SIMMONS IS GOD!“).

Simmons can obviously be read at ESPN and now Grantland.

Recommended reading: I won’t recommend a specific column because he’s had too many memorable ones over the years, but some of my favorite theme-based columns of his include the Vengeance Scale, as well the Reader Mailbag.


Charley Rosen – Fox Sports

Rosen can be found at Fox Sports, and readers seem to either really like or hate his writing style. To me, he is the Hubie Brown of basketball analysis. Rosen’s columns feature in-depth analysis that distinguishes itself from other writers due to his coaching prowess (he was an assistant coach to Phil Jackson’s CBA team in the early 80s), and it is evident in his writing. While most writers (specifically on ESPN) tend to pacify athletes and criticize them in a sugar-coated manner, Rosen (bless his heart) will detail the reasons why he dislikes a player on the court. His assessments are brutal to read if you are a fan of the player or team, but they are usually very objective and truthful. For example, while most writers were busy praising Shaq and fondly writing their memories of him in columns, Rosen also praised Shaq, but revolved his column around the premise that his fatness prevented him from being a greater legend. In his characteristically deadpan style, Rosen casually wrote that “even though the Lakers three-peated, Shaq continued to expand. At one point, he weighed so much that only a cattle scale could make an accurate measurement — approximately 375 pounds.

Rosen has a unique writing style that is very refreshing in comparison to other NBA writers due to his frankness and honestly. He is not trying to be soft in his criticism to get closer with the players and will criticize players on what he perceives to be weaknesses (e.g – “LeBron James must keep his mouth shut and dig deep inside his heart-of-hearts to find the wherewithal to shrug off the immense pressure and become a Jordanesque closer.”)

You can find his columns at Fox Sports.

Adrian Wojnarowski – Yahoo! Sports

A lot of people seem to dislike Adrian Wojnarowski (for the sake of my fingers, I’ll simply refer to him as Woj hereafter). It is very likely that those same people are also fans or supporters of Lebron James or the Miami Heat. As an admitted Lebron James “hater” (who cries himself to sleep nightly because I have to go back to my pathetic life after watching his continuous failures), I love Woj’s columns. To me, he expertly blends on-court drama with off-court narratives.

However, I will admit that his Lebron bashing is somewhat exaggerated at times. I dislike Lebron more than the average fan (I’ve been hating on him since it was cool to hate on him), but its gotten to the point that Woj’s shots at Lebron over the years are numerous enough to compile a list of them. I have not read any of his books (one of which was a best seller), but his penchant for pushing a specific narrative is, in my opinion, uncanny. For example, while he paints Kobe Bryant in heroic stances, Woj will often go the extra mile to discredit Lebron’s image through his writing. Again, as someone who does not care much for Lebron, I love it; however,  other fans might feel it displays a clear lack of objectivity.

One thing you’ll always notice about Woj’s columns are his inclusion of anonymous tidbits from NBA personnel, mostly used in columns about Lebron. For example, when discussing the Mavericks winning the 2011 championship, Woj cited an “Eastern Conference star” as saying that “right now all [Lebron] is doing is helping D-Wade get his second ring.”

How can any NBA fan not enjoy that?

Recommended reading: Woj covers a variety of NBA topics, but in my opinion, he is at his best when analyzing Lebron James. His clear disdain for the man is amusing at times, and ultimately leaves readers curious as to how badly Lebron must have wronged Woj for him to so demonstratively dislike him. Seriously, if you “hate” Lebron James, you should be reading every one of his columns and nodding along.

Woj can be found at Yahoo! Sports.

Matt McHale – Basketbawful, By The Horns

That’s bawful.

Basketbawful is probably the funniest basketball blog on the net, and as a result, McHale is the only blog writer I have featured on my list. I don’t read McHale’s work on By The Horns, but Basketbawful presents basketball analysis quite uniquely. The main premise of Basketbawful is to feature the lowlights of every aspect of an NBA game, from terrible post-game quotes, to terrible stats and on-court decisions. I mean, just look at the banner, which features a shirtless Peja Stojaković (as well as his hairy chest), Greg Ostertag, and a (presumably) fibre-depraved Yao Ming. The site also features a “Worst of the Night in Pictures” (a must-see), and McHale’s own “Word of the Day” section, which features basketball definitions such as a “Duncan face” (“a look of incredulous, googly-eyed mock surprise that is directed at a referee”), and a “Mario” (“occasions in which a player logs less than one minute of playing time and therefore fails to compile any meaningful statistics”).

You can also read Matt’s at By The Horns.

Recommended reading: In addition to making witty observations about the NBA, McHale also has blog entries on topics unrelated to NBA basketball. The Pick-Up Diaries, which feature Matt’s adventures and observations as a pick-up baller, as well as his summer series Livin’ Large (a must read: it even features a future NBA all-star) are some of the best writing I have encountered on a sports blog.

Honourable mentions: Chris Ballard (“The Art of a Beautiful Game” is a necessary book for every hoops addict out there) and Jack McCallum (ditto for “Seven Seconds or Less”).

Now that you’ve read my list, who do YOU think are the best NBA writers in the business?

Feel free to discuss in the comments section.


7 thoughts on “The List: Best NBA Writers

  1. There are a lot of great sportswriters on the web. The fellas over at The Starting Five are pretty knowledgeable with access (many interviews and features archived outside of game recaps) and insight unique to the league. There is D.K. Wilson late of Sports on My Mind who has an anthropology mind to go along with a unique sports perspective that is x and o’s nuanced. The writers at SLAM online are on the level as well. Point being, think outside the box. The writers in particular I named may touch on race more than others but their opinions are before the perspective hits the mainstream.

    IMO, you must hit the locker room sometime over the course of your career to get an objective opinion on the sports you cover…but again, that’s just me.

    • I read SLAM on a daily basis. Vincent Thomas is my favorite writer from there, but SLAM is less consistent on publishing analysis pieces (at least on the web – I don’t buy their magazine anymore) and more so “reports” stories, which I mentioned was not going to be the focus of my choices for writers. As for the other sites you mentioned, I’ve checked out TSF, and it seems like the type of writing style I like to read (being a minority myself, discussions on race don’t really bother me) so I’ll look be sure to visit it more in the future.

      As for the writers I mentioned, I made it a point not to include writers who are prevalently bloggers (minus Matt), even if they have access to interviews and such. The writers at TSF seem a lot like the writers at The Big Lead, which is hands down my favorite sports website on the net. However, despite the basketball coverage, I haven’t included Jason (the editor-in-chief for TBL) on my list because, again, his focus is on more on “reporting” basketball and less on analysis. The writers I listed off are very heavily based on analyzing an providing deep insight into the sport – some even have published books doing so. Again, I’m well aware that some of these writers may be debatable to others; its all just a matter of preference.

      As far as hitting the locker room – sure I’d love to do that, but I’m not a media member. This site is based on a fan’s perspective more than anything else and my writing reflects that.

      Thanks for visiting.

  2. Pingback: Antoine Walker plays NBA 2k12, eats Cheez-Its, KFC « Off The Backboard

  3. Pingback: Antoine Walker plays NBA 2k12, eats Cheez-Its, KFC « Off The Backboard

  4. Came across this randomly… as far as a writer goes, Lazenby is one of my favorite. Even after Grantland, Simmons has been violently declining… at this point, his writing style’s becoming completely repetitive to me.

    But I think you forgot a serious name: Sam Smith.

    The guy puts in 3,000 words which probably give you as much insider information as Simmons, but at the same time, don’t syringe the formula of the team… and the best thing is, he writes for the Bulls’ official site now!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s