How To Contact Sources for a Sports Article or Book

One of the most common questions I’m asked when I tell people I wrote a book about the 1990s Knicks is: “How did you contact all of those sources?” I’m a lawyer by trade. I don’t have a  journalism degree. I covered the Knicks for a couple of years for Bleacher Report but from a distance. I’ve never stepped foot in a locker room or cultivated sources and I don’t have any industry connections.                                                                

I knew I needed original content in order to make the book interesting. Given my lack of experience and connections, I thought it would be great if I could talk to 15-20 people who were associated with those Knicks teams. I ended up speaking with close to 100 sources, including players, coaches, executives, ball boys and journalists who covered the team.

I quickly learned the key to tracking down sources is persistence. I decided I wouldn’t stop chasing down an individual until I spoke to him or received an explicit refusal to talk from him or his representative. That determination often led me down numerous paths in pursuit of one player or coach.

In some cases, I began with a solid lead. For example, I knew former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy is an announcer for ESPN so I contacted ESPN’s public relations representative who provided me with Van Gundy’s phone number. Similarly, I reached former point guard and current Mavericks commentator Derek Harper through the Mavs’ public relations department. NBA teams or other organizations may also be willing to help you contact their former, as well as current, employees.

More often than not, I needed to do some digging. My first step was typically to google my target. A person’s Wikipedia page may include useful biographical information, such as the college they attended, where they live, the name of their business, current employer or a charitable organization they’re involved with. A google search may also reveal articles written about the potential source or his or her website. Within 10 minutes, I googled Patrick Ewing’s high school coach, Mike Jarvis, filled out a contact form on his website, received an email from Jarvis and connected with him over the phone. 

Social media is another way to contact potential sources. I reached out to former players, coaches and executives via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. LinkedIn was the most fruitful, connecting me with former Knick Rick Brunson, one-time Madison Square Garden president, Bob Gutkowski, and movie producer Stanley Jaffe, to name a few. Even if you’re unable to connect with a source through social media, his or her Facebook page, Twitter account or LinkedIn profile may provide helpful clues.

Another way to obtain contact information is through search websites such as Whitepages.com, Spokeo or Been Verified. These type of sites typically provide various subscription options and many offer cheap trial periods. This approach leads to a lot of dead ends so you must be patient. It can be difficult to identify the right person, especially with a common name like former Knick forward Larry Johnson. Once you do, you’ll often find numerous numbers and emails listed, many of which you will discover are no longer in service, belong to family members or are simply incorrect. Additionally, people are less likely to talk when their personal information is made available by others as opposed to on their website or social media accounts. When I called Scottie Pippen at a number I received from one such site, the Hall of Famer was not happy to learn that his phone number was publicly listed.

One more potential means of connection is through a person’s college. Athletic departments often maintain contact with alumni, especially those who go on to coach or play professionally. I connected with five-time All-Star Tim Hardaway through the University of Texas at El Paso athletic department. Colleges may also be able to put you in touch a subject’s former teammates or coaches, who can be valuable sources themselves. Paul Evans, who coached Charles Smith and David Robinson in college, Leonard Hamilton, John Starks’ coach at Oklahoma State, Wimp Sanderson, who recruited Latrell Sprewell to the University of Alabama, and Dave Robbins, the former coach at Charles Oakley’s alma mater, Virginia Union, all provided insight into their former players.

My conversation with Coach Robbins was particularly productive because after checking with Oakley he provided me with the Knick legend’s phone number. It was the culmination of a years long, multi-pronged approach to landing one of the most important subjects of my book. I had attempted to contact Oakley through; a prolonged email exchange with his publicist, the Virginia Union athletic department, the Big 3 basketball league, a contact form on his website, various social media sites, his former agent, his booking agent, the attorney who represented him when he was arrested at Madison Square Garden, former teammates, teams he played for and others. Ultimately, Virginia Union’s current coach provided me with contact information for Coach Robbins, who delivered me Oakley’s number.

The Oakley connection is an example of an ideal way to contact a potential source: through another source. Chris Childs was likely more inclined to talk to me because I told him I’d received his number from his old teammate, John Starks. Understandably, sources are often reluctant to share their friends’ contact information, especially when that friend is famous, but it never hurts to ask. You may want to phrase your request as, “Can you please ask “so and so” if he would be willing to talk to me?” That way you provide the source with an opportunity to assist you without violating his friend’s privacy.

If all of the above approaches fail, be creative. Think of anybody who may be associated with the man or woman you’re attempting to contact. I reached former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy through his agent and obtained the email address of former Knicks president Dave Checketts from a journalist who covered the team. Tim Frank, the NBA’s Sr. VP of Basketball Communications, put me in touch with long-time NBA executive Rod Thorn, and I tracked down All-Star turned minister Terry Cummings through his church.  

Of course, once you obtain a source’s contact information, you must convince him or her to talk to you, but that’s a topic for another article. Be creative. Be persistent. And always make the extra call. If I can contact this many sources, so can you.  

Podcast…Trust the Grind: How World-Class Athletes Got to the Top by Jeremy Bhandari

https://newbooksnetwork.com/jeremy-bhandari-trust-the-grind-how-world-class-athletes-got-to-the-top-mango-publishing-2020/

Trust the Grind

Sixteen athletes from eleven sports arenas. Each chapter tells a different story, as each superstar shares the habit that helped them accomplish their goals and reach the pinnacle of their profession.

Sports fanatic or not. Guaranteed to tap into your athletic edge, Trust the Grind, is made for sports fans and nonfans alike. Fans of professional athletes get an in-depth look at their heroes’ climb to the top; those less passionate about sports have the chance to read the secrets of success from some of the most talented people in the world. Both learn pivotal life lessons, and can immediately instill these particular traits and habits into their own lifestyle.

A ‘success habit’ point of view. Learn the secrets behind success, and what it takes to remain on top. With Trust The Grind, you will learn about the value that comes with becoming disciplined, staying driven, setting goals, identifying your “why”, staying active and eating right, making sacrifices, obsessing over your passion, and more. 

Podcast…The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks by Ben Cohen

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For decades, statisticians, social scientists, psychologists, and economists (among them Nobel Prize winners) have spent massive amounts of precious time thinking about whether streaks actually exist.

After all, a substantial number of decisions that we make in our everyday lives are quietly rooted in this one question: If something happened before, will it happen again? Is there such a thing as being in the zone? Can someone have a “hot hand”? Or is it simply a case of seeing patterns in randomness? Or, if streaks are possible, where can they be found?

In The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks (Custom House, 2020), Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Cohen offers an unfailingly entertaining and provocative investigation into these questions.

He begins with how a $35,000 fine and a wild night in New York revived a debate about the existence of streaks that was several generations in the making. We learn how the ability to recognize and then bet against streaks turned a business school dropout named David Booth into a billionaire, and how the subconscious nature of streak-related bias can make the difference between life and death for asylum seekers. We see how previously unrecognized streaks hidden amidst archival data helped solve one of the most haunting mysteries of the twentieth century, the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg.

Cohen also exposes how streak-related incentives can be manipulated, from the five-syllable word that helped break arcade profit records to an arc of black paint that allowed Stephen Curry to transform from future junior high coach into the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history.

Crucially, Cohen also explores why false recognition of nonexistent streaks can have cataclysmic results, particularly if you are a sugar beet farmer or the sort of gambler who likes to switch to black on the ninth spin of the roulette wheel.

Podcast… Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports

Yaron Weitzman, Grand Central Publishing

When a group of private equity bigwigs purchased the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011, the team was both bad and boring. Attendance was down. So were ratings. The Sixers had an aging coach, an antiquated front office, and a group of players that could best be described as mediocre.

Enter Sam Hinkie — a man with a plan straight out of the PE playbook, one that violated professional sports’ Golden Rule: You play to win the game. In Hinkie’s view, the best way to reach first was to embrace becoming the worst — to sacrifice wins in the present in order to capture championships in the future. And to those dubious, Hinkie had a response: Trust The Process, and the results will follow.

The plan, dubbed “The Process,” seems to have worked. More than six years after handing Hinkie the keys, the Sixers have transformed into one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. They’ve emerged as a championship contender with a roster full of stars, none bigger than Joel Embiid, a captivating seven-footer known for both brutalizing opponents on the court and taunting them off of it.

Beneath the surface, though, lies a different story, one of infighting, dueling egos, and competing agendas. Hinkie, pushed out less than three years into his reign by a demoralized owner, a jealous CEO, and an embarrassed NBA, was the first casualty of The Process. He’d be far from the last.

Drawing from interviews with nearly 175 people, Yaron Weitzman‘s Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports (Grand Central Publishing, 2020) brings to life the palace intrigue incited by Hinkie’s proposal, taking readers into the boardroom where the Sixers laid out their plans, and onto the courts where those plans met reality. Full of uplifting, rags-to-riches stories, backroom dealings, mysterious injuries, and burner Twitter accounts, Tanking to the Top is the definitive, inside story of the Sixers’ Process and a fun and lively behind-the-scenes look at one of America’s most transgressive teams.

Podcast…John Beilein at Michigan: A Basketball Revival

Tim Rooney

McFarland Publishers

https://megaphone.link/LIT2037792261

John Beilein at Michigan: A Basketball Revival: Tim Rooney ...

When John Beilein arrived at University of Michigan in 2007, the once-proud men’s basketball program was adrift after the fallout from a scandal and failing to reach the NCAA Tournament for nine straight seasons. Beilein slowly re-built the program on the foundation of a strong culture, which emphasized teamwork, integrity and discipline.

During his twelve years in Ann Arbor, Beilein became the program’s all-time winningest coach, reached two national championship games, won four Big Ten championships and produced eight NBA first-round draft picks. He left Michigan for the NBA in 2019 as the greatest coach in school history.

In an age of ethical lapses throughout college basketball, Beilein succeeded without a hint of impropriety. As much a teacher as a coach, he consistently identified undervalued recruits, taught them his innovative offensive system and carefully developed them into better players–an approach to the game that drove his unprecedented rise from high school junior varsity coach to head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  In his new book John Beilein at Michigan: A Basketball Revival (McFarland, 2020), Tim Rooney examines his tenure at Michigan in detail for the first time.

Podcast… Red Holzman: The Life and Legacy of a Hall of Fame Basketball Coach

Mort Zachter

Sports Publishing

https://megaphone.link/LIT6327274874

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Many books have been written about Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusscherre and the other great players on the New York Knicks championship teams of the 1970s, though much less attention has been focus on the orchestrator of those teams: Red Holzman. Holzman was a fantastic player and scout before compiling 613 wins (a number which hangs in the rafters at Madison Square Garden) over 14 seasons as the coach of the Knicks. Holzman was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame and was named one of the top 10 coaches in NBA History.

But not much is known about the soft-spoken and private Holzman, as he was the type of person to downplay his own accomplishments. Former MSG president Dave Checketts once said, “Red was the finest human being I’ve ever known.”

In Red Holzman: The Life and Legacy of a Hall of Fame Basketball Coach (Sports Publishing, 2019), author Mort Zachter has taken on the challenge of sharing this coach’s incredible story. From humble beginnings as the son of immigrant parents growing up in Brooklyn, Holzman paved a path of excellence at every level. From his time in the Navy to breaking into the NBA and his rise through the coaching channels, author Zachter leaves no stone unturned.

With interviews with those who played with, against, and for Red, including Bill Bradley, Phil Jackson, Bob Cousy, and Walt “Clyde” Frazier to name a few, the life of a basketball pioneer—one that has since been held quiet—is shared for the first time.

Podcast…The City Game: Triumph Scandal and a Legendary Basketball Team

Matthew Goodman

Ballantine Books

https://megaphone.link/LIT4207237893

The 1949-50 CCNY Beavers basketball team were one of the unlikeliest of champions in sports history. CCNY was a tuition-free in Harlem, New York, intended to give working class students the best education possible. The school was comprised of minorities, many of whom were the immigrants or children of immigrants. In 1949-50, the CCNY squad, led by legendary coach Nat Holman, shocked the basketball world by becoming the first and only school to win the N.I.T. and N.C.A.A. tournaments in the same scene. At a time when college basketball was much more popular in New York than the fledgling NBA, the CCNY boys became the talk of the town and heroes to millions.
The following season, several members of the CCNY team, including the entire starting five, were arrested as part of a massive point shaving scandal that had engulfed the entire collegiate basketball scene in New York City. Overnight, the CCNY boys went from heroes to villains. Their dreams of playing in the NBA were dashed and gambling scandal became a stigma which attached to them for the rest of their lives. The scandal was so persuasive that many members of the New York Police Department were caught up in it, leading to the resignation of the chief of police and the mayor.
Matthew Goodman‘s The City Game: Triumph, Scandal, and a Legendary Basketball Team (Ballantine Books, 2019) is not just a book about basketball. It is a journey through life in New York City in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a window into how big cities ran in the mid-20th century, an inside look at the world of sports gambling, a story of corruption, and ultimately, a tale of working class people and the decisions they are faced with. Through the use of meticulous research, Goodman delves into the complex characters of the basketball players involved and how the scandal affected their lives moving forward. The reader is left to ponder one crucial question: Would I have taken the money had I been in their position?

Earl Campbell: Yards After Contact

Earl Campbell was a force in American football, winning a state championship in high school, rushing his way to a Heisman trophy for the University of Texas, and earning MVP as he took the Houston Oilers to the brink of the Super Bowl. Asher Price‘s exhilarating blend of biography and history, Earl Campbell: Yards After Contact (University of Texas Press, 2019) chronicles the challenges and sacrifices one supremely gifted athlete faced in his journey to the Hall of Fame. The story begins in Tyler, Texas, and features his indomitable mother, a crusading judge, and a newly integrated high school, then moves to Austin, home of the University of Texas (infamously, the last all-white national champion in college football), where legendary coach Darrell Royal stakes his legacy on recruiting Campbell. Later, in booming, Luv-Ya-Blue Houston, Campbell reaches his peak with beloved coach Bum Phillips, who celebrates his star runner’s bruising style even as it takes its toll on Campbell’s body.

Drawing on new interviews and research, Asher Price reveals how a naturally reticent kid from the country who never sought the spotlight struggled with complex issues of race and health. In an age when concussion revelations and player protest against racial injustice rock the NFL, Campbell’s life is a timely story of hard-earned success—and heart-wrenching sacrifice.

Three Seconds in Munich: The Controversial 1972 Olympic Basketball Final

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https://newbooksnetwork.com/david-a-f-sweet-three-seconds-in-munich-the-controversial-1972-olympic-basketball-final-u-nebraska-press-2019/

One. Two. Three.

That’s as long as it took to sear the souls of a dozen young American men, thanks to the craziest, most controversial finish in the history of the Olympics—the 1972 gold-medal basketball contest between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the world’s two superpowers at the time.

The U.S. team, whose unbeaten Olympic streak dated back to when Adolf Hitler reigned over the Berlin Games, believed it had won the gold medal that September in Munich—not once, but twice. But it was the third time the final seconds were played that counted.

What happened? The head of international basketball—flouting rules he himself had created—trotted onto the court and demanded twice that time be put back on the clock. A referee allowed an illegal substitution and an illegal free-throw shooter for the Soviets while calling a slew of late fouls on the U.S. players. The American players became the only Olympic athletes in the history of the games to refuse their medals.

Of course, the 1972 Olympics are remembered primarily for a far graver matter, when eleven Israeli team members were killed by Palestinian terrorists, stunning the world and temporarily stopping the games. One American player, Tommy Burleson, had a gun to his head as the hostages were marched past him before their deaths.

In his new book Three Seconds in Munich: The Controversial 1972 Olympic Basketball Final (University of Nebraska Press, 2019), David A. F. Sweet relates the horror of terrorism, the pain of losing the most controversial championship game in sports history to a hated rival, and the consequences of the players’ decision to shun their Olympic medals to this day.

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