Posted: Wednesday March 22, 2006 5:40PM; Updated: Monday March 27, 2006 1:39PM
SI: Do you ever worry that you're tapped out?
BS: Yeah, all the time. That's why I went to Jimmy's show. I felt like I had five good years in me and was thinking about what I'd do next. I didn't really appreciate what was happening. I definitely sold myself short. I definitely had a few good years left in me. I'm my own worst critic. Now, I really feel like I have a year or a good 18 to 20 months left in me. And I really have to start thinking about what's next.
It's more of a case of I've written so much that I wonder what's left to write about. You look at my subject archive. Baseball, done that. How to save the NBA All-Star Game. Playoff game manifesto. Done that. I've come up with basically every idea in my brain. I don't know what else to write about. That's why I've tried to stay more current.
SI: Well, maybe that's because you cover so much ground. Sometimes a 6,000-word column uses up enough ideas to fill three or four other columns, right?
BS: Yeah, that was a huge problem. Just to break in, and for ESPN to hire me when I wasn't the typical person they'd bring in and give a column, I really had to outwork a guy who's writing for a paper. I was doing three columns a week and doing daily lengths. When I got to ESPN, I really went into overdrive. I did too much, I got burned out. The main reason I went to Jimmy's show is that I got burned out. My eyes were glazing over.
SI: So it was sort of like you used your best stuff in the first round of the dunk contest?
BS: Yeah. I was worried about becoming Ben Coates. He was great because he'd never go down, but his career was over in six years because of the way he played. I was like Earl Campbell, Larry Bird. I was coming up with so much stuff that I was worried that I'd burn out. But at the same time, I had to, because nobody would have noticed me otherwise.
SI: What about writing for ESPN the Magazine, a shorter format?
BS: I don't like writing 800- word columns. To make it work for ESPN, I'd basically have to do what's [Rick] Reilly's doing [for SI], but it would have been an imitation. I finally convinced them after three years to give me 1,200 words, which is enough. One of the main reasons my style works is that I go on tangents, and you can't do that in 800 words.
SI: Who are some nonsportswriters you like?
BS:Tad Friend, Malcolm Gladwell. People who are so technically good. I don't read anybody on the Internet. One kind of journalism I used to love and now can't stand is the Gary Smith school of the nonfiction story that reads like a fiction story. I still respect it, but I think I'm burned out on it after 25 years of reading, you know, the really great intro, and then the kid who's got the one leg, but he wanted to be a long distance runner.
Now I read stuff for information and I just want to read something and learn from it and get away from it. I'm like a sponge. If I start reading somebody, I'll mimic their style unconsciously. I read Klosterman's book and for two days after that I was writing like him. I was like, Oh, no. What about the first-person voices?
I love Peter King's Monday column. Because there's just a lot going on and he'll throw in the random item about some guy in the airplane -- there's some comedy and there's a great football part.
I think it's harder to keep my attention these days. I don't like reading stuff where people are trying to be funny and they're not. That drives me nuts. I don't like Easterbrook's columns. He's the Tuesday-morning guy [on ESPN]. It seemed like his jokes were basically exclamation points.