In the spring of 1983 staff writer Tim Crothers, then a sophomore at North Carolina, strode smartly into the offices of The Daily Tar Heel, clutching his first story, an unsolicited editorial on student basketball-ticket distribution, as if he were from the East and it were myrrh. He presented the piece to sports editor Scott Price. "I don't remember much about that article," says Price, now better known to our readers as senior writer S.L. Price, "except for a dull thud when I tossed it in the trash. The sound it made reminded me of Tim's lead."
Shortly thereafter Crothers decided to follow the example of his literary hero, Ernest Hemingway, and became an expatriate American living in Paris. Well, O.K., he was spending his junior year abroad studying in France, but he prefers to say, "I was waiting until Generalissimo Price was deposed in a coup."
These days Crothers, 31, finds his writing efforts are being much more warmly received, as evidenced by the wide range of subjects he has covered for SI this year: the NBA playoffs, the Cleveland Indians, the Pittsburgh Steelers and this week's story on Golden State Warrior rookie Joe Smith, which begins on page 62. Yet six years passed between the time we hired Crothers, a native of New Canaan, Conn., as a reporter in 1988 and his promotion to our writing staff last November. "Tim has an extraordinary sense of humor, and he has finally become quite deft at transferring it onto the page—the hardest thing to do," says executive editor Peter Carry. "His story is a great example of one guy's dogged pursuit of a career."
A dogged quest, yes, but one not mired in drudgery. With his mellow mien and swift wit, Crothers regularly enchants his subjects as much as they do him. Washington Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke, with whom Crothers became phone pals while fact-checking a story, maintained a correspondence with him for a brief time ("I was this close to becoming the Redskin general manager," Crothers says); in April golfer Tiger Woods sneaked Crothers into the Crow's Nest, the players-only residence at Augusta National, to watch the final round of the Masters; and Washington General owner and coach Red Klotz, whom Crothers profiled for us earlier this year, has extended him a standing invitation to join his hapless team. "I've dealt with hundreds of sportswriters, but Tim got more out of me than anybody else," says Klotz, who's well aware that adding a player of Crothers's caliber will in no way endanger the Generals' status as foils for the Harlem Globetrotters.
One of the better-read members of our staff (not to mention better-Red, with stories on Klotz, sportswriting patriarch Red Smith and the red-hot Indians to his credit), Crothers's ideal afternoon is spent absorbing his beloved Hemingway novels or The New Yorker in Central Park, which, he says, "compared to my apartment, is a clean and well-lighted place." His wardrobe seems to be an encomium to the materialistically unencumbered world of Papa's heroes. Crothers is the patron saint of Dress Down Day, and he is undoubtedly the only guy at SI who owns more Nirvana albums (three) than ties (two). "Actually, it's just one tie," says Crothers. "But it's reversible."
Likewise the fortunes of his sportswriting career.