In 1984, Sports Illustrated senior writer Jackie MacMullan, then a cub reporter for The Boston Globe, traveled to Chapel Hill to write a story on the North Carolina basketball team. As MacMullan waited outside the office of Tar Heels coach Dean Smith, she encountered SI special contributor John Feinstein, then a college hoops writer for The Washington Post. MacMullan recalls being somewhat in awe of Feinstein, who had a reputation as a hard-nosed reporter, unafraid of even the most volatile coach. "He was a legend among the beat reporters because he was tough, aggressive and it seemed like he was always in the thick of things," MacMullan says.
The 5'11" MacMullan, however, got Feinstein's attention moments later during their interview with Smith when she asked an insightful and rather technical question about North Carolina center Brad Daugherty's much-improved drop step. " Coach Smith just looked at her." Feinstein remembers, ""and asked her on the spot to send her firstborn son to North Carolina."
Though Smith is still awaiting that male delivery (MacMullan and her husband, Michael Boyle, have a three-year-old girl, Alyson), the career paths of MacMullan and Feinstein have been crossing ever since. Even after MacMullan left the college basketball beat in 1988 to cover the NBA, she would occasionally run into Feinstein in airports, hotel lobbies or on the set of ESPN's The Sports Reporters, a roundtable show during which sportswriters discuss the week's big stories and issues. Feinstein, who had further distinguished himself by writing the best-selling book A Season on the Brink, chronicling the 1985-86 season of Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers, would invariably joke with MacMullan about that memorable first meeting.
These days MacMullan and Feinstein have even more in common, both having joined SI at the beginning of the year to enhance our basketball coverage. MacMullan, 35, writes our INSIDE THE NBA column, using her considerable knowledge and a roster of sources gained from eight years on the beat at The Globe. MacMullan also knows a little bit about the game from the standpoint of a participant. She played four years of Division I basketball at the University of New Hampshire, leading the team in scoring her sophomore season.
For Feinstein, 40, this will be a second go-round with SI, having worked here in 1988-89 as a special contributor before leaving to join The National Sports Daily. Since that newspaper folded in 1991, Feinstein has kept busy writing books and freelance stories on golf and tennis for several magazines, making regular appearances on National Public Radio and ESPN, and doing chores around the Bethesda, Md., house he shares with his wife, Mary, and their two-year-old son, Danny. The author of eight books, including a recent best-seller about the pro golf tour titled A Good Walk Spoiled, Feinstein writes our INSIDE COLLEGE BASKETBALL column, which takes him again to places like Chapel Hill.
And if he should run into Coach Smith this season, he can offer this bit of promising news: MacMullan is expecting her second child this summer.