Thanks for joining me. I wanted you, our most dedicated readers over the years, to be able to see this first. Not because what I have to share is anything of eternal significance designed to enrich your world, but because you’ve invested in this space, are an integral part of the community, and you’ll understand better than most what I have to share.
It’s time for me to let go of WTLC.
It’s a decision I don’t take lightly and have been, to be totally honest, mulling over for nearly 18 months. And of course those who might be cynical could say, “So you bail when the team isn’t a perennial contender, eh?” amid two seasons where the collective wheels seem to have fallen off of our Thunder team. To which I would say, well, you might have a point. It can be challenging to cover a team that is good but never quite good enough, because the chance of disappointment runs high. And I can observe colleagues of mine, such as Aykis at Sactown Royalty and Tom Lorenzo at Nets Daily, whose disappointments must run far deeper, yet they keep plugging along, fighting the good fight.
Why is now the right time? I think because over these past 18 months, I’ve wrestled with the question of what the site has given to me, and what I can give back to it. WTLC has opened numerous doors for me personally, including my current platform at a media publication where I work now, in addition to press access, the chance to attend an NBA Draft, the opportunity to talk to Adam Silver, a meeting of the minds with Shaq and Charles Barkley, and most importantly, congregate with dozens of talented writers over the years and hundreds of commenters who have all made WTLC flourish. In other words, the site and the experience has more than paid in full whatever I feel like I’ve invested into it. It has been a high water mark for me over the past decade, and I overflow with gratitude because of it.
Which leaves the question of what I can keep putting into it.
About five years ago, I made a decision about the site. I stopped caring about website metrics such as pageviews, retweets, Facebook likes, and whatnot. I decided that more than anything else, this site would be my personal sandbox, a dynamic experiment where I stopped caring about outcomes and solely focused on the kinds of skills, experiences, and opportunities we could all develop together simply by mixing things up, pushing each other, and striving to be excellent at what we do. To create.
One of the main reasons I’ve continued to pound the rock (sorry, PtRs) for the past 3 years since the great departure of 2016 is because of the people I get to work with every day. I generally divide them into two camps — those who enjoy being a part of the site because they love talking and writing about the NBA, and those who have a goal of building a career through sports media, and are looking for a leg up. I’ve loved working with both these groups immensely, because both are essential to what WTLC is — a confluence of passionate fandom mixed with a high level of professionalism, with a dash of audio-visual creativity and humor you won’t find anywhere else. In the process, I’ve been blessed with personalities that radiate from the screen and over the airwaves, and young professionals who have used WTLC as a training ground to reach their professional goals in media, broadcast, college, and even law school. I’ve been able to train, coach, position, and promote talent worldwide, not because I hold any particular position of significant influence, but because I can recognize talent and I’ve learned how to lift up people so their talent can shine.
As I write this, I cannot help but reminisce over my time covering the NBA. If you’ll take a quick walk with me, let’s go back nearly 10 years. No, make it 20. Because even though I started with WTLC in 2010, my experience writing about sports actually predates what we now know as “blogging.”
Back in the year 2000, there were no pre-made blogging platforms; we had to build the sites ourselves in old internet architecture. As it so happens, the very cool wayback machine even has some of those old pages archived. I partnered with my college buddies to create Sportsrant.net, which coincidentally debuted the same time as ESPN’s Page 2 (featuring a young and audacious Bill Simmons). My motley crew included such luminaries as Jeff Clark, who is the longtime manager of Celtics Blog (originally launched as Celtics Rant), and Brian Bassett, who launched TheJetsBlog, building it as an SNY brand for over a decade. My handle was the name “Dogburt,” the remnants of which you can still see in my avatar today. I even preserved one of my oldest pieces, because I think it still has merit, and even features players who are still active.
Jumping ahead circa 2004, I found myself sitting in a bar with Jeff, Brian, and a former AOL executive named Jim Bankoff. Jim was starting a new company that would feature sports blogging (what is “blogging?”), and he was interested in acquiring Brian’s Jets site, Jeff’s Celtics site, and I just happened to be at the table for the drinks. Jeff joined Bankoff’s startup, called “SB Nation,” Brian eventually joined with a NYC network, and I started law school.
Fast forward again six years, and I’m more than a little bored with legal work. I ask Jeff, who is my personal role model and wise about these things, “should I take the plunge and try sports blogging?” He encourages me to give it a try, but to start out on my own so it’s low stakes, just to see if I like it.
But what team? I’d been a fan of the NBA since 1986, but the mid-aughts had represented a bit of desolation for me in the post MJ era. All I knew was I have and always will hate the Lakers. But clinging to that emotion, I recalled a young team, recently relocated from Seattle, had given them all they could handle in the most recent playoffs. After researching that a local newspaper (The Oklahoman) and a blogger who went to OU (Royce Young) were providing the only media coverage, I figured if I wanted to leave a mark, that was the kind of team to do it. And I launched the OKC ThunderDome, because I’m terrible at naming things, and began my quest to earn a spot in NBA media coverage.
A few months into my foray, the only promise to myself was to improve my craft by writing content daily. I wrote lots of link posts, referenced Royce Young and Bill Simmons liberally, and even wrote the random thing that, in retrospect, is amazing how incredibly right and wrong it was at the time. it wasn’t long before my good man Jeff Clark came calling, saying there was an opportunity at Welcome to Loud City, a site that covered the very team I randomly selected. I left a departing post to my literally dozens of readers at the ThunderDome and hopped on board WTLC.
As I entered the big leagues of sports blogging at WTLC, I wrote an inaugural post you’ll laugh at. And so it began. Partnered with Marina Mangiaracina (née Zeb Benbrook), we went about crafting a Thunder experience that in my opinion became unlike anything else in the sports landscape. A combination of game-by-game analysis, a variety of voices to provide color and insight, topped off with an unparalleled artistry made WTLC, if not the most popular spot for Thunder fans, at least the one where our community felt like something special and different. Over the course of nearly 10 years, we logged probably close to 900 games, thousands of posts, countless comments, broke news stories, witnessed joy and heartbreak, and saw dozens of talented people both behind the scenes and on the site itself craft a Thunder narrative any managing editor would be proud of.
Along with hundreds of previews and recaps, I wrote about the power of myth, the housing market collapse (what?), and the deal of a lifetime. I covered a lockout, David Stern’s view on everything, and a defamation lawsuit that ended up getting cited in law review articles. I explained who The Servant is, I wrote a short eulogy for Monty Williams’ wife, Ingrid, and through both I shared my own faith with you. I wrote about an MVP who left, and an MVP who stayed. Through it all, my writing team and I sought to give you, the readers, not just the written word, but a piece of ourselves. You probably know me better than I know myself in some ways.
And I do hope that is a message received — that it wasn’t just about writing about the Thunder, but in a very personal way, offering something of myself for you to consider, challenge, laugh at, maybe cry about, but above all, experience.
I also proffered a purpose and a method to bring about a desired behavior for people who visit our wonderful site. While I’ve learned that I can’t regulate whether people will care about each other, and I can’t force people to be nice, I let you know — often — that respect toward others would always be the baseline. Because of it, I believe we were able to have a liberty to express ourselves, in respect and more often than not kindness, that is far too rare on the web these days.
You’re probably wondering at this point, but what about the Thunder? In 10 years of coverage, what do I think about the team? I think the Thunder, like much in life, is about life. It is the grab bag, the gumbo, the stone soup of everything that makes us who we are. The team is both joyful, frustrating, hopeful, disappointing, exciting, discouraging, and a linking of people on all sides of the globe. Perhaps embodied in Russell Westbrook more than anything else, it is what happens when you decide to stay the course and see things through to the end, despite what the likely outcome might be. What is my favorite highlight? All of them. What is my least favorite lowlight? I don’t know; I’ve already forgotten them. Well, most of them.
What happens next? That’s the exciting part. Even though my time is about up, my plan is to finish out covering the season as we recruit for our next site manager, who will form and shape the site into a new vision, something greater and more impactful than I have. The community will survive and flourish long past when I’ve stepped away (though I will still be lurking publicly and privately).
Lastly, for your ultimate non-shock, I can finally reveal to you that “J.A. Sherman” isn’t actually my real name. Well, it is in a sense, but it’s an amalgam. Sherman is my middle name; my first name is Andy, and the “J” represents the first letter of my wife’s name, because she gave me the go-ahead and space I needed to cover a sport for a long, long time. I have in fact been an NBA fan since 1986, that is true, and it gives me a sense of history as well as means I’ve consumed some 2,500-odd games in my lifetime. I’ve been married nearly 18 years, I have three lovely and passionate children, and I’ve also spent the majority of my life in a wheelchair due to an accident that caused paraplegia. All of these things and more, both joys and sorrows, from beginning to end, have shaped who I am, how I write, and how I think about you. How much I think about all of you.
To circle back to my question then — what can I give the site? I gave you myself. It’s all I am and all I ever will be, and I hope it meant something to you in the way it meant something to me. And now it’s time for someone else to take up the reins and have that privilege, because if I held on longer, knowing that I was keeping someone else back who could be learning some of the things I’ve learned over the years...well, I wouldn’t be a very good manager if I was that self-centered.
Thank you to Jeff Clark, my friend and role model, to Marina my blogging partner, to Seth Pollack my boss, and for all my writers who have given something of themselves to make something that matters. For nearly a quarter of my life, WTLC has been my life. And now it’s time for it to be someone else’s, to everyone’s benefit and enjoyment.
Loud City, you are my friends, and a friend loves at all times. If you ever need help with anything, you know how to find me.
Now I bid thee farewell, my friends. Peace.
p.s. Be kind