Heaven is a newspaper: My love of Chicago sportswriting

Heaven is a newspaper: My love of Chicago sportswriting
SLAM issue #69 contained Jackson's piece The Price of Fame. A story that completely changed what I felt sportswriting could be.

“It’s just a game.”

Sports fans have all heard this at some point and time in their life. That phrase is probably as nerve-wrecking to them as watching their favorite team have every single chance imaginable to close a game out, but ultimately fail, losing in frustrating manner.

The people who use the saying – often times used to console someone after a tough loss or poor showing in an attempt to put sports in perspective – don’t know the significance and value that these “games” carry and the meaning they hold in the lives of these fans.

Throughout my youth, only the Chicago Bulls could bring my family together and keep each of the usually talkative and loud relatives in awe-inspired silence as we watched basketball perfection on a nightly basis throughout the ‘90s.

After the team's final title in 1998, MJ, Scottie, Rodman and Phil departed, and it was time to start a new chapter, for the team and for myself, as I set out to better immerse myself in the knowledge of those in the know.

My love of sportswriting came during my high school years. To keep myself awake while traveling almost two hours to and from Steinmetz Academic Centre, I begin reading the local newspapers, particularly the Sun-Times.

I immediately gravitated towards Lacy Banks for his coverage of the Bulls. The history and knowledge he wrote with were regularly overlooked by critics because of his unique angles, which were a step away from typical sports writing.

Banks' stories and coverage were methodical. I got the sense that he actually cared about the experience of covering the Bulls and the people in and around the organization. It broke away from the standard model for covering games and dispensing news and opinion that I had read at that point in my life.

I started to pay closer attention to the writing of Rick Telander in the Sun-Times after my freshman English teacher gave me Heaven Is A Playground. To read a book at the age of 15 that made me want to find a playground to call my own so I could create my own stories and memories was powerful, given how short my attention span was with required and assigned reading.

I also began reading the writing of K.C. Johnson in the Tribune. He was the guy to turn to long before twitter if you wanted to be kept updated about any potential trades, news and information regarding the Bulls.

Scoop Jackson is the very reason that I felt I could make it to the NBA…. as a writer. His style, his words, and the wordplay was something that completely changed what I felt sports writing was or could be. I felt I could be myself and not necessarily who I had to be if I wanted to lend my voice to the game I love.

These four writers laid the foundation for what it is I want to do and what I hope to become in this field.

To think where I would be right now if any one of them had never entered my life at the point they did scares me because I can’t begin to fathom one particular direction I would be headed in career-wise.

I now walk a path similar to those four men.

My perspective of what they do and how they do it has changed tremendously since I received my very first NBA press credential back in the summer of 2009 to cover the NBA’s Pre-draft Media Session.

The preparation of knowing who you’re talking to, knowing their background and knowing the story was something I had taken for granted. This experience with all these college players -- many of whom were unknown to me -- made me realize that this was now a job.

My respect for those writers, what they’ve done and the longevity that they’ve had in this profession, is even more unquestionable now that I know the work that has to be put in to reach their level of success.

I’m excited to be writing for Eye on Chi because saying “It’s just a game” takes away from what the game truly means for myself, now. The game will always be what I love the most, but now it truly is a part of my life. I’m writing so that one day, the next writer behind me can tell his story in how he looked up to me.

There are athletes whose greatness will be remembered lifetimes from now, simply because of their remarkable talent. But just as your favorite novel would be nothing if the pages were stripped of their words, the true greatness of the athlete is appreciated more through great sportswriting.

My responsibility now as a sportswriter is to not only tell those stories, but to educate. That’s a duty that I take as seriously as the four writers that I grew up on.

Christopher Cason covers the Chicago Bulls for the Examiner.com and freelances for HOOP magazine and contributes to Slamonline.com. He will be providing a look into Chicago sports journalism every Wednesday at Eye on Chi. You can follow him on twitter @C4DUNK.

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