Mark Medina: NBA Writer Interview
Mark Medina is a national writer for NBA.com. He grew up in York, Pennsylvania and went to college at Syracuse University where he majored in Broadcast Journalism. Since college, Medina has worked with many news outlets that have given him the opportunity to become a national sports writer. Take a look at how his career started, where he is today, and his knowledge of current events happening in the NBA.
What did you do in college to kick-start your career in sports media?
“Going to Syracuse University [it’s] a good journalism school. I got involved with student media, with the student newspaper, The Daily Orange, and then the student TV station, Citrus TV. Then my senior year there was an internship opportunity where I would get college credit with the Syracuse Post-Standard, the local paper there. When I was both doing things at Syracuse and then the Daily Orange itself, they always talk about the importance of getting hands-on experience and doing summer internships. So, I did summer internships in between my sophomore, junior and senior year. So in between my sophomore year, I did Inside Lacrosse Magazine and between my junior and senior year, I was with the Washington Times. After my senior year, I was with the Richmond Times Dispatch, [which] allowed me to get more hands-on experience, get published in our network with different editors. Those were all instrumental in getting where I am today.”
There are many sports a beat writer can report on, what led you to basketball?
“At Syracuse and in high school I wanted to go into [sports], but I also wanted to be realistic. So, in college, my goal was eventually to be able to cover a major pro or college sports beat. [Although] I was open ended because I knew that having this idea of wanting to cover the NBA, for example, sometimes that doesn’t happen right away. So, at that point, it was just about getting as much hands-on experience as possible and then just letting the chips fall. Now, fortunately, after I applied to about 100 places during my internship at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, after I graduated, the L.A. Times was just one of the very few that had an internship program available through the PRO program. So that led me to L.A., and by extension, that led me into getting involved with the NBA. At that point I was rotating around different parts of the paper, including sports. When I was in sports, I was just doing entry level staff in terms of a general assignment reporter, filling in for people, but I try to get in the mix with helping with the NBA coverage.”
“Fortunately, I was there to be a full-time writer from about January of 2009, then I was let go to following the December, but they rehired me back to be the Lakers blogger. Even though that wasn’t a full-time position and there was a reduction in salary, that really opened the door for me to be able to cover the NBA. So, I sunk my teeth into that and then that’s all related to the subsequent roles I had of being a Lakers beat writer with the L.A. Daily News and then the Warriors beat writer with Bay Area News Group. Then being a national NBA writer with USA Today and now a national writer with NBA.com. All those things are tied together, but I certainly didn’t have in the back of my mind at the beginning of my path of wanting to be in the NBA, because I just knew the reality of how the job market works. [However] once I did get entrenched with the NBA and a full-time position on the Lakers beat, I thought “Okay, I’d like to be able to continue to work in the NBA just so I can build off of source and my familiarity with the league”. So, barring any job layoffs, that was my goal of just staying in the NBA and seeing where it could take one.”
You worked as a L.A. Lakers beat writer for 5 years, and then a Golden State Warriors beat for 3 years, what is it about beat reporting that you love?
“The thing that I liked about beat writing specifically was you were the foremost expert on that team. Beat writing is the best way to really cultivate sources because you’re around every day and you can get to know the players, the coaches, the assistant coaches and the behind-the-scenes staff. In my role now, a national role, there’s times where you can draw on those relationships, and no doubt as my career changed, I continue to grow with cultivating sources. [Although] it’s a lot different with cultivating sources when you’re just on one specific team as opposed to worrying about a handful of teams or the entirety. On one hand, you’re able to branch out and, get familiar with other teams and other people, but you don’t have that day-to-day familiarity and relationship building. The thing that I like now [in my national job] is there is not much of a concern of travel for all eighty-two games, [and] you’re able to really try to be creative and flexible with writing about important stories and interesting stories on any team. I embrace both facets of it, but I certainly like the current role that I’m in.”
The Golden State Warriors just won their fourth NBA championships in the last 8 season, what is a favorite moment from your time reporting on them?
“The most memorable thing is just cover[ing] one of the greatest teams ever. On a day-to-day basis, you’re writing about Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Steve Kerr. So, there’s a lot of interesting stories for all of them to tell, there’s a lot of great access because of how easy [they are] to work with and how great [it is] to be in relations staff. As a writer, my main enjoyment was just being able to do different interviews on not only seeing what’s going on with the season, but their off-court interests in terms of their businesses and community projects. The most memorable to the positive end of it was seeing them win the title in 2018 and then following Kevin Durant around as he’s hopping from interview station, to interview station and embracing teammates after he won his finals MVP. Then the other thing was, less than a week later, when I was covering the world championship parade, I was on Klay Thompson’s bus and [wrote] about the whole experience. So, it was fun seeing him get drunk and annoy Zaza Pachulia with the bullhorn and embrace warrior fans and pour champagne on them. To see Warrior fans like, holding out posters, like making fun of LeBron James.”
“No doubt it was very memorable even for those for tough circumstances [like] the 2019 finals with first witnessing Kevin Durant’s Achilles injury and then the next game, witnessing Klay Thompson injure his ACL. I mean, at that point, obviously the Warriors championship run ended, but there was a really weird turning point of, all of this kind of things blowing up at once. There being questions about “where would Kevin go for free agency and how’s Klay going to come back?”. So, it certainly wasn’t a positive experience for the team, but it was certainly memorable, just kind of being there for that pivot point in their history.”
You just finished your 12th season covering the NBA, what challenges do you find building relationships with players and NBA executives?
“I don’t want to say it’s challenges per se. It’s just a new circumstance, a new opportunity. I think what I’ve always tried to do is just continue to build off the progress that I’ve made. My source and relationship building are substantially stronger than it ever was when I was on the Lakers beat. When you’re starting at just having relationships on one specific team and then two specific teams, you have to make up the fact that you have to start getting to know other teams, and I’ve been able to do that. My two years at USA Today, my first year at NBA.com it’s just a matter of continuing to build that. That also applies to just everything else in terms of story, ideas and reporting and writing. Thankfully, I’ve been able to make a career because there’s been value in what I have to offer. But it’s kind of that old adage of if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, so to speak. In my current role, they don’t have an expectation with, breaking transactional news, but there’s still an importance of building relationships so that you can solidify exclusive one-on-ones or solidify story ideas for more in-depth pieces that involve multiple voices. That’s something that I’ve done and just something I want to continue to build on moving forward.”
The NBA draft happened recently and now we’re getting into the summer leagues, what rookie that was just drafted do you think has the most potential?
“Not to be all conventional wisdom, but it’s really the top four picks. With [Paolo] Banchero, [Chet] Holmgren, [Jabari] Smith, and [Keegan] Murray. I mean, those guys are drafted one through four for a reason. They were seen as really complete players that can make an impact on a rebuilding team right away. [Yet] I think the challenge with this draft is it’s not like previous year drafts where there was a clear number one and a generational talent like when LeBron James entered the league. So, while I think all four of those players will be successful, it’s going to be hard to quantify what exactly is a successful rookie season for them because they’re all on lottery teams, rebuilding teams. They’re all going to get a lot of opportunities, but I don’t think they’re expected to change a franchise single handedly. So, some of it’s also going to depend on the strength of their teammates and the strength of their coaching staff. It’ll be interesting to see when you’re looking at the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets, the Sacramento Kings, which team gets back into the playoffs the quickest. I think all of those players, if nothing else, are going to have along all-star caliber careers moving forward.”
Kevin Durant is seeking a trade, what team do you think will put up the best package to be able to trade for him?
“No doubt every team is going to be interested in him, but I think it would be the Phoenix Suns. They can’t offer Devin Booker because they just signed him to an extension, but maybe they can combine a combination of January sign and trade and Mikal Bridges and some draft picks. Frankly, any other handful of role players. Now that might have to require another team to get involved. But I think that potentially could be a win-win for all sides, because for the Suns, it’s obvious Kevin Durant’s still pretty good. The Suns have a lot of depth, so that’s something that the Nets could enjoy. They have to get a third team to kind of parcel out the deal that could work too. The reality is this could be going on for a while because, when a star player demands a trade, teams have to tread lightly in making sure that they’re making the best move for them. That’s even heightened even more knowing that this is unprecedented with Kevin demanding this trade with four years still left on his contract. So, because of that the Nets don’t have to worry as other teams would have to worry and other conventional trade demands. The Nets have time on their side from that standpoint. The challenge is, they don’t necessarily have time on their side of any potential tough team dynamics in terms of Kevin or Kyrie and them reporting to training camp next season. We’ll just have to wait and see. It’s going to be pretty unpredictable.”
You worked with the Lakers at the end of Kobe Bryant’s career, is their a story or moment you had with him that you want to share with the world?
“There are two things. It was interesting covering the tail end of his career, while it wasn’t positive on his end, it was still an interesting chapter of how he ties a bow on that because he was navigating three season ending injury. At a time when the Lakers just weren’t a good team, and part of that had to do with the fact that he was injured. Also, some of it had to do with some of the front office dysfunction and coaching changes and free agency strikeouts. So, it was just interesting to see how one of the greats in the NBA kind of handled the tail end of his career. I think seeing a day to day, you can look at twofold. He was able to beat those circumstances from an injury standpoint. He overcame three season ending injuries and did not allow it to end his career. But at the same time, it forever changed how good of a player he was. He wasn’t the same player as it was pre-Achilles injury. So, it was just interesting to see how he was handling the day to day with that. There were certainly moments of frustration that he had with his own health and the team’s misfortunes, but I think there was also a window of him accepting those circumstances and making the best of it.”
“The second thing that will stick with me is the unfortunate, the obvious tragedy that is still as hard a process to this day that, Kobe and his daughter, and seven other people died on the helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. So, unfortunately, one of my main lasting memories will be the fact that I interviewed him nine days before his passing for some stories that I did with USA Today and the subject matter was very surreal. It was about how he was making a pretty relatively seamless transition from his NBA career to all his different post-career ambitions. Granted to the storytelling company that he was doing, overseeing the sports training facility at the Mama Sports Academy and coaching his daughters, including Gianna, and just really being at peace with what his career was. So, at that point when I went to his office in Costa Mesa, it was really cool. Not only just catching up with him and seeing a familiar face, but really getting into a new subject matter that was leaving him very engaged and making him feel that “hey, I’m just scratching the surface here and I have all these goals I want to accomplish”. Then nine days later for him to die, obviously that tragedy would be a tragedy regardless. [However], just the fact that I had talked to him nine days before on a lot of subject matters that really showed that he really had all these ambitions to lead a very successful second half of his life. I was asked to put together a column kind of drawing on that interview that he did, knowing that the context of it was completely different now. There’s occasional reminders that he’s no longer with us. It’s not just the natural death of his anniversary of his passing or his birthday but when the Lakers won the title in 2010 or 2020. It’s just kind of random moments throughout this past two years. From a professional standpoint, it was also challenging being able to serve the reader and provide your insight and perspective and just, you know, grind through the fatigue and the exhaustion, the emotions, through a very long and difficult day, but I just try to do my part, and make the best of it.”
What advice do you give to those who are starting their career as a sports reporter?
“It’s about having a growth mindset [which] I think can apply to a bunch of things. I think one of the dangers of when you’re starting out in the field is while it’s good to have an end game in sight, that can’t always be the end all, be all, sometimes there is a value in just having a starting point. Even if it’s not the ideal job you have, it’s better than nothing. So, with that there needs to be flexibility and openness of embracing whatever hands-on experience you can get with student media or any internships, jobs, because at least that’s going to get you published. It’s going to allow you to get better. It’s going to help your relationship build. I think the growth mindset applies to someone who’s just starting as a student or someone who’s in the middle of [their] career such as myself or someone at the end of their career. It’s always about learning and getting better and tapping into what, you know and using it as a strength, but being aware of your weaknesses. Now, what do all those things mean? Well, as a young writer, it’s about trying to pick up on all the skills you have read and be familiar with what other outlets are writing or reading [in] books [or] online, being a real student of the game. Then when you’re in the middle of your career knowing how to adjust and be adaptable to new ways to tell a story where it’s valuable. Especially now being able to be on TV, on radio or do podcasts. Know how to use social media to promote your stories, provide insight, all those things. Then when you’re in the tail end of your career, not being the guy that is just relying on your past, and still wanting to learn how to use those new technologies, new ways to tell a story, and being able to relate to the younger generation and relationship build with the younger players
The other important thing in today’s world, is just being really mindful of the importance of representation and diversity and doing your part to be the solution with it. Those hiring [need] better representation in the newsroom in terms of race and different backgrounds of ethnicity. As someone who is mixed, I’m white, but my dad’s Mexican, I try to be mindful of, my blind spots, but also embrace that and understanding the need to tell the stories of different things. There’s a lot of issues that are important to write about beyond just the sport itself.”