Kevin Ding is a well-respected sportswriter for the Orange County Register where he keeps the world up-to-date on everything Lakers and NBA. You can read his columns for the OC Register by visiting the Lakers section here.
Q: Please take us through the process of creating your post-game articles. What are the key elements to creating a vibrant and engaging read?
KD: It's impractical to try and cover the whole game, really, so I try to lock in on a predominant theme and maintain it so that it's still a STORY. It should be something compelling about the game that speaks to the greater growth or failure of the Lakers, ideally. No doubt that it can be a challenge to get lyrical when you have a half-hour or less to do that, but you've gotta love a challenge.
Q: For many of us, being able to cover the Lakers and write about our favorite team would be a dream come true. I'm sure with the frequent travel and deadlines, the "fun," can evaporate quickly. Kevin, can you tell us some of the highs and lows of your profession?
KD: I'm writing this at Gate G16 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport during a two-hour delay for the plane that is supposed to take me home on Day 16 of the longest continuous road trip in L.A. Lakers history. My 1 ½-year-old daughter, according to sources in the organization, has been ceaselessly going over to stand by the desk chair in my home office, calling out, "Daddy!" How's that for a low? But I hate how people in our business whine about everything, so I'm not going to do any more of that. I'll just say that the highs - even more than the excitement of watching great games for a living - come from reporting and creating things that enrich people's lives. My favorite column from this season was about two kids who died since meeting Kobe Bryant last season through the Make-A-Wish Foundation; the whole process of writing the piece was sad but meaningful, especially when readers flooded me with emails to ask how they could donate to the kids' families. I basically try to reveal to people a little something about human nature in what I write, whenever possible, which is lofty to think when mostly writing about 3-point percentages and $9.1 million salaries and the like, but it can happen. I used to tell people all through the Kobe-Shaq years that I was preying on people's basic interest in the topic of the Lakers and those guys to peel back the layers of their personas and slip in life lessons on all sorts of psychological and social issues - including what it takes to win in life.
Q: Given the NBA's current standards on reduced hand checking, is it reasonable to assume that Michael Jordan's P.P.G average would be at least 5-8 points higher if he played today? In the same line of thinking, would a player like Dwyane Wade experience a scoring decrease if he played in the early 90's?
KD: No, the legalization of zone defenses has limited one-on-one basketball. In the old Chicago Bulls' triangle offense, Jordan could get isolated on the wing and blow by his guy and be on his way. Even when the Lakers put Bryant out alone on the wing, there will usually be a second defender lurking near the paint, hedging toward Bryant. In fact, just Sunday in Miami, the Lakers played that way against Wade, who no longer has enough teammate help to scare anyone: Wade had Sasha Vujacic on him, but Luke Walton was focused on Wade right behind Vujacic and wound up pushing Wade to the baseline, from where he forced a pass into the lane that wound up a turnover.
Q: Perhaps without naming names (though feel free to give us a jersey number) who have been the surliest, most difficult, or maniacally egotistical NBA players to interview?
KD: Nothing will ever match the phone call I had with Lawrence Phillips when I was covering the Dolphins for The Miami Herald. Despite all the head-banging music in the background, I had no trouble making out every screamed profanity from that wacko. NBA players aren't really as bad as many people think; the consensus in our business is that NHL players are the coolest and baseball players are the surliest. The best players for our purposes will think about stuff and give up a little of themselves, so you're usually talking about guys who love to share the ball (currently, let's say Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton) who will share the best quotes. With regard to Kobe, I've had some notable confrontations and disagreements with him over things I've written in the past, but it hasn't stopped us from developing a fruitful relationship.
Q: What is the most over-rated fundamental preached in pro basketball?
KD: Defensive positioning. The most successful defenders are creative and do an array of things to keep even the best scorers off balance and prone to turnovers.
Q: NBA conspiracies are inane but often entertaining. Our personal favorite being the Oliver Stone-esque "Knicks and the frozen lottery envelope." If you were forced to select a NBA conspiracy with the most validity, which one would you choose?
KD: It runs contrary to all that I do to immerse myself in scenarios of falsehood, so I'll just mention a conspiratorial truth: It was only natural for Minnesota's Kevin McHale to want to help the Celtics and not the Lakers with Kevin Garnett.
Q: We'll cast you as the NBA's version of Dr. Frankenstein. You have the ability to create a player with the highest hops, fastest foot speed, deftest hands, sharpest wit, most "killer" of instincts, and best clutch shooting. Whose parts would your "monster" possess?
KD: LeBron James has almost everything you would want from an athletic standpoint. After LaDainian Tomlinson told one of our other writers that Kobe was the best athlete in sports, I went to Odom and told him LT had picked an NBAer as sports' best athlete. He guessed that LT had picked LeBron, naturally, because of LeBron's sheer physical superiority. To make LeBron a little better from current players' qualities, maybe throw in Leandro Barbosa's speed, Kobe's will, Steve Nash's vision and Robert Horry's chill personality.
Q: Despite wide variances in team talent levels, why do so many NBA games wind up being decided in the last five minutes?
KD: Phil Jackson's mantra to "stay in the moment" involves ignoring the scoreboard and making the most of each play. That's hard to do when the scoreboard is hanging right there, bigger than anything else in the place.
Q: NBA general managers have had their fair share of lottery draft busts. Why is it so difficult to predict how college players will adapt to the pro game?
KD: In all sports, talent evaluators get caught up in the physical tools and overlook the mental tenacity needed to make the most of those tools. It's often not easy to glean the mental stuff. It's even hard sometimes for kids as young as they are coming into the league now to know just how much they have. Everyone from Tex Winter to me thought Andrew Bynum lacked that work ethic and desire to dominate after two years in the NBA, but then whaddaya know?
Q: Pro hoop aficionados have suggested widening the court to allow today's larger players more physical space to maneuver. We all know that the owners would never give up their revenues from losing the front row seats, but do you agree that this change would improve the game?
KD: It would improve the flow and creativity of the game, yes. Raising the basket would help in some regards, too. That said, I guess I'm a purist, because I would view those things as last resorts. If the game is generally working as is, I wouldn't change such fundamental parts of it that provide common links to previous generations. As much as possible, I'd say you want the game to be the game your father or grandfather loved.