By Hailey Melville
Doug Collins brought more than his four decades of NBA playing, coaching and broadcasting experience to Medill last week.
His Michael Jordan anecdotes and “Hubie” sheets compelled the stuffed McCormick Foundation Center Forum, and they drove his narrative forward. But at the core of the talk were guidelines, a series of action-oriented changes and conceptual understandings to do what we’re all here for: become better journalists.
1. Greatness never fears consequence
A series of four pictures sits on a wall in Doug Collins’ home. The sequence is of “The Shot,” Jordan’s infamous series-clinching buzzer beater over Craig Ehlo and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference playoffs. The four frames capture the final play as Jordan bolts to the top of the key, leaps and sinks the game winner.
Once the ball was inbounded, Collins knew the series was over. Jordan expected success and never feared failure, and that’s all Collins needed to know. In whatever they do, the greats have that way about them.
2. Every game tells a story
“It’s the beauty of live sports,” Collins said. Even in the middle of an average season, on a random Tuesday with starters resting against a lower-tier out-of-division opponent, there’s a story.
“But you have to do your homework,” he said.
Before every game, Collins examines his “Hubie” sheets — named in honor of former coach and longtime broadcaster Hubie Brown — that highlight statistics for each team. The sheets can reveal specific trends, even a teams identity.
The identity, he said, creates a starting point. The Golden State Warriors, for example, are going to shoot a lot of threes. If their opponent does a poor job defending those shots, then that’s a narrative. Beyond that there are emotionally resonant or revealing stories about the team. When these elements are well reported, they naturally sprinkle between the game’s context.
3. Analytics are important, but not everything
Collins thinks analytics are useful, but they can’t be used on their own, because there are elements about people that analytics just can’t measure.
For example, statistics may say a certain player should take a clutch shot at the end of a game, but his coach may know that player is not comfortable with the ball in his hands and the game on the line.
This is an important marriage of so-called “soft factors” and concrete data. The teams that have both, Collins said, have the greatest chance to be successful.
4. Substance will always trump style
Journalists have a job to do, but they have less access to players than ever before. When a reporter needs to create more content but has less to work with, more misleading and out-of-context articles begin to appear.
Relationships, Collins stressed, lead to the best reporting, and ultimately the best storytelling.
5. Be critical but never mean spirited
Collins praised event host and Medill Sports Director J.A. Adande on his ability to question and report, but to never be ill-intentioned. This simple concept takes practice, but is the foundation of relationship building and good reporting.