The Life of an NBA Beat Writer
Posted: Jan. 19, 2012
If anyone is Almost Famous, it’s the Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro.
Like the protagonist in that heart-warming film starring Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Coro’s occupation in life is to chronicle the people and the organization that he has admired since in boyhood days in Phoenix.
In Almost Famous, the main character William (whose story was supposedly based on director Cameron Crowe’s real-life experience with Led Zeppelin) was commissioned by Rolling Stone magazine to follow around his favorite rock and roll band and document life backstage. Change rock and roll to basketball and re-cast the main character from a teenager to an adult; and then the movie could be about Coro.
The Arizona Republic writer grew up in Phoenix as a lifelong Suns fan, telling his teachers from an early age that he would be covering his hometown’s NBA team someday. Like Babe Ruth once famously did, Coro called his own shot and smashed it out the park, serving as the team’s beat writer since 2004.
“I’m constantly driven by how passionate the fans are and their need to know their desire to know more,” Coro said. “I like being able to deliver that and I feel a responsibility to do it every day.”
When most people discover that a person’s occupation is to follow a professional basketball team around the country, a sort of amazement sets in. It’s eerily similar to the moment in Big when Tom Hanks’ character gets a job playing with toys and tells his secretary to send him highlights of the Giants-Bills Super Bowl.
Most people think he’s the luckiest guy in the world… just after the guys that actually get paid to play the game.
But nonetheless, Coro has a job, and as the Suns’ lone beat writer that travels to every single city on the Suns’ schedule, it’s not always puppy dogs and ice cream. He has extremely long hours, travel issues, hard deadlines and every sort of headache that one could imagine.
Does he become so overworked that he forgets what hotel room he’s staying in? Sometimes.
Does he have to act as his own travel agent and book all of his hotel and flights and make his way around strange cities depending on buses, light rails, trains rental cars and his own two feet? All the time.
But more than those issues, Coro has a challenge that very few people face in their respective professional worlds.
“I still love the job and unlike so many jobs, you’re on watch every day with this one,” he noted. “If you have an off-day, everybody sees it.”
For all the journalism majors out there that envy Coro’s life, but dread actually writing papers and receiving assignments, here’s what a typical schedule looks like for him when Suns have a back-to-back set of games on the road:
Coro arrives at the visiting arena via public transportation for shootaround at around 10 in the morning. After interviewing the players, he writes a game-day blog setting up that night’s matchup for the web.
Next, he begins crafting his notebook for the copy desk before he eventually becomes hungry and has to break away from his computer to eat. After a quick lunch, he studies both clubs’ media guides and learns all that he can statistically about the approaching game.
After throwing on his freshest gear (many consider him the best-dressed beat writer in the NBA), Coro heads to the arena for pregame interviews with both coaches and players. Upon hearing all last-minute updates from both teams, he hurriedly sends out his notebook to the newspaper, makes his final on-line edits, tweets out anything newsworthy and prepares to cover the game.
Throughout the night, Coro works on his game story while sending any interesting tidbits out via Twitter. Once the buzzer sounds signaling the end of the contest, Coro furiously works to finish his story before the paper’s first deadline expires, which is usually about 5-10 minutes after the game.
Next, Coro heads to the postgame press conferences of the coaches and to the locker room to get quotes from the players that would best work in his story. After recording that information, Coro races back to his computer so he can implement the quotes and file his finished story before his last deadline.
His days usually wraps up sometime after midnight, and on a back-to-back set of games, he has to fly out early the next day to do almost the exact same thing all over again. Now that’s a pretty busy day by anyone’s standards, but just imagine what his day is like if an extra story breaks about Steve Nash missing a game due to injury or if a player gets traded.
Due the hectic nature of the job, past writers would abandon their sports beat after a certain amount of years because burnout was high, and that was before the 24/7 news cycle. Writers like Coro aren’t hanging out with players on the road, sipping martinis in the finest hotel lobbies and gallivanting around America’s cities.
Even the little things such as packing, unpacking, ironing and getting ready for a game takes away time from doing something as simple as seeing a movie. Most of the time, you’ll find him eating dinner by his laptop at his hotel, just trying to get ahead of the game.
“After a long trip like this you definitely understand how a team can struggle with their performance on the road,” he said. “When they’re on the fifth game of a nine-day trip, I’m dragging a little bit and I’m just sitting at a computer.
“I’m not pushing 6-10, 260-pound guys up and down the floor. You get a little bit better understanding of how that wears on a team, just knowing how it wears on you.”
When Coro first started the beat eight years ago, he would force himself to squeeze in a sightseeing experience if he had the even the slightest opportunity. But with the development of digital technologies, Coro has added blogging for AZ Central and Twitter updates to his daily list of chores in the last few years.
However, when Coro is in Washington D.C. for a game against the Wizards, he’ll wander across the street from the Verizon Center and visit the Smithsonian for 30 minutes. Even though the grind of life on the road is fatiguing, for Coro, the worst part of the job for him is missing time with his family.
“I have to keep my eye on the watch and remember what time it is at home and try to make that daily phone call before the kids go to school in the morning,” the longtime journalist said. “If I miss that then I miss the chance to talk to them during the day because it’s hard to talk to your 11-year-old during a game with music playing in the background.”
While helping his daughters with math homework over the phone isn’t ideal, the irony of life on the road is that professionally, it provides him with some of his most fulfilling work.
“One of the best parts of being on the road is we have a large group of media in Phoenix that covers the team, but when I get on the road, I have more propriety to the beat,” Coro said. “So it’s easier to see them in their element and I feel like I have a little more original content because I’m usually the only one that travels media-wise.”
So for all the budding sportswriters that aren’t discouraged by the actual lifestyle of an NBA beat writer, that’s fantastic, because Coro never went into his professions with any delusions of glamour. He’s still like that kid in Almost Famous, just trying to tell the story that no one else can see.
“I’m driven by trying to do the job well and helping people be fans,” Coro said. “I used to be a big fan when I was a kid and used to rely on somebody else’s coverage. I think I remember what that kid wanted and I want to deliver the same thing.”
Here are some interesting tidbits from Coro's life on the road:
Favorite cities: “The East cities like New York, Miami, Chicago and Boston because I only get there once a year,” he said. “When you’re from the West and you’ve lived most of your life in Phoenix, those cities are so unique and original that they’re pretty cool to visit.”
Opinion on Madison Square Garden: Used to be among his favorite places to see the game, because the media sat along the baseline and had a phenomenal perspective, that has since changed with the media getting booted upstairs.
Favorite seat: Chicago’s press row
Favorite arena: Conseco Fieldhouse in Indiana. “It feels like a college game on the court, there is history throughout the concourse, they manually change the sign for the next opponent and you can watch practice from the street,” Coro said.
Rowdiest fans: Golden State. “If they ever get good, watch out."
Traveler’s Advantage: He stays at the Marriott in most cities because he receives writer’s association rates for that chain of hotels.
Hotel-Booking Strategy: Books places that are most convenient for getting to and from shootaround and the games.
Most interesting person he sat next to on a plane: T-Pain. “I’ll always remember that he wore Homer Simpson slippers."
Most ironic person he’s sat next to on a plane: “The quiet guy from Penn and Teller. He talked on the phone the whole time.”
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