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Miscellany

An Interview With Bob Kravitz of the Indy Star

We receive ideas for interview subjects somewhat frequently, and a name that keeps popping up in our e-mail box is Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. He’s a columnist who possess the ability to anger people, and then he does the same with his radio show. He’s also worked at newspapers all across the country, including a stint at the Rocky Mountain News, which closes today. He also worked at a paper we did some time at, The Record (NJ), though not at the same time.

Q: Let’s open with the closing of the Rocky Mountain News. That’s a huge paper just shutting down. Pretty big deal. Everyone knew the business was in trouble and circling the drain … but is this the kind of thing that could turn up the heat on companies with other struggling papers to shut them down, too? Is any other 2-newspaper town in trouble? How safe do you feel in your job?

Honestly, I’ve been depressed almost all day. I knew it was coming, but to actually read Thursday that it was closing its doors, I just felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. So many great, great people there, people I got to work with and know over the years. Mike Littwin, Dave Krieger, Barry Forbis, Kevin Huhn and I could go on. One-hundred-fifty years and gone. My wife mentioned to me that I made a good professional move leaving there eight years ago, but honestly, until she mentioned it, I hadn’t even thought about it that way. Denver was among the most vibrant two newspaper towns left in the country. It was a war every single day. I wouldn’t feel very secure at any newspaper right now, but especially if I work at the weaker of the two newspapers in a city. (How many are left? A handful?)

As for my own security, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s something I think about. The Star has been great to me, and I like to think I’ve done good work for them, but I’m one of the higher paid people there. I look at someone like Mike Downey, who was one of the greatest columnists I ever read, and how he got the boot by the Chicago Tribune. If it can happen to him, it can happen to me and a lot of people like me. That’s why I’ve continued doing radio and have looked into writing a book and/or academia. I want to be ready if something happens.

Q: We enjoy the ‘how you got there’ stories, so start from the beginning – high school, college, and all the pit stops prior to Indy.

I grew up on Long Island and then moved to Chicago before my junior year of high school. Played hockey, worked at the school newspaper, struck out with women, the usual. I graduated Indiana University, where I did all of the same things, albeit with slightly better luck with the women. During college, I had internships at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Boston Globe and Cincinnati Enquirer.

My first job out of school was at The Record in Hackensack, which was a great first job. Covered the Nets, did lots of features. Two years later, I made the mistake of going to the San Diego Union, presumably to cover the Clippers and write features. Unfortunately, the Clips moved to LA, leaving me with a future that consisted of covering San Diego State basketball, high schools and working the desk. Suffice to say I wasn’t interested, especially after covering the NBA and doing New York/New Jersey-based features.

After three mostly-addled months in San Diego, I took a job writing takeouts for the Pittsburgh Press. This was way back in the day when people still did takeouts. It was an incredible job. Unlimited travel, unlimited space, great editors.

Then, out of nowhere, Sports Illustrated contacted me about coming to the magazine as a staff writer. Hell, I was 25 at the time. I would have crawled over broken glass to go to SI and cover cock fighting. I got the job, but it wasn’t the dream I imagined it would be. I could write a book on what happened during my two years there. Sadly, it didn’t work out. I’m still conflicted about the whole thing. I know I wasn’t emotionally ready for the job and didn’t handle things well. At the same time, I could have used some patience and guidance, and, well, if you’re at SI, either you’re ready or not. I had my dream job at 25 and was standing on an unemployment line at 27. Humbling, to say the least.

I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version the rest of the way: After SI, I was lucky enough to land a column job at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and remain indebted to Gene Williams and the paper for helping me off the scrap heap. After four or five years, I took the lead column job at the Rocky Mountain News, where I remained 10 years. Again, great editors, excellent staff. It kills me that the Rocky is closing its doors today. It strikes me that three of the papers for whom I’ve worked have ceased publication: The San Diego Union, Pittsburgh Press and Rocky Mountain News. These are sad times.

Anyway, I came to Indy in 2000 and have been extraordinarily happy. The fiscal cutbacks are painful — I didn’t cover the Super Bowl and the Final Four for the first time in 20-odd years – but when I look at what’s happening elsewhere, especially in Denver, I don’t feel like I’ve got a right to bitch and moan about the travel budget.

Q: We’ve talked with a few writers who have juggled the columnist-radio show duties, and everyone seems to have their own way of dealing with it. What are some of the most difficult aspects? Any area you think you’d like to improve on? And between both and a family, how much time do you have for any type of social life?

It’s been a struggle, but I’m getting better at finding time. I’ve found that doing radio has helped the column in the sense that radio forces me to stay engaged in what’s happening in sports. I’ve never been a 24/7 ESPN sports guy and would rather watch TV with my kids or read than watch Duke-Maryland basketball. Radio has forced to me stay on top of things, and that’s helped the column. I get a lot of ideas from doing the show.

Timewise, it IS tough, and I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to do it. The big issue for me is remaining mentally fresh enough to not only do both jobs, but to really enjoy them. After 10 minutes of talking about the Colts’ draft needs, I tend to get bored. I’ve also had a bunch of health issues, specifically heart disease and diabetes, and that has made life a struggle at times. But for now, I’m able to do my four columns a week, spend time with my two teenage daughters and remain married. As for a social life, I’ve really become a bit of hermit. I did enough socializing in my 20′s and 30′s to last a lifetime. I’m content hanging out with my family, my neighbors, playing golf, etc.

Q: At times, you’ve been rather critical of Colts coach Tony Dungy. Now he’s gone, and Marvin Harrison too, and Peyton Manning’s going to be 33 next month. Are the Colts’ glory days over? Would you clarify their decade run as underwhelming because it only captured one championship, or a outstanding because they advanced to the playoffs in nine of the past 10 years?

On the Colts, I actually see them getting something of a second wind. They’re still one of the youngest teams in the league, and most of their top guys (Manning, Addai, Wayne, Freeney, Mathis, Clark, Hayden) are approaching or in their primes. As long as No. 18 is around, this team is gonna win 10 games a year just by showing up. Right now, this team’s legacy is that they’re the Atlanta Braves of the NFL. I really feel like Peyton and this group need to win a second Super Bowl to fully validate what they’ve done in the last six, seven years. But that’s just me.

Q: There are a couple die-hard Indiana Pacers fans who read this blog and for the last three years, have maintained that the club is on the right track and capable of a playoff spot. We find this laughable, because outside of Granger, all we see are bad contracts and one of the worst defensive teams in the league. What kind of timetable do you think Larry Bird has these guys on? Is there a quick fix?

On the Pacers, the problem is, they want to remain a competitive, playoff-caliber time while attempting to rebuild. And that doesn’t work in the NBA. Nine times out of 10, you’ve got to hit rock bottom before the rebuilding can start, and this franchise refuses to let that happen. Part of it is financial; the owners are losing a lot of money, the crowds are down, and they’re afraid that if they become a 20-win team, they’ll lose their shirts. They want to rebuild, but they are stuck with limited cap flexibility, big contracts (Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy) and the albatross that is Jamaal Tinsley. Bird only has one more year after this one on his contract, which sends the wrong message. Ownership wants him to make the playoffs immediately, or at least next year, but what Bird needs is an extension and the time necessary to completely rebuild. They’re gonna be in purgatory for a while. There’s no quick fix now that Kevin McHale has already traded away Kevin Garnett.

Q: Between the columnist gig and the radio show, surely you are aware that there are many Indiana sports fans who disagree with … maybe everything you’ve ever said. Have you googled yourself? Have your kids googled you? Does the radio or the column generate more hate mail?

No, I haven’t googled myself. But my wife did once and was pretty shocked by the comments. Actually, at the bottom of every column we have a talkback portion where anonymous people can say what they want, so I’m fully aware of how some readers feel.
My older daughter showed me something on Facebook where I was listed and there were two pictures of me, one that read “douchebag” over my face and another that read “ass hat.” We spent a good portion of the evening trying to figure out what an asshat is, actually.

I’ve developed pretty thick skin over time. In high school, I was editor-in-chief for a local Jewish high school newspaper, and wrote a front-page editorial on why the neo-Nazis should be allowed to march in Skokie, Ill. That was my last issue as editor-in-chief.

Q: Indiana sports has had its cast of characters over the years, led by the profane Bob Knight. Do you have a best Knight story that’s never been told? Is there anyone that even comes remotely close to him on the crazy scale?

On Knight, the story has been told, but it’s my favorite: I was a sophomore at IU and was preparing to talk to Knight for the first time. I was petrified. After practice, me and Dan Barreiro, who was then in Louisville, were told to wait for Knight in his office. A couple of minutes later, he emerged from the shower buck-naked and sat down in his chair like it’s the most natural thing in the world. I’m quite sure the whole thing was calculated. I just can’t see Coach K doing that.

QUICK HITTERS

Q: Your next vacation can be to anywhere. You choose … Maui. I’ve never been to Hawaii. A couple more Marriott points and I’m there.
Q: Favorite TV sports announcer of all-time … Marv Albert. His voice was the soundtrack of my childhood. More radio than TV.
Q: Can you jog the memory and pick a highlight from your undergrad days at IU? Working at the newspaper, the IDS, the night in 1981 when IU basketball beat North Carolina for the national championship. That was also the day that Reagan got shot. I still remember how crazy things were, editors fighting over how things would be played. I’d always had a vague idea that I wanted to write for newspapers, but that night I became absolutely sure about how I wanted to spend my life. All my best memories at IU revolved around the newspaper and playing hockey for the club team. And the nights we spent at Nick’s.
Q: Athlete you’ve been most wrong about. That’s a tough one. My instincts have usually been pretty good on that score. I can tell you that before I got to Indy, my sense of Reggie Miller was that he was an arrogant jerk, at least based on his on-court demeanor. Once I got here, though, he immediately became one of my favorite athletes of all time, a genuinely good, big-hearted guy.
Q: Your thoughts on a college football playoff. I’ve changed my mind on this issue about 800 times. Today I’ll tell you I can live without it. Tomorrow?

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