Gary Washburn is the national NBA reporter for the Boston Globe. He has 20 years of experience in the industry, and took the time to chat with The Big Lead about his personal journey as a journalist, his thoughts on the Celtics’ offseason plans, and more.
Liam McKeone: Hi, Gary, thanks so much for joining us today. You’ve been in this industry for a long time. How would you describe your journey from your college days to a national reporter for a big brand like the Globe?
Gary Washburn: Well, I started out at U.C. Berkley. I always wanted to pursue something in journalism, so I ended up writing for the school paper there, the Daily Californian. I wanted to do more play-by-play; that was kind of my goal when I was a kid, to be a Bryan Gumbel type. I wanted to do play-by-play with the radio station, and [they said] “Yeah, you can work for us. That’s great, no problem, but we don’t pay. You work here for free.” And the newspaper paid, so of course I took the newspaper job, and found I liked doing sports.
When I found out it was something I could do for a living, I was sold. I knew I wanted to do something in the media. I wanted to be a sportscaster initially, so when I found out about sports writing, I was there. After graduation I worked briefly at the Long Beach Press Telegram, which is near where I’m from. I did high school sports and saw some pretty amazing athletes during that time that were from that area.
Close to a year later I got hired by Los Angeles Daily News, where I did prep, then I did USC, then the Clippers, eventually. That was another good experience, covering a lot of athletes, especially in baseball, before they made the major leagues. A guy I covered was Gabe Kapler, who’s now the manager in Philadelphia, which makes me feel old… I worked with a guy named Eric Sondheimer, who was a prep guru, a high school guru to this day in Los Angeles, and I learned a lot from him.
Then I went to the Contra Costa Times. I was supposed to write a media column and be a GA, but ended up covering the Athletics and the ending of the post-McGwire era… I watched the early stages of the Moneyball era with Giambi, Tejada, Chavez… I covered them for four years, saw them win two division championships. Obviously, the movie came out, and it was interesting being a part of that. Watching these guys, Billy Beane, being real intimate and a part of that experience.
I moved on to Baltimore where I covered the Orioles for MLB.com. It was a great experience but I think every reporter needs to cover a really bad team. It adds to your resume, adds to your experience. The Orioles were really bad during those years, and it was a good experience to see a franchise that really tried [but were still bad]. They weren’t the Kansas City Royals or the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Marlins where they were literally not spending any money and fielding AAA teams. They were really trying to spend money to compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox and it just never worked. To see a franchise that had once been proud fail miserably, and as not good as it was for Baltimore fans, it was a good experience to see what the mismanagement was like.
From there I moved to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to cover the Sonics and when I got there, everything seemed okay. They had just come off a Western Conference Semifinals where they lost to the Spurs, who went on to win the title. So things seemed on the up-and-up, but they literally got decimated by free agency and they changed coaches.
Suddenly the signs were of a franchise on the brink and here comes the stadium issue. So I walked right into a franchise in upheaval. The fans started to hate the infamous Howard Schultz; he made a lot of promises but he wanted a new arena and then he put the team up for sale. The team sold in five months, which was unprecedented for a professional sports franchise. Then here comes Clay Bennett and the Oklahoma people and they draft Kevin Durant. That was a sad situation for the city, but it was also partly the city’s fault. To be part of a franchise that was in its final days, it was interesting.