Asking and ambling

“Do you play for the money or for the love of the game?” grilled a third grader who had cornered Derek Jeter in a parking garage.

Jeter had just signed a 10-year contract worth $189 million, and as a Mets-obsessed sports snob whose parents parked in the same garage as Jeter, I felt the need to interrogate my perceived archrival.

“For the love of the game, of course,” Jeter replied with a chuckle, probably wondering why this kid didn’t just ask for an autograph.

But I’ve never been one for autographs, and I’ve always enjoyed asking questions. My last question of The Chronicle’s 108th Volume: How did it go so quickly? 

Before or after, I couldn’t imagine a better job than Chronicle Sports Editor. How many people have gotten to ask Coach K before the Olympics if he would wear chic, thick-rimmed glasses to try and fit in with LeBron James and Kevin Durant? What about asking Eli and Peyton Manning if they helped cook David Cutcliffe breakfast when they were his houseguests?

But like many other sports editors, I often asked myself why I committed a year of my college experience to 50-hour weeks and 24-hour Twitter obsessing.

I kept wondering that over and over ago about a month ago as I sat in Ambler Tennis Stadium, burning to a crisp on the aluminum bleachers—illustrating how overripe and jaded I felt as sports editor. I had two essays to write but also two writers to train, and so that and a breakfast of leftover Chipotle became my Saturday morning.

Following my post-match interviews—which included a question from the coach about whether I had heard of sunscreen—I strolled back to my dorm only to notice a sign outside reads, “The tennis stadium is dedicated to the memories of all the Amblers who loved Duke.” Beyond the generous Ambler family, which donated $1.6 million for the stadium’s construction, the sign pays homage to everybody at Duke who ambles and takes the time to walk slowly enough to appreciate what exactly is going on.

Sometimes it’s easy to quantify an experience: I’ve written 181 articles and 386 blog posts. Then there are tweets, pageviews and Facebook recommends. But the times I’ll remember most are those in which I ambled, dawdled, loitered, meandered, moseyed, sauntered and strolled near Duke sports.

Those moments sometimes ended up in stories, sometimes in blog posts and sometimes in tweets, but more often they became memories I’ll hold onto forever.

Like when I got to the Duke-Miami game at Cameron Indoor Stadium three hours early, hoping to amble in and catch a glimpse of Ryan Kelly warming up. I didn’t see him, though I sat courtside as he came in cold and scored 36 points in the most impressive individual performance I may ever see.

What I actually saw a couple hours before the game: a magical hug between Seth Curry and ESPN reporter Doris Burke, who was at Madison Square Garden a few days earlier when Seth’s brother Stephen scored a whopping 54 points against the Knicks. “Currys play well when I’m there,” Burke said. I couldn’t wait for Seth to go off for 55 points and write my story about the cutest hug ever. He scored seven. It didn’t make it into my story.

Sure the most exciting moments were when Kelly hit his seven threes and chips of Pantone 287 blue paint covered my green corduroy blazer, but the most rewarding stories and questions have been those that other people miss. A lot of people get to cover Duke basketball—not many become the de facto beat reporter for Brian Zoubek’s Dream Puffz.

Breaking news is a thrill, sitting in 301 Flowers as the Associated Press, ESPN and other major news outlets chase a story you broke. But just as important are the unheralded moments: the Cameron Crazies chanting “one more kid” to Perky and Leslie Plumlee when their eldest son Miles gave his senior night speech, following a big loss to UNC last year.  Maybe that moved me so much because I have two older brothers who have somehow put up with me while I asked questions and ambled, sometimes aimlessly, for 21 years.

But this job has made me laugh and think and cry, so there’s no question it’s been something special.  

Retiring is never easy, as Coach K said to me over the summer after he had 30 fomer players in town for the K Academy. I joked that I knew the feeling: I retired from playing basketball in eighth grade.

“Did you get a lot of autographs?” he joked.

Questions, not autographs.


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