What An Opportunity

An explosion of color

In Sports on November 16, 2013 at 4:05 pm

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Talk about an incredible character portrait: This New York Times Magazine profile of former Rutgers coach Mike Rice — The Coach Who Exploded — is The Best Sportswriting I Read This Week.

There is one thing I like about this story above all else: It feels like one cohesive narrative. It jumps between times – from Rice’s childhood to his coaching career to modern day – but feels like one story that flows seamlessly.

There are so many other, smaller things, though, that I also appreciate.

One, this is the first time Mike Rice has put his side of the story out to the public. He has been essentially mute since his famous firing from Rutgers after video surfaced of him berating his players (mostly verbally and in some cases physically). That means this writer has access.

When Dave Sheinin spoke to my class earlier this fall, he preached that access is everything. Without access to Rice, this story wouldn’t be nearly what it is. By “access,” I don’t mean that the writer, Jonathan Mahler, landed an interview with Rice. I mean he spent serious time with “The Coach Who Exploded.” We’re talking months. No one else has even gotten an interview with this guy, and Mahler followed him on-and-off for months. That’s access. That’s what makes this story what it is.

There are quite a few personal anecdotes from this story that stuck with me. Lee Jenkins once told me to imagine when I’m writing a story that I’m hooked up to a heart-rate monitor. Whenever something makes that thing beep and makes my heart rate jump, that’s something I need to capture in my story.

Mahler does just that when he relays the stories of Rice (accidentally or not) knocking his father in the mouth in a pick-up basketball game the day before Rice’s wedding, telling his players to “get ready for the chaos,” and hanging newspaper clippings on a punching bag in the locker room. There’s also a nice touch that shows a bit of Rice’s personality when the coach implores Mahler to have a beer. Again, these are all heart-rate moments.

Another thing I love about this story is its objectivity. Mahler doesn’t take an angle of, “Look how good Mike Rice is now!” He realizes that would be too easy. He realizes that would be predictable. It’d be unoriginal.

Instead, he gives exactly what we as readers deserve: a fuller picture of just who this guy is, an idea of which chemicals mixed together to lead to his explosion.

It results in one of the best character portraits I have read this year.

Recent entries of The Best Sportswriting I Read This Week:

Nov. 8, 2013: Is it time to rethink America’s game?

Oct. 30, 2013: A blast-off of creativity

Oct. 27, 2013: Reflections on a cold-blooded feature

Oct. 11, 2013: The Times profiles Mills, and Cacciola’s writing thrills

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  1. […] Jenkins’ “Kobe Bryant: Reflections on a cold-blooded career” to Jonathan Mahler’s “The Coach Who Exploded” – just sent my mind spinning. This is art expressed in sportswriting we’re talking about. I […]

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