The basketball season is upon us already and I figured it was a good time to get to know one of our most prolific and entertaining basketball writers in Seth Pollack of the SB Nation Phoenix Suns site Bright Side of the Sun. As you'll read, Seth came to us in kind of a round about way but I'm very thankful that he did. Seth has been not only a great blogger but a huge advocate for things like adding WNBA coverage to the network. He's also regularly credentialed at the Suns practices and games.
Without further ado, let's get to know Seth a little better:
Tyler Bleszinski: How did you wind up coming to SB Nation?
Seth Pollack: The old fashion way. I was reading a certain liberal website (who's name I won't mention in fear of attracting the wrong kind of crowd via key word search) when the proprietor and name sake happened to mention this sports blog site thing. I was a Suns season ticket holder at the time and decided to check it out. That was in 2006. I haven't left since. Literally, my browser window has been open to Bright Side of the Sun for this entire last 3 1/2 years.
I started as a reader and then became a commenter and then a regular and eventually I got promoted to the front page. After gathering my forces and making a few alliances, I staged a coup and took over the site in early 2008.
Bleszinski: How'd you become a Suns fan?
Pollack: The old fashion way. My family had season tickets in late '70s and early to mid '80s and I went to games with my father, uncle, brother and grandfather. Those were the days when Alvan Adams was playing and not the Sr VP for Facilities Management and Paul Westphal was running the floor in short-shorts instead of pacing the sidelines in a suit. He looks better now btw.
Can I just add what an absolute thrill is it to run into Adams all the time; that I've interviewed Walter Davis and Paul Westphal; and that I get to hang out and work in the Al McCoy media center and have sat about 6 feet from the hall of famer himself during Suns games. Al McCoy for those who don't know, is an absolute legend of a broadcaster and was the guy I listened to on my transistor radio under the covers at night when I was supposed to be sleeping.
Note to young folk: A transistor radio was like an iPod but you had to hand-crank it to make sound come out.
Bleszinski: Who is your all-time favorite Suns player and moment?
Pollack: Suns history is under appreciated by the rest of sports world for being filled with hard luck moments. The coin toss that sent Lew Alcindor to Minnesota (we got Neal Walk). The blown call in the 1976 finals against the Celtics. The blown call(s) in every playoff game against the Spurs. Decades of being good but not good enough to get past the Lakers. I guess we need a fancy curse like the Red Sox or the Cubs to get the appropriate amount of pity.
I was out of the country from 1990-1994 so I missed the Barkley era and the 1993 finals run (damn you, John Paxton!) and the recent stuff is too recent to be nostalgic about. So I suppose I will just go with growing up a Suns fan and going to games with my family as my "moment".
As for players, Phoenix has had so many greats but I'll say Connie Hawkins. He was a little before my time but when he came to the Suns in their second year of existence he turned a 16 win team into a playoff team and started a winning tradition and put Phoenix on the sports map. He's also a great guy. Before getting cancer last year, I would regularly see him playing tennis at the local city park. Everyone loved him and he was always gracious. He is reportedly recovering now but hasn't been active since his illness.
Bleszinski: What's your favorite part about blogging? And something you might not enjoy as much.
Pollack: In sports there's a fine line between confidence and cocky. A shooter needs to believe that his next shot is going to fall and a batter needs to believe that he can hit the next pitch. But some guys take it too far and they are just arrogant jerks. That's me.
Blogging gives me a soap box to stand on and scream whatever idiotic idea that pops into my head into the wide world of the internets. You have to have some confidence to do that but that's a double-edged two handed sword. (those of you who played Dungeons &Dragons with paper, books and dice know exactly the sword I am talking about!)
There are times when it feels like a job and you just don't want to do another recap of another so-so game at 1 a.m. I think we all wonder about how many hours we are putting into this and honestly, I've tried to cut back before. But the power (?) is addictive.
Even if no one is reading, there's just something about seeing your words on the same screen as you read the NY Times that lends it a certain mystique. I am not a great speaker. I don't really get along with a lot of people and don't have a lot of real life friends. Writing in this format has turned out (surprisingly) to be a creative, competitive and ego outlet for me. That's both good and bad.
Bleszinski: You're one of the guys blazing a new path for bloggers as you have credentials to the Suns. Tell me what that is like for a blogger.
Pollack: It has definitely been an interesting experience and I've learned a lot about basketball, journalism and myself.
Aside from the obvious thrills with the childhood heroes mentioned above, it quickly became something that wasn't so much "cool" and "thrilling" as something that I immediately took as a challenge. You can't (or at least I can't) be around these players, coaches, staff and other professional media types and not have a lot of respect for what I had always treated as "just a game".
In that way it's been a difficult adjustment to having access and I've had to rethink my approach to a lot of things.
It is easy to sit back behind the computer and call Amare Stoudemire a lazy slug because he only grabbed 2 rebounds in 38 minutes but can you face him the next day after doing that? And more importantly, was it ever fair to call anyone a slug in the first place and not just be critical of his performance without denigrating him as a person?
I determined early on that I would fall back on my "professional" training and really approach my time with the team with as much respect and personal dignity as I could. And yet I've been determined also to not refrain from asking the tough questions or being critical in my analysis when warranted. It's a style that works for who I am. An arrogant jerk.
Unfortunately, I feel like I've lost some of my humorous edge as well. When you are at a game 2 hours before tip and for another hour or two after and you spend 15 minutes in the coaches office and you see Shaq with his pants down it can't help but change you.
I am working on that though. I am trying to find the right balance between being both professional, respectful and credible while still being irreverent and lighthearted. I don't really feel like a fan anymore which is kind of sad (but don't worry, I still hate the Lakers).
Any advice along those lines is most welcome.
On balance, it is a major plus. The ability to ask exactly what questions I want to ask. To gain greater insight into the team and what it's doing and thinking and feeling. To meet these players and coaches and see how their personalities off the court translate to what happens on the court. There's no question that it's made our site better and given our readers access to information and analysis that they aren't getting anywhere else. For me, that's the thrill.
Bleszinski: How do you think the Suns are going to do this year?
Pollack: I guess you didn't read our 10,000 word, Five Part Season Preview Series. To skip right to the end, I would say the Suns at best will win about 46 games and be a 7th or 8th seed.
This is a team in transition that isn't good enough to compete and isn't bad enough to rebuild.
The early signs are positive that this year they will not be satisfied with only being "entertaining". They are already showing some fight and spunk that haven't exactly been hallmarks of Phoenix Suns basketball. If that continues it will be an enjoyable season. All we can ask for is that they play hard and as Steve Nash told me the other day, "earn it". I am guessing he had recently watched Saving Private Ryan but I failed to asked that critical follow up question.
Bleszinski: You have also been a trailblazer in terms of being an advocate for the WNBA on Bright Side of the Sun. What's been the motivating factor for you on that front? Do you think the women's game is just as good as the men's?
Pollack: To be honest with you (and no one is reading this, right?) I went into it with three very self serving objectives. 1) To occupy a very long off season with something basketball related 2) To get better at my writing and coverage and 3) To suck up to the team a little and make some new relationships within the Suns organization. Mission Accomplished, as the man said.
It only took about a week though to discover just how entertaining and enjoyable the WNBA is. From the quality of play to the entire game experience it's just goooood. The locker rooms smell considerably better as well which is an underrated factor.
It is a myth that all NBA players are young arrogant punks but they are certainly there and even the guys who aren't jerks still operate on an entirely different plane of existence. When you are 6'7" and making millions you can't help but look down on people at least somewhat.
It's never like that with the women. I didn't once meet at WNBA player that wasn't a fantastic, smart, and dedicated individual. They make between $35k as a rookie up to the max salary of $95k in the WNBA. They play because they love to play and because they are very good at what they do. I don't think it's just because I like women more than men when I say that covering the girls is a far more rewarding personal experience. It just feels more like real people.
It doesn't hurt either that the Mercury won the WNBA championship and despite what Ben from Blazer's Edge said I don't think there is a correlation between their winning and my coverage. It was an absolute joy however, to follow the team from being a preseason long shot to winning it all.
You can learn a lot by being around winners. You pick up on how they behave and how they respond to adversity. Those are lessons that apply to all parts of life. From a sporting experience it is a rare opportunity and I feel very fortunate to have been part of it and to have lucked into such a tremendous assortment of talent. Besides, it's not like the Suns are going to win a ring anytime soon. Band-wagoning gets a bad rap.
I fully admit that now I am just annoying zealot convert screaming at everyone about how great this thing is that they are ignoring. If the WNBA season was 8 months long instead of only 3 months I would consider covering it exclusively.
To answer the question, yes. It is certainly equal to but very different than the men's game.
Bleszinski: Tell me something about yourself that many people wouldn't expect.
Pollack: I went back and forth with Tyler on this one. It's a surprisingly tough question. How do I know what you expect? Tyler said to go with something "about myself".
He might as well have asked me to describe basketball to a Martian. Where do you start?
I am left handed. I sometimes play tennis - my forehand is decent and my (one-handed) back hand sucks. I grew up in Phoenix and went to high school with Darren Woodson and Phillippi Sparks. I spent 8 years in the Army and 4 of that in Germany and did two combat tours (Iraq v 1.0 and Bosnia in '96) and almost crashed in a helicopter which makes it much easier to not freak out when two of your team's players leave the bench and get suspended. I have 4 kids but I've managed to kick the oldest one out of the house so only 3 left. I sometimes like 80's ballads and enjoy moonlit strolls on the beach which is difficult since I live in the desert.
If there's anything else you want to know, you can email me at one of five addresses, phone me at any of three locations, fax me, twitter me or face book me. I am not hard to find.
Bleszinski: Thanks so much for your time and good luck to your Suns this year.
Pollack: Thank you and good luck on all of your seasons.