Alex Kennedy has been covering the NBA since he was 14 and shows no signs of slowing down. The writer/podcast host/indispensable-Twitter-follow is a lead NBA writer at HoopsHype, part of the USA Today Sports family. The Tampa native sits down with Vivid Seats to dish on his precocious start in sports journalism, why the Los Angeles Clippers are poised for future success and the importance of podcasts in the overall sports landscape.
Vivid Seats: Thanks for joining us, Alex! For those unfamiliar with your story, or your work for a seemingly endless list of basketball publications, how did you get your start in sports journalism?
Alex Kennedy: I started covering the NBA when I was 14 years old. I was living in Tampa and I started writing for a small NBA blog in my free time, so I randomly decided to email the Orlando Magic’s PR department to ask if I could get a media credential for a game. They were super friendly and helpful, and they allowed me to cover one or two games each month (as long as I had a chaperone since I was so young). My father and I would drive from Tampa to Orlando to cover games and that’s when I fell in love with sports journalism. I loved that I could go to games for free, have access to the locker room and talk to the players and coaches. As a huge sports fan, it was surreal and I couldn’t believe that people got paid to do this. Those first few years, I mainly just observed the actual journalists and learned as a fly on the wall. Some players - like Steve Francis, Grant Hill, Tim Duncan and Jameer Nelson - went out of their way to help me and give me one-on-one interviews. When I was 18 years old, I got my first paying job as a sportswriter, working for a website called HOOPSWORLD (which was owned by USA Today). Over the next few years, I worked my way up to managing editor of the site and it became a full-time job. At the same time, I earned my degree in Magazine Journalism at the University of South Florida. In 2017, I was hired by HoopsHype (which is another outlet owned by USA Today.) I’ve been there ever since and it’s my dream job.
VS: Your current role at USA Today’s HoopsHype has afforded you a behind the scenes look at the inner workings of the NBA. What’s the coolest moment been thus far?
AK: Man, there have been so many cool moments. There are a ton of NBA players and executives who read HoopsHype, so that has opened many doors for me. I do a lot of articles that give a behind-the-scenes look at life in the NBA and those are always fun. For example, I did a piece about free-agent workouts and I got to attend some actual free-agent pro days in Las Vegas, which was very interesting. Also, I did an article that gave an inside look at the Indiana Pacers organization, so I spent several days in Indiana and talked to their executives, coaches and players, toured their practice facility, checked out their war room and covered a few of their games. Getting that kind of access to every part of their franchise - from top to bottom - was really cool and I learned a lot during that trip.
VS: Over the past decade or so the NBA has made an effort to become a year-round league, with news ranging from sneaker free agency and offseason beefs right through to the regular season, playoffs and championship. How has this changed the way you interact with and cover the Association?
AK: These days, fans love NBA transactions and rumors, so it’s definitely changed the way the league is covered. My busiest times of the year are the start of free agency, the trade deadline and the draft because that’s when fans are consuming the most NBA content and following along closely. I love writing about NBA rumors and transactions, which is sort of what HoopsHype is known for as well. Social media has changed things too. Now, fans get transactional updates in real-time, which has only made the free-agency period and trade deadline more interesting and exciting. In addition to reporting what I hear when it comes to trades and free-agent signings, I love getting the first interview with a player after he’s changed teams or writing up an in-depth breakdown of how a particular move came together. There are many different ways to cover the NBA’s transactions aside from just breaking the news.
VS: As podcasts have garnered more and more listeners, becoming an integral part of following the NBA, how has your focus on the platform changed?
AK: It has definitely become more of a priority for me. A few years ago, I was primarily focused on writing and shooting videos (in addition to hosting a weekly radio show in Tampa). Now, I host The HoopsHype Podcast and I dedicate a ton of time to it each week - booking the guests, researching topics, recording the interviews, editing the episodes, etc. Now, if I have the choice between interviewing someone for an article or interviewing someone on my podcast, I choose the latter because I’ll typically have more time with them, the conversation flows naturally and we can cover a wider range of topics. I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with The HoopsHype Podcast over the years. We just posted our 200th episode and we’ve had incredible guests such as Kobe Bryant (RIP), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mark Cuban, Jack Dorsey and Dominique Wilkins among others.
VS: With journalism constantly changing these days, what advice do you have for aspiring sports writers?
AK: Try to be as versatile as possible. These days, you aren’t getting hired just to write. You need to be multi-dimensional - writing, recording podcasts, filming videos, being on camera, editing content, building a social-media audience and so on. Also, don’t be afraid of rejection. I’ve heard from so many aspiring journalists who are afraid of hearing the word “no” and it prevents them from requesting credentials or asking for interviews or applying for jobs. Had I been afraid of rejection when I was 14, who knows where I’d be right now? By putting myself out there, I got valuable hands-on experience and confirmed that sportswriting was my dream job. Plenty of people have told me “no” or didn’t respond to my texts/emails over the years, but you have to keep shooting your shot. Even if you are told “no” 100 times, you may be on the verge of getting a “yes” that could change your life.
VS: Let’s shift gears for a minute. We need some insider info! As it stands today, which team is in the best position to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy next season?
AK: That’s a tough one. As of now, I'll go with the Clippers. This team added a ton of new players over the course of the last year (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson, Reggie Jackson, Joakim Noah, Rodney McGruder, etc.) and dealt with a number of injuries, yet they are currently 44-20. Imagine what they can do in 2020-21 after working together all offseason and having a year of experience under their belt? They have the talent to dominate on both ends of the floor and if they improve their chemistry, they’ll be even scarier. I think this team will be very tough to beat in a seven-game series, especially if they re-sign Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell.
VS: We’re based in Chicago, so naturally yours truly is a Bulls fan. What can my hometown heroes do to improve their roster going forward?
AK: I really think hiring Arturas Karnisovas to run their front office is a step in the right direction. He's respected around the NBA and he’s been in the mix for a number of GM jobs prior to joining the Bulls. I think he'll hire his own head coach to replace Jim Boylen too, with one possibility being Adrian Griffin (who played with Karnisovas at Seton Hall and who would be a terrific hire). I like some of Chicago’s young pieces including Lauri Markkanen (22), Coby White (20), Wendell Carter (20) and Daniel Gafford (21). I'd continue to bring in young talent and maybe trade away some of the veterans for additional draft picks (if possible). Fortunately, the Bulls have maintained their cap flexibility, as they had the third-lowest payroll in the NBA this season. If they continue adding young talent, the Bulls could become a very attractive destination for free agents once those players take the next step in their development (especially in that market.)
VS: Looking elsewhere, what under the radar team should fans pay attention to over the next few years?
AK: I love what the New Orleans Pelicans are building. They are in excellent hands with David Griffin, who’s done a terrific job of assembling that core. Zion Williamson is obviously a stud, but he’s also surrounded with young talent (such as Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jaxson Hayes and Josh Hart) and great veteran leaders (such as Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick, Derrick Favors and E’Twaun Moore). I think they’re going to be in a great spot in a few years once those up-and-comers reach their full potential. Also, the Oklahoma City Thunder are flying under the radar. I’m a big fan of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and OKC could have as many as 15 first-round picks over the next seven years, which is insane. Sam Presti once drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka in a three-year span, so it’ll be fun to see what he can do with all of these future first-round picks.
VS: Hoop heads have a real passion for sneakers, so I’ve got to ask...what’s your all-time favorite basketball shoe and why?
AK: I’m not a huge sneakerhead, but I’ve started to learn more about that world. I’ve done a few stories about the sneaker industry and I did a fun article where I talked to a bunch of NBA players (like De’Aaron Fox, Rudy Gay, Mike Bibby and Quentin Richardson) about their massive sneaker collections. I love the rare Jordan PEs. But if I had to pick my favorite shoes, I’d go with Jordan 11s and adidas’ T-Mac 3s (just because they bring me back to my childhood).
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