Jack McCallum was in the office last week, which occasioned the retelling of my favorite McCallum story, immortalized by our mutual friend and colleague Alex Wolff in Big Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure. It was 1999, and Alex was in Bhutan reporting for the book. He was greeted by Karma Lam Dorji of the country’s basketball federation in a state of near rapture: “Sports Illustrated! Do you know this Jack McCallum? His stories about the playoffs are so good, I think it is almost better to read his descriptions than to be there oneself.”
Two years ago, when the idea of a basketball-only website was first floated here, I suggested that it be called McCallum, a riff off the late, great site Grantland. I was only half-joking; Jack is a Hall of Fame storyteller (literally so), whose ability to bring this most beautiful of games to life on the page is surpassed only by his less-fit-to-print outtakes, shared over multiple pints. (Jack’s on Twitter. If you ask real nice, perhaps someday he’ll give up the Darren Daye foot massage story from the late 1980s).
It is in that tradition that we are launching The Crossover, sponsored by the good folks at State Farm (also a sponsor of the site’s spiritual brother, Peter King’s NFL-focused Monday Morning Quarterback). Starting with the legendary Frank Deford in the 1960s, when pro hoops took a distant backseat to baseball, pro football, golf and, it would appear, car safety (a three-part series in ’61!), and carried on by McCallum, Phil Taylor, Chris Ballard and Lee Jenkins, NBA storytelling in these pages and across all of SI’s platforms has been the industry standard.
The Crossover, too, is intended to, as its name suggests, strike a balance with other, complementary storytelling, shorter in form and more lifestyle-based. The anchor of the site’s launch is this week’s cover story on Russell Westbrook, who along with his old running mate, Kevin Durant, will be the league’s most scrutinized players this season. Westbrook embodies the ultimate crossover personality, a fascinating on-court performer, who through his fashion initiatives has carved out a space in the broader cultural conversation. Both angles are covered, exhaustively and entertainingly.
One of the great successes of TheMMQB.com will also be true of The Crossover: the ability of featured athletes to present themselves as something more than sports figures. Hoop for Thought is an internal motto of the site. Dwyane Wade opens a window into his decision to leave behind 13 years in Miami to play in his hometown of Chicago. There are basketball reasons for the move, but there is a more personal explanation too. Celtics center Kelly Olynyk was in the building last week; he’s an aspiring sushi chef and, under the expert eyes of two itamaes from New York’s popular Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar, offered a glimpse of what his post-playing career might look like.
There will be a rich range of voices: smart, funny, analytic, social, literary. “Lee [Jenkins] and Chris [Ballard] are two of the best feature writers in all of journalism,” says Matt Dollinger, who will be the lead editor on the site. “Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney provide unparalleled in-depth analysis. Andrew Sharp and Rohan Nadkarni are as adept with analytics as they are with GIFs. And we have a deep trove of contributors—Michael McCann, Richard Deitsch, Jon Wertheim, Jeremy Woo and Jarrel Harris.”
There is no sport—and this point is inarguable to me—that generates a more spirited (and rational) Internet conversation than basketball. It has the best longform storytelling, the most organic connection to pop culture and the most relatable, progressive discussions around analytics. Similarly, the NBA itself has the best, most open-minded leadership (and it’s really not even close), with a curiously rare understanding of the marketability and value of its players. It is again, as it was in the 1980s and for much of the ’90s, on the leading edge.