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Jun 25 / King Kaufman

Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins on his fly-on-the-wall Warriors celebration piece

After the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship last week in Cleveland, they celebrated, and Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated wrote about their party.

His piece is a classic of what’s known as fly-on-the-wall reporting. Here’s his lede:

CLEVELAND—The season of splash ended Wednesday at 2:18 a.m., on the loading dock at Quicken Loans Arena, 20 feet from the Warriors bus. Stephen Curry raised both arms, let out a triumphant roar, and in a fit of euphoria lost control of the Heineken in his right hand. He tried to catch the bottle, but it splattered against the cement, leaving a puddle of green shards and Dutch hops. A few of Curry’s teammates, waiting for him outside the bus, saw the final splash. They erupted in applause.

“Him dropping the beer was kind of a fun one because they’re all the same,” Jenkins tells Mark Selig in an audio interview on Selig’s Backstory blog. Jenkins is referring to championship celebrations. He goes on:

When you’ve done one of these you’ve kind of done them all and you’ve seen them all. They follow such a pattern, even what the players say and how the teams react, and the hats and the T-shirts and the champagne bottles and the smells, and you know. But to that team, to those people, it’s unique. To those people it’s something that they’ll remember forever. But you have to find a way to kind of show their joy without painting those scenes that I think for a lot of readers and fans have almost become mundane at this point.

We’ve all seen those champagne celebrations multiple times in multiple sports. Covering another, Jenkins looked for ways to make this one stand out, and he did it with that old writing standy-by: He showed rather than telling. He didn’t ask players how it felt to win the title. He showed them celebrating.

“I’m not quoting people as much as I am just capturing as many scenes as I can,” he says, “just kind of thinking of myself as a camera.”

Jenkins and Selig—a master’s student at the University of Missouri’s journalism school—also discuss Jenkins’ profile of Steve Kerr, which he wrote without having much personal access to the Warriors coach.

How’d he manage that? Listen and find out.