A Q&A with NBA Writer & Podcaster Richard Ivanowski
Richard Ivanowski’s been all over the place.
The 31-year old has found himself an integral part of the Sacramento Kings community over the past year, joining the Sactown Royalty staff as a writer in the summer of 2018 after becoming an active member earlier that March. This year, he’s been making things happen: to opening his new podcast with Brendan Nunes, to transferring to Sacramento State after a long, wavering journey, to (virally) getting married wearing a Harry Giles jersey, he’s made waves and opened discussion amongst Kings fans everywhere. Ivanowski is quick-witted and open to discussion, taking an objective approach to topics surrounding the Sacramento Kings as they continue to progress in their rebuild — what should they do next? Who should they sign? Did they make a good decision sending Harry Giles down to Stockton?
I had the opportunity to meet Ivanowski at the California Classic series and get to know him. We talked about writing, social media, basketball, and where Ivanowski would like to go from here.
What was your journey like coming to this point? How did you break into journalism, and what led you to where you are now?
I’m pretty old for someone starting out something new. At 31 years old, my journey is long and complex — too much so to describe in a few paragraphs. Speaking strictly about the last year, which is when I started writing, I suppose it’s pretty straightforward. I wanted to write about basketball, so I just went for it. I didn’t really have a plan or design to it; I just started writing stuff and then asking around for places that I could post it online. First, it was on Reddit and Medium, then I came across SB Nation. The fanpost feature was perfect for what I was looking for. The first thing I put up there was something I’d worked really hard on, and it received a lot of good feedback. The Sactown Royalty crew even discussed it on their podcast. That definitely motivated me to work even harder, so I decided I would make one post each week. It happened pretty quickly, honestly — I think I put up ten posts in ten weeks. Eight of them were well-received and bumped to the “best of” section. One really took off and the site manager of StR moved it to the actual front page of the site. By then, I had gotten most of the staff to follow me on twitter and had sent a few of them messages asking for writing tips. They eventually liked my work enough to have me join the staff.
What is it like writing for a site like Sactown Royalty?
Writing for StR is an amazing opportunity. All SB Nation blogs are great, really, but a few of them stand out above the rest. The StR community there is huge, and has been for years. While blogs don’t fill up your bank account like more established media outlets, they allow you the freedom to write whenever and about whatever you choose. SB Nation’s affiliate blogs have served as a stepping stone for writers who went on to The Athletic, The Ringer, and many more industry-leading sites. If you are motivated to build a career, you can start there — or you can just contribute as a hobby when you feel like it. There’s a really nice balance to our site, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.
What advice would you give to college students or other young writers as they look for an opportunity in the writing field?
Just write. It’s obvious, but I think that the first step is where most people get tripped up. Tons of people ask how to join StR and the answer from our site manager is always the same — start writing and posting your work. Writing jobs don’t go to people with nice resumes or good interview skills. They go to people who actually take the time to write 1,000–2,000 words a week and muster up the courage to publish them. It’s so easy to put your work online that there’s really no excuse not to. When you are consistently doing the work, the recognition and opportunity will follow.
How would you describe your writing process? What sparks the idea to write something?
I think about basketball all the time. I watch games constantly and listen to podcasts in between. It’s not hard for me to come up with content. When I notice something that I think no one else has, I sit down and write an outline for a piece. I just keep filling out the outline until it’s a complete article. One thing I always do, though, is sleep on it and make one final edit in the morning before submitting. That fresh set of eyes has done a nice job polishing my work before publication.
What is something you’re most proud to have written?
A couple of pieces stand out to me. My first post as a member of StR’s staff was a breakdown of back-to-back top 5 picks. It combined my research of recent history, contained some interesting stats tables, and ended with a projection of the future. It set me off on the right path within the community. I had started off thinking that I had to prove things with numbers, and I tried to form these airtight arguments. The article that took me to the next level, however, had much more of a narrative and was far more editorial — it defended the selection of Marvin Bagley by Sacramento with the second overall pick in last year’s draft. At the time, nearly everyone was all-in on Luka Doncic. I viewed the players on a more equal level, so I did my best to explain why Bagley could be the right selection based on context. I’m proud that I had the confidence to play devil’s advocate when nobody really wanted to hear it — at least, I thought nobody wanted to. It turns out that a lot of people did. Now, I try to stay versatile and combine subjective and objective points. One final thing — and it’s not a polished or well-written thing — but I wrote a twitter thread a few months ago that was very personal, and actually had nothing to do with basketball. I talked about struggling with college as a teenager and subsequently being kicked out, mostly due to drinking and drug abuse. I shared a little about my journey back from that and back into the academic world. I was once in a really dark place, and things have turned around for me completely. Sharing something that personal felt like another turning point for me, and another sign that I was heading in the right direction. I think that people really appreciate when you are honest and vulnerable. The feedback I got from that was enormous and I definitely learned that it’s alright to share those types of things, even with strangers.
Social media has made it much easier for anybody to share their work — whether writers, musicians, filmmakers, etc. Do you think your articles have thrived popularity-wise due to the accessibility that social media provides? Are there any downsides to having a presence as a writer on Twitter or Facebook?
Yeah, there’s no question that social media is a wonderful tool for exposure. Anyone can essentially broadcast and publish their thoughts. You can build a brand from scratch through social media if you stay at it. The downside is that you’ll be exposed to negativity along the way, and it can be tough to block that out at times. I’ve definitely gotten into really stupid arguments online — that’s just the nature of the beast. If you focus on the positive you’ll be fine. After time, I’ve come to see that sort of negativity as fuel, much in the same way many athletes describe, though on a much smaller scale. Every successful person has doubters and all. If someone attacks me on social media, I’m in a place where I see that as a good sign. The best writers have thousands of trolls in their mentions every day. If I have five or ten, that’s a good start.
Is there anything that needs to be changed about the sportswriting field?
I’m still fairly wide-eyed about the field. I’m grateful that people read what I write and listen to what I say. Someday I may become jaded and resentful of the process, but for now, I’m just trying to learn the ins and outs of the landscape and try not to be too cynical about what I find.
A lot of your posts are based on analytics, statistical comparisons and rankings, and using objective measures to justify your case. Do you think there’s a line between judging players using analytics and the eye test? If so, how can we objectively make sense of a player’s value?
Numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the whole story. You have to trust your eyes and your gut as much as you trust stats and figures. If your eyes tell you something but the numbers disagree, then reassess. If the numbers tell you something but your eyes disagree, then reassess. On top of that, we can’t ever really judge a player perfectly, as so much can change on a daily basis. You could be right about a player one day, then see a whole new feature of their game the next. Developing an expected range is probably the way to go, and making sure that range is flexible to change.
You’re very involved and in-depth with the Kings as you continue to build your career as a writer. Do you get to interact with NBA players or personalities much? How do you develop relationships with others in the sports industry? Any stories?
I’ve just started to make progress in this area. Last season I was a credentialed media member for the Stockton Kings, which gave me a great networking opportunity along with the chance to talk with guys like Harry Giles and Wenyen Gabriel. Attending the California Classic earlier this month was a big deal for me. I got to rub elbows with a lot of the writers and reporters I look up to, and speak with the players as well. I don’t have that many stories yet, but I did get to see Giles again after wearing his jersey at my wedding ceremony in June. My wife and I agreed that I could wear a Kings jersey if I hit 10,000 retweets, and the good people of Sacramento made it happen. Harry has said some very kind and touching words about that and we got to have a nice moment in the tunnel of the Golden 1 Center recently.
Where do you think your career can go from here?
It’s hard to say, you know? I don’t like to look too far ahead. Goals are good, and I can assure you mine are large and plentiful. But I try to stay focused on what I can do today to improve my life and my craft. I’ll never get to where I want to be if I don’t work hard to build a steady foundation.