The Artful Blogger: Hoopinion’s Bret LaGree

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My favorite Atlanta Hawks blogger, Bret LaGree, moved to Atlanta from Eastern Kansas in the summer of 1991.
He graduated from Druid Hills High School and then Emory University, where he figured he’d become a big writer. Around that time he had his short play “Guyworld”—focused on three white middle-management guys in their thirties watching Monday Night Football together at a bar—produced as part of the Young
Playwrights Festival in New York. LaGree, now 32, has since worked a series of “nominally professional and/or seriously menial jobs
in Atlanta, while writing a number of unproduced (in the case of plays and
screenplays) and unpublished (in the case of stories and poems) works
for reasons both good and ill.”

In the Fall of 2004, he and his younger sister Carrie began a
basketball blog called “Hoopinion.” Carrie contributed a single
post before retiring from basketball blogging. Meanwhile, Bret wrote for PhogBlog (about Kansas Jayhawk basketball
and football), HackTheBracket (about the NCAA Tournament), and
CourtsideTimes.net (about the NBA). He put Hoopinion on hiatus to found
Peachtree Hoops in the Fall of
2008 before returning to his online home in January 2009 to provide
analysis and opinion about the Hawks for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network. He also writes a film blog called “Film is a Battleground.” Here, in typical style, he takes some questions.

Q: Kansas
is a great college basketball state, and you had the good fortune (from a
basketball point of view, at least) of growing up there. What was the
transition to Atlanta like for a spoiled young basketball fan?

A: I
hadn’t had a professional basketball team to support since the Kings
left Kansas City in 1985. (My Mom brought me out of my concern about an
earlier family move from Kansas City to Topeka by promising I’d get
taken to see a lot of CBA games in our new home.) So I was excited to
be in an NBA city again. I didn’t warm up to the Hawks immediately,
largely because I was, in typical teenage fashion, passive-aggressively
protesting being moved half-way across the country. Aside from that
marginally shameful choice, it was the Dominique Wilkins/Danny Manning
trade that really built up my resistance to becoming a Hawks fan for
awhile. Not just because it was a terrible trade (it was) but because
of the contempt with which Danny Manning’s name was spoken here long
after he’d left in free agency. For someone who was aged seven to
eleven while Manning (in possession of his original knee ligaments,
mind you) played at Kansas, this was an unforgiveable diminuation of a
personal hero. He was essentially Kevin Garnett a decade before. Not
that I ever stopped following the Hawks, but I didn’t get seriously
invested in the team until the franchise committed to rebuilding in the
Summer of 2004.

So is Atlanta as bad a sports town as it’s perceived to be by most of the country?

Not
at all. I think the perception is due more to college football and
NASCAR not counting when pontificating about the quality of a sports
town. The rest is blaming Atlanta sports fans for not blindly
supporting what have been, at times, some really poorly run
professional franchises.

What did you think you’d be doing for a living when you were 12? What about when you were 21?

When
I was 12, I probably still clung to some hope of playing basketball
through college (Golf being my safety sport.) then getting into a
coaching or front office career path. I’m not sure I’ve fully given up
on the possibility of the latter even at the age of 32. At 21 I was far
too confident (in that I lacked any real plan for accomplishing the
goal beyond stunning people with my perceived talent) that I would be a
professional writer of some stripe.


What basketball or sports bloggers do you emulate?

I
lean toward the more analytical basketball bloggers: Kevin Arnovitz at
ClipperBlog, Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and elsewhere, Kevin Pelton
and John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus, Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t
Lie
, Ben Q Rock at Third Quarter Collapse, to name just a few I try to
emulate as I resist the urge simply to steal from them. I think the
level of analysis and writing throughout the TrueHoop Network is really
high and I’m proud to be a part of that. I admire and am envious of the
communities at Sactown Royalty, CelticsBlog, Blazer’s Edge, and Blog a
Bull
.
I’d be remiss not to
praise the Hawks blogsosphere (Peachtree Hoops, The Human Highlight
Blog
, Hawks Str8Talk, and The Vent) who, though small in number, are as
vital a group as can be found.

How did you develop your pseudo-footnoted style of blogging?

In
about 2003, with two uproduced plays (one good and one very long and
very dull) weighing on me, I took a stab at writing fiction and tried
to develop an expansive, footnoted prose style in the manner of David
Foster Wallace and, less directly, Jean-Luc Godard. That hasn’t really
coalesced for me yet. When Joe Posnanski started writing his blog and
made use of long asterisked and italicized digressions I immediately
stole it and replaced my long-paragraphed, heavily parenthetical
blogging style with more compact and discrete units of prose.

From where do you draw the bulk of the stats you use to buttress
your blogs?

On
a game-by-game level I might keep track of some things myself then
double-check my work against the game log before publishing anything.
For season and historical stats I use Basketball-Reference.com,
Knickerblogger‘s stats section, 82games.com,
and BasketballValue.com. For college stats, I rely on KenPom.com save
for the Kansas Jayhawks about whom I have a decent home-brewed
collection of game-by-game team and player stats going back several
seasons.

Does interpreting statistics come naturally to you?



I
don’t think an interest or facility with stats comes naturally to me.
It was more a product of environment. My math skills topped out at
Algebra II but I was exposed to Bill James at a young age (3 or 4 when
Dan Okrent’s article in Sports Illustrated was published, 5 when the
first Ballentine-published Baseball Abstract came out) simply because
my Dad lived across the hall from James at KU. I couldn’t understand
the math
at that age but the skepticism and the belief in the value of finding
answers to questions made a big impression on me and as sabermetrics
was my first exposure to that sort of questioning statistical analysis
has retained its appeal for me to the extent that I can understand or
utilize the relevant data and methods.


Sekou Smith
obviously has limitations on what he can say, and how many words he can use, in his print coverage of the Hawks for the AJC. What limitations, if any, do you have?

My
access to the team is limited and, because I don’t write about the
Hawks for a living, the time I can spend studying game film or
attempting more in-depth stuides is limited.
I
rue the latter more but that may be because I’m largely ignorant of
what the former might add to my work. Plus, I’m seriously introverted.


You occasionally take a sarcastic tone with folks who make what
you perceive to be dumb or misinformed comments on your posts. Do you worry about alienating anyone?

I
want the commenters to take the subject as seriously as I do. Luckily
for me there are several intelligent and insightful people who
contribute comments to the blog. I don’t have a problem with alienating
someone who demonstrates they have little to add to the discussion. I’m
much more concerned that my own limitations (or repetitions) as a
writer and analyst alienates informed readers.


What kind of following has Hoopinion developed thus far?

The
traffic has grown consistently from the TrueHoop Network launch in
January and (quite naturally) peaked during the playoffs. It’s my goal
to create enough interesting off-season content to retain the interest
of both new and long-term readers through to next season. It’s a far
more rewarding enterprise the more feedback (both positive and
critical) I receive.


Cute name, by the way. Who came up with “Hoopinion”?

I
did and I think “cute” is probably the best that can be said of it.
Originally, this was going to be a basketball blog written by both my
sister and me. That brother/sister, sibling rivalry thing was going to
be our hook. We spent months trying to come up with a name for it. She
didn’t have the time to do it in the end, but I don’t think that’s
strictly due to any aversion she felt regarding the name.

What similarities do you see between film criticism and sports criticism? Important differences?

I
think that, if you take the respective subject matter seriously, in
both cases you’re examining how and why something does or doesn’t work.
Basketball, of course, has the complementary or contradictory
relationship between results and aesthetics working or not working so
that’s another layer of tension between your objective and subjective
reactions to the material. Film criticism has the benefit of not
subjecting you to 82 movies a year made by the same group of people.


How do you generally write a game recap?

It’s
tough to time because I don’t have the opportunity to sit down and
write the recap straight through. Typically, I take a lot of notes
during the game some of which are worth something at the end of the
game and some of which are not.
I complete all the post boilerplate (boxscore and gameflow links, four factors table, etc.) after the game. I
try to write something after the game that night. Sometimes I manage
whole, usable paragraphs. Sometimes I manage just the sketchiest of
notes. I usually fall asleep and/or wake up thinking about whatever I
haven’t successfully communicated about the game yet. I write and
re-write as necessary in the morning, double-check any stats I use or
suppositions I make, add the links and quotes and publish the recap as
early as possible.


Do you have other plays, poems, or stories in the works that you can talk about?

My
plays, poems, and stories are in a perpetual morass of being in the
works. I hope to finish, or at least stop working on them, and send
more of them out this summer. I feel good. The blog has really helped
my self-confidence as a writer and I hope that translates to these
other types of writing.
If
I have a novel in me I suspect I it’s about the three years I caddied
at East Lake. At this point, all I know for sure is that I have a
really bad screenplay in me about that time.


Where’s the best place to watch a basketball game in Atlanta?

Though
I understand why people are partial to Alexander Memorial Coliseum (and
it is a nice place to watch a game), when your formative years are
spent attending games at Allen Fieldhouse or Ahearn Field House it
creates a powerful, prejudicial view of what constitutes a proper
college basketball viewing experience. Factor that, and my greater
emotional investment in the Hawks into the equation, and Philips Arena
stands as my clearly preferred basketball arena in town.



The worst?


I
haven’t really felt connected to any of the basketball (NBA, regular
season college, Final Four, Olympic) games I’ve seen at the Georgia Dome and
would, were I allowed, ban all manner of basketball from domes for the
duration.

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