Free agency is almost here, but first ...
Please allow me to commemorate one full calendar year of publishing via Substack and formally welcome you to a Year 2 that, thanks to this #thisleague, is already off to a lively start
For at least a year before I started publishing this Substack, I spent countless long walks consumed by visions of what it would be like to leave legacy media behind and leap into the world of independent publishing.
I obsessed over it. I wore out close confidantes by endlessly debating the pros and cons with them. I questioned how my ego would handle the surrender of my fancy New York Times business card.
I wrestled with the irresistible pull of the Substack magnet until the start of last season’s playoffs, when the prospect of making the leap suddenly got serious. By the end of the Phoenix Suns' Western Conference finals triumph over the LA Clippers, I was really headed to a new universe.
This past Saturday, my second year as a first-time entrepreneur commenced. On June 25, 2021, I announced that I was leaving the NYT after 3½ mostly blissful years for the opportunity to get my maiden taste of Boundless Autonomy — in a career which began at age 16 at the twice-weekly Saddleback Valley News.
Now, then, is the time for my One Year In reflections as promised.
I'm a lot closer to Forty Years In than 30 once you do the big-picture journalism math, so it felt like the ideal time to roll the dice. After intensely tracking the newsletter space and studying every angle for months, I had finally reached the stage that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t take the leap with whatever is left of my (ahem) prime.
What you quickly learn about Boundless Autonomy, of course, is that it comes with Total Responsibility. I am very fortunate, with Substack's assistance, to have secured my former ESPN NBA editor Royce Webb as an extra set of eyes for nearly every Substack piece I post. In this sphere, though, Royce pitches every post back to me for the final read. He only suggests changes that I have to approve. He knows all my bad writing habits well and can anticipate when and where I am likely to resist his suggestions ... like my rampant overuse of ellipses. And ultimately I'm the one who hits the big orange publish button every time. I would guesstimate that I send out pretty much every single piece an hour later than I intended to because I take so long with that final read, agonizing over every little thing like every editor I've ever had knows I can't stop myself from doing.
Daunting as I make that whole process every single time, so much else on this ride has been spectacularly enjoyable. It's unquestionably intoxicating to make every decision and scheduling call, big and small, to test my judgment. It's an undeniable rush when a story resonates so much that it generates 50 new subscriptions — or 100. And it's just flat-out fun to write a whole travelogue about a soccer trip to England, or muse for several paragraphs about fortuitously finding a new coffee haunt somewhere, or weave in the most personal writing I've ever done because, hey, I make the rules now.
There are countless challenges and mysteries in this realm that I'm still trying to work my way through. I did not have the luxury of bringing my NYT mailing list with me when I started this endeavor and I haven’t managed to deduce why a five-figure segment of the audience that previously subscribed has not followed me here to simply receive my still-free-every-Tuesday edition. I repeat: Every Tuesday Newsletter Extravaganza from The Stein Line is free to all and shall remain so. I hope to reconnect with those readers ASAP.
Yet I can unreservedly say that this old newspaper nerd is absolutely entranced by this platform and all of its possibilities ... as much as I miss the honor of seeing my words printed on the NYT's pages. I can honestly say, with gratitude and relief, that I thought I would miss the printed word more. It doesn't torment me nearly as much as I anticipated when I see a Times rack and know that there is a zero percent chance that I have a story on those pages. I'm too busy trying to map out what to write next and when to print it to best connect with my loyal (and patient) readers, whose faith and support make it possible for me to cover the league as an independent journalist. All the costs attached to proprietary reporting — like travel, health care, etc. — fall almost fully on me now, so the assistance is vital in helping me produce the best possible content.
I understand that the NBA, first and foremost, is a league that largely plays out on social media. It hasn't been lost on me that two of the three most successful Substacks in sports are helmed by baseball scribes: Craig Calcaterra and Joe Posnanski. The baseball audience, they say, skews older and is often billed as more apt to read more than 280 characters at a time.
I was nonetheless convinced from the jump that there are still plenty of hoopheads out there, like me, who want to go well beyond 280 characters. We have been finding each other with greater regularity every single week, which has pushed The Stein Line to a heady No. 4 among Substack's sports offerings.
Yet that's only one of the many milestones and memories from my rookie season that will stay with me. I was so psyched to see and introduce my own site logo (adorned with Cal State Fullerton colors) as designed by artist Casey Burns. It was quite surreal to talk about writing with another Substack rookie named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I won't soon forget hearing from Substack exec Dan Stone in January, after I had broken some news about Daryl Morey's grand plan to hang onto Ben Simmons in Philadelphia until he could convince the Nets to trade him James Harden, that Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser had led off an episode of Pardon The Interruption by talking about my story ... with Tony, as only he could, shrugging his shoulders as he tried in the moment to figure out what Substack was as he was citing it.
For a former Washington Post intern, who learned so much from Mike and Tony and relished the sight of them staging PTI-style debates in the office long before they ever became a national TV sensation, it was a validating, we're here moment.
I'm naturally proud of the frequency with which I've published (more than 200 stories in Year 1) and the reporting I've done on free agency, trades and coaching matters (on Gregg Popovich, Quin Snyder, Steve Nash, Steve Clifford, et al.) that repeatedly put the community we're building ahead of the news. Yet I relish with equal gusto how naturally this platform affords me the opportunity to write passionately about my travels that, say, land me on a pickleball court with the Hall of Famer Rick Barry ... or to get my Alan Sepinwall on and opine about the Rocky movie franchise and HBO's Winning Time ... or to rant against those in the tech media who improperly suggest that BlackBerrys are dead (mine still works!).
Or to tell the story of my father's life after he survived the Holocaust.
I'm equally proud that less of my stuff, in truth, is paywalled under the Substack model than it would have been had I stayed at the NYT. I made a pledge when I started this thing to keep the Tuesday Newsletter Extravaganza completely free and close to the same format in which it appeared from January 2018 through June 2021 for The Gray Lady. Since I left the NYT, newsletters like mine have all been moved behind the NYT's paywall, meaning that nothing I would have written there would be free had I stayed.
I know not everyone can join us as a paying subscriber and I am truly grateful for anyone who does. If you prefer to stay on the free path, you will continue to get several thousand words every week from me. Hopefully you will enjoy what you read and hear and encourage friends and family to join us — word of mouth is always hugely important for growth.
Paid subscribers, meanwhile, will keep getting every single word, fun banter in the comments from yours truly and everyone else participating in the discussion and all the NBA news, chatter, opinion, storytelling, historical perspective and interactivity I can muster.
Time now to get back to the madness of free agency, with the NBA's offseason marketplace officially opening Thursday at 6 PM ET. Allow me to send it over to Coach Dale to formally pitch us into Year 2 with some inspirational words:
The Stein Line is a reader-supported newsletter, with both free and paid subscriptions available, and those who opt for the paid edition are taking an active role in the reporting by providing vital assistance to bolster my independent coverage of the league. Feel free to forward this post to family and friends interested in the NBA and please consider becoming a paid subscriber to have full access to all of my posts.
As a reminder: Tuesday editions, on this and every Newsletter Tuesday, go out free to anyone who signs up, just as my Tuesday pieces did in their New York Times incarnation.
We debuted this feature in Sunday's This Week In Basketball column and want to try it again in the latest Tuesday Newsletter Extravaganza. So we ask …
What would you have done in Kyrie Irving’s sneakers?
Irving had until Wednesday to exercise his $36.9 million player option with the Nets for next season ... or decline it and head to free agency. Amid a growing belief in various corners of the league throughout the weekend that he was legitimately preparing to decline the option and potentially absorb a $30 million pay cut by signing with LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers for the $6-ish million taxpayers' mid-level exception, Irving abruptly told The Athletic’s Shams Charania on Monday evening that he would exercise the player option, likely binding himself to Brooklyn for at least one season.
What outcome were you really rooting for?
The Hornets returned to Charlotte, known then as the Bobcats, for the 2004-05 season 18 years ago. The rebooted franchise has reached the playoffs only three times in those 18 seasons — twice when coached by Steve Clifford. Charlotte has rehired Clifford for a second stint as Hornets coach after Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson backed out of an agreement earlier this month to take the job as James Borrego’s successor.
Three franchises — Minnesota and Sacramento alongside Charlotte — have failed to win a single playoff series in that 18-season stretch. The Timberwolves have made the playoffs only twice in that span, while the Kings have missed the postseason for a league-record 16 consecutive seasons.
This recent TV graphic which appeared on ESPN leading up to the NBA Draft made for painful viewing for Kings fans, noting how three of the club’s recent draft selections came one spot ahead of an unquestioned All-Star guard:
Ace Substack columnist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made only one 3-pointer in 18 career attempts en route to becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. The 3-point line, of course, was an option for only the final 10 of Abdul-Jabbar’s 20 seasons. Abdul-Jabbar relived the 3-pointer he did make in 1987 on a recent The Tonight Show appearance with Jimmy Fallon.
Orlando’s selection of Paolo Banchero with the No. 1 overall pick in last Thursday night’s NBA Draft broke a 3-3 tie between Duke and Kentucky for the most No. 1 selections during the common era of the NBA Draft, which dates to 1966 when territorial rules were scrapped. Banchero joined Elton Brand (1999), Kyrie Irving (2011) and Zion Williamson (2019) on Duke’s list of No. 1 picks. Kentucky’s No. 1s: John Wall (2010), Anthony Davis (2012) and Karl-Anthony Towns (2015).
Banchero was the 13th consecutive freshman selected with the No. 1 overall pick. The last non-freshman drafted with the first pick was Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin by the Clippers in 2009.
Three of the five G League Ignite players eligible to be drafted were selected last Thursday: Dyson Daniels (No. 8 to New Orleans via the Lakers), MarJon Beauchamp (No. 24 to Milwaukee) and Jaden Hardy (No. 37 to Sacramento; traded to Dallas). After the draft, Michael Foster Jr. and Fanbo Zeng signed with Philadelphia and Indiana, respectively.
This is hard to believe but indisputably true: Kyrie Irving’s teams have a sub-.500 winning percentage across the eight seasons in his 11-year career that he did not play alongside LeBron James.