Guess what? My BlackBerry still works
I greatly appreciate all the concerns and well-wishes from friends and colleagues fretting about my well-being after reading about BlackBerry's handheld demise, but it's time to explain the full story
Remember how I (jokingly) mused recently about starting a coffee Substack on the side? New (faux) plan: I think I have to consider starting a BlackBerry Substack.
It might be the only way this corner of the tech world, which still very much matters to stubborn BlackBerry devotees like Tony Snell of the Portland Trail Blazers and moi, gets written about with some balance.
There has been a flurry of stories in recent days about how BlackBerry, now essentially a software company, would be shutting down support for older models that still use original BlackBerry operating systems as of Jan. 4, 2022. As in today.
This was actually announced in 2020, but the reminder statement posted Dec. 22 naturally led to the umpteenth round of "BlackBerry is dead" proclamations all over social media and countless friends checking in on me, publicly and privately, to make sure I wasn't hiding somewhere in my house, weeping uncontrollably in the fetal position.
NBC News @NBCNewsBlackberry will discontinue service for its classic devices on Jan. 4, the company reminds users. https://t.co/eHtccEehFq
Breaking News: BlackBerry phones — sorry to disappoint — are not remotely dead.
More Breaking News: I wrote the first draft of this story, like I do with almost every story, on my BlackBerry KEY2.
Something closer to actual Breaking News: There are still credible rumblings in circulation that Texas-based OnwardMobility, whose plans to unveil a new Android device under the BlackBerry name by the end of 2021 did not come to fruition, might still eventually produce its long-promised new 5G device after facing the sort of supply delays that have plagued so many industries in the COVID-19 era. Hopefully such rumblings come to fruition.
Either way …
I will try to explain this as succinctly as possible since so few of the latest BlackBerry obituaries that were forwarded to me did it justice. The last two phones issued under BlackBerry's brand were Android devices with a classic BlackBerry physical keyboard made by China-based TCL. Those devices, to this point, have not been affected in the slightest by the shutdown BlackBerry has just instituted on its ancient phones that had largely become obsolete anyway. I realize that a hybrid BlackBerry/Android device is not nearly as cool or revolutionary as the original BlackBerrys that changed the world, but the newer models still work splendidly. When you zoom in on the picture of Snell from November when the Blazers commemorated his 30th birthday with an epic BlackBerry cake, his own device in the photo is from BlackBerry's Android 4G generation. It surely still works just fine.
The shutdown only affects all of the old classics you surely remember: BlackBerry Bold, BlackBerry Curve, BlackBerry Torch, etc. BlackBerry hasn't manufactured a phone of its own since 2016. The reality, furthermore, is that you've probably run into trouble if you’ve tried in recent months to plug away with one of those glorious devices from the previous decade, because most of the major wireless carriers are doing away with the 3G towers that kept those phones operational.
I found this out the hard way right before last season's NBA trade deadline in March 2021 ... because such catastrophes naturally happen to NBA writers only around the trade deadline or free agency. The charging port on my KEY2 deteriorated to such a degree that I couldn’t fully charge my phone, which absolutely freaked me out because I was sure the issue would cause it to die completely and lead me to miss out on a vital transaction.
While I tried to find someone in Dallas who could actually do the required microsoldering needed to fix a defective KEY2 charging port — and amazingly I eventually did — I threw my SIM card into an old BlackBerry from my collection, figuring I could just use it for texting and phone calls to ensure that I didn't miss anything on the go-to number of the two cell phones I carry (along with an iPhone that I've had since The New York Times provided me one in October 2017).
When I woke up the next morning, I was greeted by a text message notifying me that AT&T had deactivated my BlackBerry fossil, saying that wireless towers in the area would no longer sync up with a phone that old. Shipping delays on a new KEY2 that I had ordered via Amazon while I was hunting down the microsoldering expert to fix my original KEY2 meant that — gasp — I would have to put my BlackBerry SIM card into a second iPhone we had laying around the house to keep both my phone numbers operational.
You read right: I had to make it through the last couple days of the 2021 trade deadline with zero BlackBerrys and two iPhones. Not gonna lie — it was rough.
I learned a lot of BlackBerry backstory through this ordeal and after receiving some helpful counsel from Houston-based Adam Matlock, who produces must-watch tutorials and reviews on all sorts of devices via his Tech Odyssey channel on YouTube. Matlock is a BlackBerry lifer like me and warned me months in advance that I should probably switch my KEY2 service to T-Mobile because AT&T would soon make all BlackBerrys — even the Android models — inoperable. The T-Mobile service in my section of Dallas is horrendous, which is probably worth a completely separate column rant, but I will repeat what I wrote in this September 2020 piece for Wirecutter after my time in the Walt Disney World bubble: Without trying to be morbid, there's a decent chance I will die with a BlackBerry of some sort in my hand.
As a rampant nostalgist who gets overly sappy about all kinds of stuff, I totally understand the longing for and reminiscing about the place BlackBerrys used to hold in our society and how far removed it feels now from the days that there was no more loyal BlackBerry supporter than President Barack Obama. I just can’t stomach the rush to bury the BlackBerry name when plenty of people are still happily pounding away on QWERTY keys.
Remember, friends: BlackBerrys are synonymous with the magical keyboard … not the bloody operating system. When physical keyboards have completely and totally vanished, that’s when it will truly be time to check on me.
When we reach the point that the Android models no longer have a compatible wireless carrier, or if OnwardMobility's planned phone never materializes, then we can start to contemplate the true end of the BlackBerry. Even then, though, I'm still so reliant on this keyboard that I'm sure I’ll be bugging Professor Matlock to teach me a way to rig it to work or at least clinging to the device for writing drafts so long as I can connect it to Wi-Fi.
I enjoyed a wonderful back-and-forth text chat with my longtime colleague J.A. Adande over the weekend in which he sagely noted that this sprint to proclaim BlackBerrys deceased makes especially little sense in these times when we all do so much more texting, Slacking and DM-ing than actual face-to-face talking.
Physical keyboards, when you think about it like that, should have more value than ever.
Because typing on iPhones — for all the apps, music and camera goodness they offer — absolutely sucks.
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Traditional Tuesday Content
The lead item today was obviously a detour from the usual NBA fare you find atop my Tuesday newsletter extravaganzas.
I couldn’t let all the incomplete coverage about BlackBerry’s purported demise go unanswered, but I also did publish a full separate column Tuesday morning digging into Becky Hammon’s abrupt halting of her pursuit of an NBA head coaching job to return to the WNBA as the new head coach of the Las Vegas Aces.
It's a new year. I've been publishing on this wonderful new platform for a mere six months.
On Monday we turned my annual prediction piece that lands as close as possible to Jan. 1 into a communal endeavor. So let's persist with that theme and open up the virtual suggestion box to discuss content … NBA and otherwise.
What would you like to read more of in 2022? Or less of?
I've got a lot of things planned already in terms of stories I hope to tackle, but I would love to hear your ideas either in the comments below or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
There has been considerable concern voiced leaguewide about quality of NBA play suffering because of the COVID-19 surge in December that has already forced teams to extend more than 130 10-day hardship deals to replacement players from the G League and the available free-agent pool. Pure numbers can’t speak completely to how aesthetically pleasing an NBA game is or isn’t, but we can pass along that scores weren’t dramatically more lopsided in December than normal. Of the 209 games played in December, 108 were decided by double digits, according to research provided by the Elias Sports Bureau. That figure is not terribly out of line compared to the number of double-digit games in the league in each of the previous four Decembers to feature a full schedule: 105 in 220 games in December 2019; 102 in 218 games in December 2018; 97 in 227 games in December 2017; 108 in 232 games in December 2016. (Note: December 2020 was excluded here because the 2020-21 season didn’t start until Dec. 22.)
Kyrie Irving hasn’t appeared in a game for the Nets in 205 days — not since Game 4 of Brooklyn’s second-round playoff series with Milwaukee. Irving is expected to make his 2021-22 debut Wednesday at Indiana.
In his first game as a 37-year-old, LeBron James totaled 43 points, 14 rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots in the Lakers’ home rout of Portland last Friday. James also had zero turnovers; Basketball Reference says that the only other players to assemble such a stat line over the past 40 years were Moses Malone (1982), Patrick Ewing (1991) and Dirk Nowitzki (2009).
Maybe the Western Conference isn't all the way gone. I've been writing for days about the uncharacteristic mediocrity that plagues the West when you scan past Golden State, Phoenix, Utah and Memphis, but we have to point out that West teams do collectively hold a 100-92 record in head-to-head meetings with Eastern Conference teams this season.
Cleveland's Evan Mobley is averaging 14.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per game ... and the Cavaliers boast the league's No. 3-ranked defense with Mobley serving as the Cavs' anchor on D. It is not inconceivable, in other words, to start getting used to the idea of Mobley becoming the first rookie to earn an All-Star selection since Blake Griffin, then with the Clippers, in 2011.
The Jazz have amazingly been forced to send none of their players into the league’s health and safety protocols this season. (I wanted to tweet something about this but know I will be castigated as the jinx if Utah’s fortunes change just by writing it here.) As I tweeted over the weekend, entering Sunday’s play, 15 of the league’s 30 teams have already used at least 20 players this season, led by Dallas and Detroit with 24 each.
As explained in the following tweet by my dear friend Ben Hoffman from The New York Times sports desk, Sam Jones won nearly 93% of the playoff series he played in during his Boston Celtics career. Jones, who was recently selected as one of 76 players to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, died Friday at the age of 88.
Marc Stein @TheSteinLineStatement from the Celtics on the passing of the legendary Hall of Famer Sam Jones: https://t.co/CCydrLbq3s