Back by popular demand, it’s The Fury Files, the seventh-most downloaded Q&A on Kindle. As always, I will shamelessly plug previous editions, so check out my interviews with Tom Linnemann, John Millea, David Brauer, Joe Posnanski, Pat Coleman, Kevin Van Valkenburg, Michael Kruse and Chris Jones.
When Ballard talks about writing or hoops, you’ll want to listen.
This week’s guest is Chris Ballard, a Senior Writer for Sports Illustrated. Ballard joined SI in 2000 and has been a Senior Writer for about eight years. All he’s done during that time is become one of the best writers in the magazine, not to mention one of the most versatile. Ballard is best-known for his superb NBA writing. And while it’s a well-deserved reputation — as these stories on the dunk and Kevin Durant prove — it would be unfortunate if his skills as a hoops wordsmith overshadowed the fact he’s put together a series of features at SI that stack up against anyone’s.
This year, Ballard was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in profile writing for a November 2011 story about Dewayne Dedmon, a Jehovah’s Witness who went against his mother’s beliefs and eventually became a Division I basketball player. Twice Ballard has earned inclusion in the Best American Sports Writing series. The first time was for his 2006 story on an insane high school football game in Arkansas. The 2011 anthology honored Ballard’s story on Cal crew member Jill Costello and her inspiring fight against cancer. Some of Ballard’s other memorable features include his piece on retired quarterback Jake Plummer, the story of the kissing couple from the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots and a piece from this past February, which you very well might find in next year’s BASW book. The feature focused on Chicago-area high school wrestling coach Mike Powell and his fight against a draining, potentially deadly illness. Ballard did an interview with freelance writer Brandon Sneed and the pair dissected the story on Powell. Make sure to check it out. In the most recent Sports Illustrated — the May 14 issue — Ballard examines Kobe Bryant, his dad, Jellybean, and mom, Pam. The story is “Where Does Greatness Come From?” and is another superb piece by Ballard.
Ballard has also written four books, with the newest one hitting bookstores next week. His first, Hoops Nation, chronicled his half-year-long trip across the country playing pickup basketball. The Butterfly Hunter: Adventures of People Who Found Their True Calling Way Off The Beaten Path came out in 2006. And in 2009, he wrote one of my favorite basketball books ever, The Art of a Beautiful Game.
His latest effort, which is already receiving a lot of praise, is One Shot at Forever: A small town, an unlikely coach and a magical baseball season, the story of a high school baseball team in Illinois that accomplished great things back in the early 1970s. Hoosiers on the diamond. Ballard first told the story of the Macon Ironmen in a 2010 Sports Illustrated story. The book will be released on May 15.
Back to hoops. Ballard was a good high school player who played a year for Division III Pomona College in California. He’s still pretty tough and if you watch the video in this story Ballard wrote about some magical shoes, you can watch a sports writer dunk.
Below, Ballard talks about the inner editorial workings of Sports Illustrated, playing hoops with his dad, an interesting piece about a boring Tiger Woods, column writing vs. longform, finding your voice as a writer, writing about Kobe, his new book, Hoosiers, and a whole lot more. Thanks a lot for your time, Chris.