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J.R. Wilco interviews Henry Abbott

There's a very large number of credentialed media members walking around the AT&T Center in San Antonio this week. And it wasn't unusual to lock eyes with Pat Riley just seconds after seeing a nationally recognized TV personality taking a curling iron to her hair. A small distance away, a couple of bloggers are talking to each other about something ...

Henry Abbott interviews Jeff Van Gundy before Game 4 in San Antonio
Henry Abbott interviews Jeff Van Gundy before Game 4 in San Antonio
Kristen M. Hudak

Six or seven years ago, I was reading and there was a story I used to regularly read with a rundown of notable articles organized under a listing of every team those stories were about. Not every team was listed every time, but one memorable day, under the words San Antonio Spurs was a listing that read something like, "The language is salty, but the writing is very good." Even after seeing that caveat emptor, I clicked on the link anyway, and the rest is history.

And that's how Henry Abbot is responsible for me finding

This week, I'm at the Finals covering the Spurs for the very same PtR, and I had the opportunity to interview Mr. TrueHoop himself. Before Game 4, and without any quiet room available, we stood in the underbelly of the AT&T Center with pre-game preparations going on all around us while we talked about basketball, writing, TV shows, and parenting.

* * *

J.R. Wilco: What's your favorite part of your job?

Henry Abbott: When I was graduating college, I had a lot of smart friends doing ambitious things. And everybody was like, 'What are you going to do next?' And I had a job already, I was working at CBS. But I thought, 'What do I really want to do?' And it sounds kind of lame and weird or whatever but I wanted to work on idea-driven stuff every day. I wanted to think of something and do that thing. And I wanted to work with a group of smart, energetic people.

And I found that that's almost impossible to have a job like that. Most jobs aren't like that. You don't get to think of something and do that thing immediately in most jobs, and work with a small group of intelligent and hard working people. It took a while, I'm 38 now, but that's what my daily life is like. It literally will be 11 o'clock at night, I have a clipboard by my bed. I'll write something down, and that is my assignment for the next day, basically. Idea driven stuff is what I do every day. That's exciting .

I think of some crazy thing, and like a week later, I'm somewhere and ten people are talking about that thing, you know? And that's pretty cool! -Henry Abbott

And some percentage of those ideas resonate with other people, which is even more exciting. I think of some crazy thing, and like a week later, I'm somewhere and ten people are talking about that thing, you know? And that's pretty cool!

I don't even care about the ownership. I just like ideas, you know? I think ideas are exciting to me and I've never really been a guy who's interested in like, 'Well this is how we've always done it'.That doesn't really excite me. I don't get tremendously excited about traditional -- I'm more excited about 'How can we do this better?' And you know, idea driven stuff is a treat to me.

JRW: OK, weird question, but do you have a particular set way that you read a box score every time?

Abbott: Oh, no, I don't like box scores. I mean, I look at them because sometimes I have to be really fast. Like when we did TrueHoop TV after the game, five minutes after the game I have to have some-- I can't say somebody shot well or not without looking at the box score, right? I've got to at least look at the thing.

But I think, quoting Daryl Morey, 'Whoever invented the box score should be shot.' It has horribly bastardized how we've viewed the game. Basically if you look at AP headlines, it's going to say, 'So-and-so led the team', right? Very often that's the guy who destroyed their chances of winning, right? Because he's the guy who took 29 shots and made 10, but he may have been the highest points per game scorer. Points per game is a stupid metric, you know. It's like, points per shot, what ever, there's a million ways to do it, but like, the box score has confused us for so long, I just feel like I'm ready to move on.

JRW: OK, what would you like to move on to?

Abbott: That's the million dollar question. There's 50 things, you know? Like, I think defense is a part of the game. Needs to be in the box score somewhere. I think just efficiency -- per game metrics aren't really smart metrics ever. It's more like, you're not really a good free throw shooter per game. You're a good free throw shooter per year. All these sites are out there: Basketball Reference, Hoop Data, stats. So I feel like all these people are workshopping the next day coming up with really interesting things. Some version of this will be the future. Right now we have a bunch of new stuff that's all embryonic and I don't really know what will connect with fans and what needs to be what every person has available in the daily paper or what ever. But I just kind of feel like, we know the box score isn't the best we can do.

JRW: So you have a favorite NBA Finals?

Abbott: The first one I ever went to in person was kind of like an, 'Oh wow' moment for me you know. It was in 2000; I only went to the East games in Indianapolis against the Lakers. It wasn't really a particularly good finals, but I just remember walking into Conseco Field House and just being like, 'I'm at the NBA Finals. That's pretty cool'. I think I thought I'd live my whole life without going to an NBA Finals. So that made it a big deal. That feeling like when you're a little kid and you go to a big event and you're walking into the stadium thinking ‘this is a big deal.' I got that feeling as an adult in 2000, that was a big deal.

JRW: Growing up was basketball always your favorite sport?

Abbott: Yeah. I played other sports. I played year round sports in high school and none of them were basketball. But mostly because I loved being on the ski team and you couldn't do both, you had to choose. But all my friends were on the ski team, it was so much fun. They invented WalkMan when I was in 7th grade and that was my deal. I was supposed to do my homework, and I could sit there with all my books open and have my Walkman on and listen to the Blazers game -- that's how it went. You know you can do your homework much faster if you really have to. I would basically listen to the game and look like I was doing it, and then like it would be 11 o'clock and I'm this 7th grader like, 'Oh man' and fly through and do my homework really fast at the end. But that's how it started for me.

JRW: So you grew up a Blazers fan?

Abbott: Yep, I grew up in Portland listening to the Blazers and it was kind of personal. I mean most of my friends were like, too cool and deep and artsy to be into something as silly as NBA basketball. But I was all in, everybody knew. Every chance I got to go to a game or what ever, I loved it.

JRW: Do you still consider yourself a Blazers fan?

Abbott: Oh heck yeah. Luckily it never conflicts with my objectivity in the playoffs. Because they are very seldom there.

JRW: Burn, I love it. That's awesome. OK so did you grow up rooting for any other teams?

Abbott: No. Just Blazers. It's a one team town, man.

JRW: Yeah, but I mean, do you have a Major League Baseball team or NFL team?

Abbott: No, no, nothing, none of that. I'm a Blazers fan.

JRW: Wow, one sport, one team.

Abbott: Yeah, no college, no nothing.

JRW: So, do you watch the rest of them and you don't have a rooting interest or you just not watch any other sports?

Abbott: To be totally honest, I don't like watching TV really at all. It's just not my thing. I don't like sitting down, I'm kind of an active guy. I watch like a gazillion hours of NBA basketball, and by the time the season is over, I want another. I mean it's fun to watch like dramas with my wife every once in a while, which doesn't happen during the basketball year at all. So the last thing I need is another sports addiction, you know what I mean? I need that like a hole in the head. I'll watch 10 minutes of the Super Bowl. I'm aware of whether the Yankees are good or bad because I live in the New York area. But, no, I don't watch any other sports.

JRW: So what kind of dramas do you guys like to watch?

Abbott: I'm a Homeland guy. But that's like 10th on my wife's list. She'll tolerate it but.. Friday Night Lights I thought was great. That was big in the Abbott house, Friday Night Lights. When the music plays I still get kind of excited. Let's see -- what else is good?

JRW: Breaking Bad?

I am cool with Breaking Bad. My wife, not so much. It had a hard time making it to the top of the list. The Wire, of course. The Wire, The Wire, The Wire. The Wire is like forever legendary. -Henry Abbott

Abbott: I am cool with Breaking Bad. My wife, not so much. It had a hard time making it to the top of the list. The Wire, of course. The Wire, The Wire, The Wire. The Wire is like forever legendary. Oh! And House of Cards.

JRW: Yes! Absolutely.

Abbott: I'll defend House of Cards to the death. That's pretty much it, I don't really watch a lot of TV that's pretty much what we've got. Oh and Modern Family. I've gotta respect Modern Family.

JRW: Gotcha.

Abbott: So I met the guy, I met the actor who plays the dad, Ty Burrell. He played at the NBA Celebrity game or he was there anyway. And I don't care about celebrities or whatever. But I was just like, 'Oh man, I just gotta say hi, I totally love your show.' And I was like, 'I kind of identify with your character as a dad. I don't know if that makes me, you know, if it says bad things about my parenting.' And he's all, 'It certainly does! That guy's a nut.' Like you shouldn't parent like that.

JRW: He absolutely judged you, that's fantastic.

ABBOTT: He did.

JRW: So how many kids do you have?

Abbott: Two.

JRW: Did you always write growing up?

Abbott: Yeah. I went to a pretty serious high school. I was lucky enough to go to this really good private high school with small classes. Writing was their big thing. They made us work on it really hard and then I went to NYU so I had journalism and did a whole bunch of writing. And I was pretty much writing from the second I graduated in some way or another.

JRW: Cool. So you always knew that was something you wanted to do?

Abbott: I think I'll be doing that until I die, yeah.

JRW: Right. But did you know that's what you wanted to do?

Abbott: I didn't know the career. But I knew I wanted to do something idea driven and writing.

JRW: Alright, transition from starting off blogging, working with ESPN, and now incorporating TrueHoop video. What was that transition like? Was that a natural thing to you to get in front of the camera or did that take some time to get comfortable with?

Abbott: I actually have a degree in broadcast journalism where we had a cable access TV show. I ran around with cameras and camera crews and stuff. And I was a professional radio reporter out of college for some time. So, like, interviewing, that kind of stuff is natural to me. What's not natural to me -- and I don't mind the camera - doesn't freak me out. I feel like I'm going to talk the same regardless. What is not natural to me is I have to shave.

I had a job where I could just like show up and nobody cared. We got a fair amount of comments, I've been in shorts on a couple of off days or what ever. People care now. Like, I left for the Finals for better part of a month without any way to trim my nose hair and that's an issue. I have to worry about that now. You know, personal grooming is at the forefront in a way that it never was. That's been the big adjustment. You just gotta worry about how you look. The little mic has to clip on, it's much better to have a button down shirt.

So, you know, when we started doing more TrueHoop TV, it was at the finals two years ago, I had to run out and buy more button down shirts. Because I can't be in the same button down shirt for 21 straight days on video. You just can't do that, you know? So, it's a life change. It's not a big change but these are things I have to worry about now that I've never had to worry about before.

JRW: That's all I have. Thanks so much.