Walking Away from Jimmer

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I have been a journalist for a good chunk of time.

I landed my first job, at The Tennessean, in 1994, and started work about a week after college graduation. In those 20-plus years, I’ve had an absolutely charmed career. I wrote for my dream publication (Sports Illustrated), I roamed the streets seeking out 3,000 word profiles (Newsday), I got paid to be a columnist (ESPN.com), I’ve written six books. I’m not saying any of this to brag—we all have dreams, and one isn’t greater or more respectable than the other.

But this is my dream career, and I’ve been fortunate enough to live it.

With those years, however, has come a (understandable, I think) change in perspective. For example, back when I was a young baseball scribe at SI, I stood by a pitcher’s locker and waited and waited and waited and waited for him. His name was Tim Worrell, and he told me he’d be with me “after I’m done.” What was he doing? Reading a copy of Field & Stream. In, oh, 1998, I had little pride and lots of fear and insecurity. I probably stood there for 30 minutes, knowing Worrell was testing/fucking with me, but feeling no other option. Nowadays, I’d simply walk away. Not because I’m any better than anyone else. I’m not. It’s just because, well, I understand the value of time. Not merely Tim Worrell’s time (I’m using him as the guinea pig here. He’s probably a nice guy who just had an off day), but my time. Life passes too quickly to be belittled and/or marginalized by ballplayers (or anyone). They’re no more important than I am. I’m not more important than they are.

I digress. These days, along with writing books, I do a monthly-ish long-form sports feature piece for Bleacher Report. It’s been an absolutely awesome experience. Like, probably the favorite article run of my career. It’s allowed me to do stuff like this and this and this, and work with Bill Eichenberger, one of the top editors in the field. The process is quite enjoyable: I pitch a bunch of ideas, Bill brings forth a bunch of ideas. We talk, debate, talk, debate—then decide what we’re going with. Again, it’s been blissful.

Anyhow, about two months ago I pitched the saga of Jimmer Fredette, the former BYU supernova who’s now languishing on the fringe of the NBA. As most people here surely remember, Fredette emerged from nowhere upstate New York to become a legitimate college basketball icon. He was Pearl Washington. He was Bo Kimble. He was Adam Morrison and Steve Alford and Pistol Pete. In short, he stood as a genuine phenomenon … and now he’s averaging 1.8 points per game at the end of the New Orleans Pelicans’ bench.

I love, love, love sagas like this one. There are a ton of elements to it (race, expectations, unrealistic college numbers, hopes and dreams, excitement-turned-indifference), but what really had me was the adjustment. What is it like going from HERE to here? Mentally? Emotionally? Physically? Do you still believe in your greatness? Do you chase what you were? By all accounts, Jimmer Fredette is a wonderful, positive, decent young man—which makes it even better. He doesn’t seem to brood or pout. He just puts his head down, plays, fights through. Again, I love the saga. Love it.

Bill Eichenberger agreed. Originally I planned to fly to New Orleans to sit with Jimmer, but then I saw the team was coming to Los Angeles for three days to face the Clippers and Lakers. I reached out to one of the team’s PR guys (who was, for the record, nothing but polite and responsive), told him what I do (long, detailed features) and asked if he thought it possible. The answer: Yes. I could get Jimmer after the team arrives at the Ritz Carlton yesterday evening.

Fantastic!

I spent Friday reading through Jimmer clips; circling names, compiling numbers. I started thinking about who his plight compared to; went to Twitter to seek opinions. Someone mentioned Kimble—and, indeed, it’s a near-exact match. First-round pick 21 years earlier, iconic, spent a brief spell in the NBA, never really produced. I got Kimble’s contact information. Etc … etc.

I was supposed to meet Jimmer at the hotel at 5 pm. En route, the PR man texted me, saying the plane was late, they’ll arrive around 6. No problem—more time to think about the interview, go through more notes.

At 5:30, I received a text, asking, “How long can I tell Jimmer to expect for the interview?”

I requested 40 minutes. It’s actually an old journalism trick—you request 40, you take an hour. But even 40 would be decent. I also planned on attending tonight’s Clipper-Pelican game; surely I could get more time beforehand. I mean, on a so-so team with one megastar (Anthony Davis), it’s not as if Jimmer is drawing excessive media attention (I don’t mean that snidely. Just factually). Matt, the PR man, responded, saying, “That might be a little long tonight. Can we say 20-30?” He said Jimmer had plans with friends.

I told him, “I’m not exactly in a position to bargain” and I’d appreciate any time I could get. I also noted that I’d be at Pelicans-Clips.

He added Jimmer could probably give me a few minutes of post-game attention.

And then, for a moment, I sat there.

And sat there.

And sat there.

And sat there.

And sat there.

And I wrote—and sent—this …

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And that was that. No Jimmer. No Pelicans. No story.

And I felt … great. I really did. I left the building and found my wife and kids—who were nearby eating dinner before attending the Jingle Ball concert at Staples Center. The wife was a bit confused, and I explained to her my feelings. Which I can express thusly: This was nothing against Jimmer Fredette, and nothing against Matt. They did zero wrong. Neither man owes me or Bleacher Report a thing. They truly don’t. But I’m at an age, and a point in my life, where I aspire to write features about either people who want to be featured and are willing to devote good chunks of time; or people whose lives are so fascinating and riveting that I’ll take a month to dig, dig, dig, dig, dig. (Exhibit A: Willie Williams).

To the Pelicans and Matt and Jimmer, this was just another guy doing another story. And, to them, that’s accurate. But not to me. I want to explore and dig and delve and research. No, it doesn’t always work out. But I at least want a puncher’s chance.

And 20-30 minutes with Jimmer Fredette wouldn’t be nearly enough.

Anyhow, here I sit. And I know what the response (from some) will be: Who the fuck are you? Do you realize how fortunate you are? So many people would beg to sit down with a guy like Jimmer! You’re living the dream! Get some perspective! I do [FILL IN THE BLANK] for my job—and it’s awful!

I get it. I get it. And the thoughts would be justified.

But last night, instead of begging Jimmer Fredette for an extra five minutes or awkwardly asking him for a cell phone number, I was eating french fries with my kids.

I’ve also already got the next story lined up.

And the guy wants to talk.

22 thoughts on “Walking Away from Jimmer”

  1. great behind the scenes stuff Jeff… we never hear about this side of your business.
    and you made the right call.
    the world won’t miss hearing the thoughts of Jimmer Fredette (if he even has any).
    you get time with your kids.
    Jimmer doesn’t have to deal with a pesky writer.
    everybody wins.

  2. Jeff, I admire your candor, and the fact that you made the choice to put your family before a story. A lot of guys would have made the choice to beg for those extra few minutes. Instead you took the time to be with your wife and kids, something your kids will look back on years later, and understand that “dad, chose us over work”.

    Would it have been a great story, sure, but you created the GREATER memory.

    That is a win in my book

  3. Makes sense. Sounds like you would have had to claw to get enough time to put out what you wanted to. Why go through that and risk not even coming out of it with a worthwhile finished product?

  4. I’m surprised he would want to sit down with you at all to go over how he is hasn’t lived up to expectations. He is still in his career probably thinking he could get it back. Why bring more negativity into his life. I would have declined your interview altogether. Maybe a piece like this could be written once he retired.

  5. Jeff, I’ve written many stories for ESPN magazine and, quite frankly, tons of magazines, newspapers and blogs, and am a couple years older than you. And, succinctly, I can’t agree with you more. I have done and would continue to do the same thing. I get zero charge out of interviewing athletes or musicians (what I primarily do), so I have ZERO patience for people who think their time is more valuable than mine. If you want the story, great; if you don’t, great. Just have some courtesy. Not that hard.

  6. Woah your so rude! Who do you think you are??? Who cares how much tie you need you should have your questions ready to go and appreciate other peoples time! I hope you realize you are just a person with opinions not a writer. You use I digress in ever story you write. You always somehow make it all about you, your resume up there isn’t that impressive… You need a slice of humble pie!

    1. You might be right. But, to be clear, I use “I digress” as a running gag line. But, I digress, you didn’t get it, Fred.

    2. LOL! This guy is shocked that Jeff Pearlman uses jeffpearlman.com to express the opinions of, you guessed it, Jeff Pearlman. If you don’t want to hear Jeff Pearlman’s personal opinions, then try any other site not named jeffpearlman.com. #smh

      1. he posts his crap on facebook and I happened to see his nonsene in the last week due to him disrespecting alot of people on many different occasions, He is a self proclaimed writer and I hope someone punches him in the face and knocks some sense into him

  7. Listen I am here in Jimmers hometown. Jimmer is a true role model for children hard to find them in todays sport. I just want to say that Jimmer had a game that night had plans with friends and decided to give you 20-30 minutes and your complaining? When your an athlete in the midst of an 84 game season how much time do you think he gets. Its fine you didnt want to do it but dont act like Jimmer should bow down to you to get an article.

      1. Along with your horrible grammar, I’m just as fascinated that you post under multiple nom de plumes (isn’t that right, disqus_csRAvikg5B?). THIS SHIP HAS SAILED! BOO-YAH!

      2. You’re not as smart as you think you are. Glad you could add nothing to this thread now go troll someone else idiot.

  8. So you were willing to fly to New Orleans, (which takes double digit hours if not days). Then all of a sudden, 20 minutes pre game and a few minutes post game isn’t enough and you bail?

    I’m thinking your non-story (what is posted here) was a better story than the story you actually came up with.

  9. This article is almost as big of a waste of time as your story on Jimmer Fredette would be.

    You seem far too whiny and hypersensitive for this line of work so maybe you should move on to something that better suits your personality, like knitting or baking.

    Can’t believe I just wasted five minutes reading this trash.

  10. As someone who deals with this on the photo side of the equation, I say bravo. I wouldn’t have walked away, I’d have caved, and I know what I would have gotten – a half-interested player going through the motions as I scrambled to fit an hour into 20 minutes. And that’s largely because at 26 I’m still the 20 year-old version of you. But I admire your decision, because I want to reach that point where I can feel confident enough to pass on something deep down I know won’t be what it needs to be to commit to my family. Not there yet, and hopefully I’m not presented with the decision as much as we all are in the industry as time goes on, but I’m sure it will happen. Anyway, well said, and good luck on the next piece.

  11. I’m glad I read this story. It is an interesting perspective on something that we all can, at some point, start taking for granted: our time. As I get older, I’ve started realizing I just don’t have the patience I used to have. Maybe that is because I used to be afraid of other people’s power over me, afraid to make a mistake, just didn’t care enough. Who knows? But, I find myself thinking that if someone is disrespectful to me, or someone else, I don’t want to help enable that behavior.

    Pearlman wasn’t owed anything… but it was agreed that he would get his time with the athlete. The athlete disrespected Pearlman’s commitment, and Pearlman said, “Screw it!” Good for Pearlman. Maybe Fredette will come to Pearlman next time. And you know what… I bet Pearlman would graciously accept and show up when promised.

  12. This is just weird. It was the difference of ten minutes, which he was willing to make up after the game, on gameday. If you really think you’re so important that working through a scheduling conflict equates to begging a younger person for his time, then I didn’t want to read your shitty article, anyway.

  13. So, you are pissed at Jimmer for wanting to cut his interview short with you in order to meet up with his friends, but you are a hero for rejecting him to hang out with your family? Perhaps he was having the same moment of perspective that you were but was willing to compromise. Maybe you should have done the same.

  14. Just stumbled across this and LOVE it. Have done the celeb profiles before, with willing and unwilling participants. (Have NOT done the in-depth stuff, but would kill to do so.) Bottom line is you recognized your own agency and, without pointing fingers or summoning/creating ill feelings, you acted. Very nice.

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