Illustration by Caleb Saenz
If people didn't do ill-advised things, the world would be a lot more boring, and a lot worse. This sounds like the voiceover to a Bank of America ad hyming the job creators and disruptors as national heroes, which is because all of American life is always so hard at work on thanking them for their service and because, when we talk about taking creative risks, we generally do so along a continuum of success and failure, and profit and loss. That's boring of us, if also easy enough to understand; life is uncertain, and we as a culture don't have the healthiest relationship to loss. This is why we make the reasonable, grounded, data-backed decisions we tend to make. We're generally right to make them.
Generally. But while reasonable, grounded, data-backed decisions are ideal for home goods and retirement plans, if you are going to make or do something interesting with words or art or both, it's likelier that it will not seem like a great business proposition at the time. It mostly isn't. But there are other good reasons to try things, and there's something affirming and liberating in a longshot. Discipline is good, but there is something to be said for a heat check when it comes to matters like this. This is why I'm optimistic about Game Point, which has just rolled a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. It's a quarterly magazine, art and words, about basketball, by people who care a great deal about basketball—and have, at various times and in various ways, contributed to The Classical—and want to make something good. The odds are good that none of them will be made personally rich by this endeavor. I would say the odds are also good that our conversation would be enriched if the magazine came to pass. I'd say that's worth it. I talked to Andrew McNeill, the notional magazine's founder, over email. If you're up for it, you can contribute to the drive here.
So, uh, print is dead. I don't know if you heard about this. The new thing is just hurling well-crafted sentences into the online void and then considering the mistakes you've made in life. What made you decide to look backwards, to a less depressing/defeated time, and put out a big ol' handsome quarterly magazine, in print?
Print is dead! But it’s also sort of not. I’ve always been a fan of magazines and feature writing; I can’t get enough of it. I’ve always wanted to write for a basketball magazine, but like you said the way to go today is to crank out as many posts as possible as quickly as you can and push them out into the endless digital universe. Of which I’ve done plenty. The problem is, there’s just so much of that and I think people have their limits as far as how much they can realistically consume. Everyone has their favorites that they’ll stick to and outside of those the cream will rise to the top, but people don’t need another basketball blog. So I wanted to do something different. I think print is dying in a lot of ways because in many cases print is not the product, it’s the vehicle. The information is the product. So if the information is the product, it makes sense to do it in the cheapest way possible, which—as someone who’s had to look at estimates and come up with a budget—is 100 percent NOT print.
With Game Point, we want the physical object itself to be the product just as much as the stories and illustrations. Meaning, as much as we want people to read the awesome stories we’ll have and marvel at the creative artwork that our illustrators do, we want the magazine itself to be something our subscribers value. So when you're not reading, you’ll put it on display on your coffee table or have it sitting just so on your nightstand. Hopefully there’s a life to the magazine outside of the short window each day that someone picks it up to read it.
How important is it that Game Point be a tactile thing, and why? How did you approach the relationship between the essays and the illustrations? What are the touchstones, here?
Producing Game Point in print is extremely important. We’ll have a digital version of Game Point as well because there’s definitely a time and a place for that—I like keeping a lifetime's worth of reading material on my iPad knowing that it's there at any given moment—but we want to put the majority of our resources behind the print product. Like I said previously, the physical product is just about as important as what’s printed on the page with Game Point. We want the life of the magazine to extend beyond however long it takes someone to read through the magazine and look at the illustrations. That way people feel like they’re getting their money’s worth out of it. The content is the first priority, and producing a quality physical product falls in line right behind that.
Our main focus to start with, after formulating the initial idea for the magazine, has been the crowdfunding campaign—because if we can’t reach our funding goal, we won’t be able to go forward with the magazine in the ways we have planned—so we don’t yet know how the process will work with the relationship between the writing and the artwork. That being said, the plan it to connect the writers and illustrators early on in the process so that the artwork on the pages of the magazine really reflects the focuses of the stories.
It says something about basketball—or at least about the online culture surrounding it—that this sort of quixotic, art-for-art's-sake endeavor more or less makes sense. Similar journals just don't exist for the NFL, for instance, or even for the more ostentatiously literary baseball discourse. What made you think this was worth doing, or necessary, and why do you think it will work.
A large part of why we’re doing this and why we’re confident it’s going to succeed is because similar publications have been successful in the soccer community. Howler Magazine (which was successfully launched on Kickstarter way back when), 8 by 8 Magazine and The Green Soccer Journal are all successful print quarterlies that have found homes in the soccer community. I think there’s a lot of overlap between American soccer fans and the online hoops community because both sports seem to reach a similar young, creative fan base. Because of that, I believe basketball fans can sustain a similar print publication.
As a soccer fan in addition to my hoops fixation, I’m a subscriber to a number of the magazines that I mentioned and wondered why there wasn’t one for basketball. I wanted one to exist and was willing to pay for it, so I figured other hoops fans would be the same. I probably started planning this project out almost a year ago and figured someone would beat me to the punch along the way. No one did, so I’m happy to be the one here talking about my new basketball print quarterly.
What is it, do you think, that makes people want to do stuff like this about basketball? What made you want to do it? What about the community of basketball carelords made you think this would not just work, but be worth all these hours and all this energy?
Basketball is such a fun sport in so many ways. The game itself is fun and one of the few that people can really play into their middle ages. At some point the knees go, but it’s accessible long after your truly competitive days are far behind, which you can’t really say for sports like football. So there’s that connection that keeps people tied to the game. There’s also the interesting characters throughout basketball that keep us entertained. It’s been talked about to death how exposed basketball players are when they’re out on the floor, how there’s no where for them to hide, so I think that makes them a little more open to expressing themselves. The tenth-best player on any given basketball team (76ers excluded) is probably more recognizable to the general public than the fourth or fifth-best player on most baseball or football teams.
But it goes beyond the players as well, even the people on the fringes are entertaining personalities. Take Craig Sager, for instance. Name another sideline reporter in any sport as beloved as him. He’s incredible! And he’s simply tasked with interviewing coaches between quarters (which is a wonder in and of itself) and reporting tidbits and injuries from the floor every now and then.
The game is full of wonderful characters and it has made me want to be a part of it. Not in the same way that players or TV personalities are, mind you. It’s been like pulling teeth for me to get in front of the camera to do the video for the Kickstarter and be self-promotional in ways that will hopefully get Game Point some backers. But I want to create something that fits in to that unique basketball world and has a home in it. I think that Game Point is it.
Presuming that this Kickstarter works, what do you want to do next? Where does all this go?
That remains to be seen. If and when this thing gets funded, we’ll hit the ground running on issue #1 so that it’s ready to go by the time the 2016-17 NBA season starts in October. From there it’ll be a matter of growing and sustaining the magazine so that it’s not just a flash in the pan and lasts longer than a handful of issues. We’d like to grow it into a business where contributors can make some money from and eventually work on the magazine full-time. That would be great. But that’s also probably some years off. For now we just want it to work and stick around because we love the idea and think it can work. I’m excited for us to make it happen.