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Nolan Richardson, Scott Perry, CJ McCollum pay tribute to Marc J. Spears ahead of Hall of Fame award

Andscape’s senior NBA writer to receive the 2023 Curt Gowdy Media Award

Spend just 10 minutes with Andscape senior NBA writer Marc J. Spears in a sports setting and you quickly realize why he’s often compared to the mayor of a city.

Walk through the tunnels of a sports arena, and you discover he’s on a first-name basis with everyone from the arena staff to the players to the front office. Chill with him at an All-Star Game or summer league, and he’s getting all the exclusive interviews. Ask him for help in writing a story about him being honored with the 2023 Curt Gowdy Media Award for excellence in print media, which Spears will receive this weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts, and he will send you his Rolodex, which includes multiple All-Stars and a Hall of Fame coach, among others. The award is given annually to members of the electronic and print media for outstanding contributions to basketball.

Spears knows everyone and everything, which has come on the back of nearly 30 years as a reporter climbing the ranks from a daily newspaper in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the airwaves of ESPN.

Those he’s covered over the years describe Spears as full of positive energy and always dedicated to getting things right. He’s an aggressive reporter (you have to be to get the scoops he’s gotten), but he’s never been considered annoying or off-putting. What’s set Spears apart from some other reporters is his intimate knowledge of the game, partly from being a former player — he played one season at the University of the District of Columbia.

Ahead of Spears receiving the Curt Gowdy Award this weekend with ESPN reporter Holly Rowe, Andscape spoke with a few people in the sports world who have been a part of Spears’ journey to this accomplishment and they shared what he means to the sport.

Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Nolan Richardson speaks to the guests during the 2014 enshrinement ceremony on Aug. 8, 2014, at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Nolan Richardson, former Arkansas men’s basketball coach

Nolan Richardson, the Basketball Hall of Fame coach who took Arkansas to three Final Fours in the 1990s and won the national title in 1994, started his coaching career at a Texas high school in 1968. Needless to say, he didn’t come across many Black reporters during his time as a coach. But ahead of the 1995-96 season, a year after the Razorbacks lost to Duke in the championship game, Spears was hired at the Tulsa World, making him one of the few Black reporters on the Arkansas beat. That led to the pair getting to know each other better.

Representation is important to Richardson, whether on the court or off it, to show future generations what’s possible. He knew that firsthand: During the 1993-94 college basketball season, Richardson was one of three Black coaches in Division I basketball besides John Chaney and John Thompson, a development that Spears reported.

“If I never see a Black coach on the sideline, why should I aspire to be one? It just don’t happen,” Richardson said. “And that’s the way I felt about reporters and TV announcers and all that, the whole bit. Our guys, our people, our kids need to see that there [are] other ways other than being a jock or a player.”

What Richardson appreciated the most about Spears was his conviction and dedication to getting a story right, the real story. Spears asked questions that sought an answer, rather than asking questions that sought the answer he wanted. Some other reporters, Richardson said, just wanted the perfect quote for their story. But don’t get it twisted: Spears wasn’t coming in uninformed.

“I kind of took Marc like Colombo,” Richardson said, comparing Spears to the 1970s television show named after a cerebral detective. “He knew all the answers, but he just wanted you to tell him.”

Scott Perry, former New York Knicks general manager and former Eastern Kentucky head coach

Scott Perry met Spears in 1998 when the latter was in his first year working at the Louisville Courier-Journal. A year before, Perry was hired as Eastern Kentucky’s first Black coach in program history. Spears stood out because of his unusual size as a journalist (he is 6-feet-7), and that he is Black. African Americans make up just 10% of sports writers, according to The Institute for Diversity and Equity in Sports (TIDES). And that was in 2021. Numbers were lower in the 1990s.

The pair would meet and talk in Perry’s office. Well, his “office.”

“My office was probably as big as a broom closet and had no windows,” Perry told Andscape.

He appreciates Spears for many things (“He’s an angelic figure, he laughs easy, he has real good empathy for what’s going on in the situation”), but two things stand out that illustrate Spears’ impact on sports: being a Black reporter and his commitment to journalistic integrity.

“I’ve always respected and appreciated good journalism and good journalistic integrity. And I think it’s important to have people of color — especially when you talk about covering sports like basketball that are really dominated by young African American players — having someone who understands their background and their circumstances a little more intimately,” Perry said.

“Not to say that a white writer couldn’t develop that and have that, but Marc has lived a number of the experiences that these players have lived coming up as young people, aside from basketball, aside from the sport itself, just life.”

That extends to Spears’ work with the National Association of Black Journalists, where he has mentored other Black journalists, and as chair of the organization’s sports task force.

Spears embodies something that Perry’s father used to tell him and his siblings when they were growing up.

“You make a living out of what you do, but you make a life out of what you give,” he said. “And I think Marc is giving back to people and he’s exemplified that quote.”

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum during the fourth quarter of a game against the New York Knicks at Smoothie King Center on April 7 in New Orleans.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

CJ McCollum, New Orleans Pelicans guard and National Basketball Players Association president

If there’s one fun fact to know about CJ McCollum, it’s that while starring for the Lehigh University basketball team he was also a reporter for the student newspaper. While leading the program to two NCAA men’s tournament berths in four seasons, McCollum was also reporting on the school’s field hockey and tennis teams, uncharted territory for a future first-round NBA draft pick.

Black reporters like Spears influenced McCollum to take the journalism path, even when some majors are considered easier for college athletes.

“Seeing a Black man cover sports definitely had an impact on me and my development,” McCollum wrote in a text to Andscape. “He [Spears] is someone who has always offered guidance, help and support.”

McCollum met Spears at summer league in 2013 and was impressed by his knowledge of basketball and his “super laid-back personality.” He also appreciated the care and creativity Spears put into his stories, electing to write layered pieces instead of what McCollum considers clickbait.

For the 2022-23 season, McCollum and Spears teamed up for the player diary series on Andscape (NBA players Draymond Green, Trae Young and Vince Carter, among others, have participated in the past), allowing McCollum to document his expectations for the Pelicans, his holiday volunteer work, and the beating death of Tyre Nichols, a Black man, by police in Memphis, Tennessee.

“The fact that Marc actually wanted to peel back some layers and share some of the behind-the-scenes we have as players was a unique experience,” McCollum wrote. “Being able to spend time talking about the season, my family, community and life in a way that fans could enjoy was a cool experience for me.”

Marc J. Spears, 2023 Curt Gowdy Media Award recipient

  • Graduated from San Jose State University in May 1995
  • Born in St. Louis, raised in San Jose, California
  • Has covered 18 NBA Finals and All-Star Games
  • Dallas Morning News intern, 1995
  • Tulsa World reporter, 1995-97
  • Los Angeles Daily News reporter, 1997-98
  • Louisville Courier-Journal reporter, 1998-99
  • Covered the Denver Nuggets for the Denver Post, 1999-2007
  • Covered the Boston Celtics for the Boston Globe, 2007-09
  • National NBA reporter for Yahoo! Sports, 2009 to 2016
  • Chair of the sports task force for the National Association of Black Journalists, 2011-17

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"