The sports media world suddenly lost a consistent voice in Charlotte, North Carolina, Wednesday morning. Charlotte Observer sportswriter Rick Bonnell passed away in his home on Tuesday at the age of 63.
Bonnell had written about every sport connected to Charlotte over the past 33 years. He was most beloved for his work on the Charlotte Hornets beat as they moved in and out and back into the city. Bonnell was the first beat writer hired to cover the team when they joined the league back in 1988. He served as president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association from 2007-09.
Scott Fowler penned an emotional tribute to his longtime colleague for The Observer:
“To sit next to Bonnell at a Hornets game, as I did hundreds of times over the years, was like sitting next to a hilarious version of a Hornets Wikipedia page,” Fowler wrote about his friend. “Bonnell alternated between regaling me with his encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise with insightful and often very funny comments about the game we were watching. He was snarky when it was called for — and it was called for pretty often, because the Hornets lost a lot. Bonnell covered mostly losing seasons by the Charlotte franchise, including a 7-59 season that he survived ‘with some grace and sanity,’ as he wrote in his Twitter biography. When the Hornets were beaten by 30 points, Bonnell would sometimes say: ‘That was 7-59 bad.’”
As a displaced Hornets fan myself, Bonnell was vital for my connection to the team. Bonnell wrote the first of many game stories I read as a kid. His consistency and commitment to the craft never waivered. Bonnell never took himself too seriously, he always had time to answer a Hornets question on Twitter when I pestered him. The outpouring of support across sports media is because of the person Bonnell was.
“As much as any reporter I know, Rick was accurate, insightful, and fair,” said Observer editor Gary Schwab in the tribute piece. “That’s why Michael Jordan returned Rick’s calls.”
Ariel Helwani: ‘Working At ESPN Wasn’t What I Thought It Would Be’
“One of the good things about going to a place like ESPN is that people view you in a different way.”
Sometimes, when we get that dream job in the media industry or meet someone that we looked up to for years as kids, the experience is not always what we had envisioned it to be. That was the case for Ariel Helwani while he was at ESPN, but he was able to make the most of his situation.
Helwani was a guest on the most recent episode of The Adam Schein Podcast. He mentioned always wanting to work at ESPN when he was a kid. But as he started actually working there, something wasn’t right:
“My dream, as is the dream for a lot of people, was to work at ESPN,” Helwani told Schein. “I grew up idolizing ESPN as a brand and looking up to all those guys like Stuart Scott, Rich Eisen, Chris Berman. This was my life.
“I’m very thankful and grateful for the experience. But it wasn’t, if I’m being honest, what I thought it was going to be. There was some disappointment in that initially, but I was able to turn that disappointment into excitement and opportunities.”
While there was some disillusionment, having ESPN on his resume did help Helwani as he got into future endeavors because now he felt he could do different things for different people.
“Leaving ESPN has been incredible because thankfully, one of the good things about going to a place like ESPN is that people view you in a different way,” he said. “I’m still the same guy, but you’re now the former ESPN guy. You get a lot of opportunities and people want to work with you.
“What was great about my situation was I realized I didn’t want to be exclusive. I wanted to cut up my services into a puzzle and I would do this for these people and that for these people and everyone was okay playing in the sandbox. I have freedom. I have my voice back. I was feeling censored. I was feeling stifled. I don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore. I haven’t been this happy in quite some time.”
One of the things that helps Helwani in trying to grow his brand is that he takes in a lot of sports media. He tries to apply that to what he does because he realizes his responsibility to the audience.
“I’m not a big ‘J’ journalist, but I feel like we have an incredible responsibility to the audience,” Helwani explained.
“They come to us for the facts, news, and entertainment as well, and I don’t want to BS them. I think what helps me is I consume a lot of media. I’m obsessed with sports media. I listen to you while I’m driving my kids to and from school, I listen to WFAN here or 98.7 FM or SIRIUS, I listen to everything. I know what I want as a viewer or listener and I want to be the best version of that in my little world as well.”
In fact, one of the people who helped Helwani early in his career was Schein. He told a story that Schein never heard before. When he was at Syracuse, Helwani contacted Schein for advice and the now SIRIUSXM host took it a step further.
“2003, they tell me to go to the Student Center and there is a computer there,” said Helwani. “You can type in whichever industry you want to work in within broadcasting, media. Network, whichever person you want to connect with, all within the NewHouse family.
“It actually worked. I got an internship at HBO Sports as a result of that. However, I typed in your name and your contact info came up. I emailed you and you called me as you were filling up your car with gas. I get a cold call from you and you were like, ‘Hey, man I got your email.’ I was a junior, a total nobody. You were the only one and I emailed everyone. You gave me advice about careers and life outside.”
New York Mobile Sports Bets Likely to Pass New Jersey for No. 1 in U.S.
“The data tell us that New Yorkers are dumping illegal sportsbooks for the new legal options, and operators are also excelling at attracting first-time bettors.”
New York looks well on its way to become the new No. 1 in mobile sports betting. Bets from the state blasted off in the first two weekends they were available.
This could put New York in position to overtake its neighbor, New Jersey, for the top spot.
According to the Associated Press, Vancouver, Canada-based tech company GeoComply Solutions recorded 17.9 million transactions last weekend in New York. That’s up from 17.2 million the weekend before, when betting went live in the state.
The transaction numbers are related to sports betting activity from a specific location of a customer. Bettors are required to make bets within state lines where it is legal.
The company says 1.2 million new accounts were created in New York since mobile sports betting began on Jan. 8. Nearly 88% of those customers are new to legal sports betting, never having been verified before by GeoComply.
“The momentum of New York’s sports betting launch has continued and it is mostly home-grown,” GeoComply managing director of gaming Lindsay Slader told the AP. “The data tell us that New Yorkers are dumping illegal sportsbooks for the new legal options, and operators are also excelling at attracting first-time bettors.”
These numbers imply that the New Jersey market might be hurting as a result of New York surging. However, while the transactions show New York probably took more bets, they also indicate that New Jersey hasn’t lost any business to New York so far.
New Jersey averaged 12.6 million geolocation transactions in the two weekends before New York’s mobile launch, and 13.1 million in the two weekends since.
About 9.3% of bettors have accounts in both states, the company said.
“The growth in New York has been explosive,” said Rush Street Interactive CEO Richard Schwartz, whose company runs the BetRivers online sportsbook. “It is, by far, off to the fastest start of any of our sportsbook markets in terms of handle. Along with having the largest population of any state with legalized sports gambling, New York is one of the few U.S. states with multiple teams across all four major sports. It’s simply a recipe for long term success.”
Sports gambling company FanDuel is “very pleased” with how New York customers have embraced betting.
“While all markets are critical, it was especially important for FanDuel to do well within our home state,” said spokesman Kevin Hennessy.
While New Jersey is still thriving, it should be interesting to keep an eye on the market as more and more business pops up in New York. New Jersey casinos and sports books say at least 20% of their business has come from New Yorkers crossing over into New Jersey to make bets before New York opened up the market.
NSMA Announces Award Winners, Hall Of Fame Inductees
“The NSMA’s annual awards weekend and national convention is scheduled for June 25-27 in Winston-Salem, N.C.”
The National Sports Media Association (NSMA) will induct four new members of its hall of fame and honor its three national award winners in June, and the NSMA announced the full list of honorees on Tuesday.
Basketball analyst Hubie Brown and the late Stuart Scott will be inducted as hall of fame sportscasters, while Jackie MacMullan and Curry Kirkpatrick will go in as hall of fame sportswriters.
Scott passed away after a bout with cancer in 2015, but he will always be fondly remembered as one of ESPN’s greatest SportsCenter anchors. His catchphrases “Booyah!” and “Cool as the other side of the pillow” were just some that captivated audiences during his time at ESPN.
Additionally, there was a tie for national sportscaster of the year, as Turner Sports’ Ernie Johnson and ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt will share the 2022 award. ESPN baseball insider Jeff Passan was named the national sportswriter of the year.
The NSMA’s annual awards weekend and national convention is scheduled for June 25-27 in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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