The Oklahoma City Thunder has become one of the most premier teams in the NBA since relocating from Seattle in 2008. They’ve made four Western Conference Finals, one NBA Finals and have had two MVP players in just nine years of existence.
And Royce Young has been covering them since day one.
A University of Oklahoma graduate, Young started covering the Thunder when the team first arrived, creating his own blog, dailythunfer.com. Young was eventually noticed by CBS who would hire him as an NBA blogger in 2010, before he took a full-time job at ESPN in 2014 as the Thunder’s sole beat writer.
Today, Young is considered as one of the best in the business at his job.
Young has written many stories over the course of his career, but I asked him specifically over a story he wrote in April of last year called “The Leader Inside Russell Westbrook.” This story took a deep dive into how Westbrook grew as a leader in his first year without Kevin Durant.
“Everybody was talking about the stats and triple-doubles, and I was like there’s more to his MVP campaign, and more about the leadership element,” Young said.
Young took a different angle than most, and knew what he wanted to write months ahead of time.
“It was probably a story we were kicking around March or February,” Young said. “I’m really blessed to have editors at ESPN that are not like traditional editors that are like ‘I want that 700-word story right now’ because I kept telling them I didn’t have enough for it. I wanted it to be a little bit more of a feature type-deal, and they were like alright let’s push it back.”
What made Young’s story unique was the amount of small anecdotes that he had compiled for years about Westbrook. He took the reader inside the locker room, and places most don’t see to create a piece
“A lot of time stories are rattling around in your head, and then a lot of times for me it’s just anecdotes from three years ago that I may just have on my mind and it’s about deploying them at the right moment,” Young said. “In my mind, I’m somewhere the reader’s not. They can watch the game, they can watch the interview, but I’m seeing stuff they don’t get to.”
Over his time covering the Thunder, Young has gotten to know multiple prominent people in the organization such as Nick Collison and assistant general manager Troy Weaver. By having these sources, Young has been able to gain valuable information that most don’t have, giving him the opportunity to write stories like this one.
“The information you have is what’s going to make a great story,” Young said. “A lot of it is just me knowing Russell (Westbrook) for 10 years, and being around him… That’s something I make a point to do, is to observe and really take in scene.”
Young said a lot of the best information comes when you’re not recording or interviewing, but just having a conversation. He also believes to be great a journalist, sometimes you have to be a little over the top.
“To be really good at reporting, you have to be super annoying,” Young said.
This season, the Thunder is one of the most interesting teams in the league, which will make for one of the most important years in Young’s career. Before the season started, he bought a big white board and started writing all of his ideas down
“I want to write the definitive Russell Westbrook fashion story,” Young said with a laugh. “ESPN wants stories that are going to be on the front of the homepage that’s what I hope to do this year.”
Read Young’s full story here: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/19142368/nba-leader-oklahoma-city-thunder-russell-westbrook