With the numerous personalities, writers, bloggers and columnists over at ESPN, it’s quite difficult for someone new to stick out and distinguish themselves. Jemele Hill has found a way to do just that and then some. Hill writes both for Page 2 on ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. On the television side, Hill is a guest and occasional host of “Jim Rome is Burning”, when Rome himself is away and she has also appeared on ESPN’s “First Take”.
Prior to joining ESPN, Hill was a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel and prior to that she was a Michigan State beat writer for the Detroit Free Press, where she was born and raised. I had a chance to ask Hill about the Pistons/Celtics series, bloggers and some of her favorite sports writers.
Rashad Mobley: What do you think about McDyess’ breakout performance in Game 4?
Jemele Hill: Dice has probably been one of their most consistent players in the postseason. From an energy standpoint, it shows that he’s the guy who has yet to win a ring. He’s going to be very important because the Pistons will need that energy to sustain them and it will help them ward of that frustrating complacency.
Mobley: Have you ever talked to him, and if so, what are your impressions?
Hill: I’m pretty sure I’ve interviewed him a few times. He’s a good guy. He’s got a quiet strength that his teammates really respect.
Mobley: How close do you think Flip Saunders was to starting Rodney Stuckey, and would you have started him if you were the head coach given Billups’ play up to that point?
Hill: It’s hard to go with a rookie over a Finals MVP — even if he’s banged up. I think you start Chauncey, but you play Stuckey more minutes to preserve Chauncey for the fourth quarter, where he usually excels.
Mobley: What are your predictions for the remainder of this Celtics/Pistons series?
Hill: Pistons win in six. The Pistons are one of three teams left in the playoffs who can win on the road. San Antonio and the Lakers are the others.
Mobley: There were rumors during this past offseason about Flip Saunders’ lack of job security? Is that still an issue? And if they do not win it all this year, do you think he’ll be back?
Hill: If the Pistons don’t win the title, I would be surprised if Flip returns. He’s a good coach, but not a championship-level coach. There are times when the Pistons respond to Flip, and other times they treat him like a substitute teacher. If the players don’t respect the coach, it will be impossible to win a title.
Mobley: You have written articles and appeared on television. Which do you prefer to do and why?
Hill: I’ll always prefer the writing because I got into the business to be a journalist. TV has provided an exciting turn in my career, but writing is what I would do for free. But don’t tell ESPN that.
Mobley: Who is your favorite NBA player to interview and why? And, if you can, talk about your least favorite.
Hill: It will sound like I’m sucking up, but NBA guys are my favorite. They’re more relaxed, easier to deal with (baseball players are the worst, by the way). My favorite team to interview is the Spurs. I’m always baffled that they get the boring rap, because top-to-bottom, they’re the best quotes in the NBA. They’re just cerebral. Tim Duncan has a really good dry sense of humor, but he’s overlooked because his facial expressions don’t change. Pop [Greg Popovich] can be prickly, but he’s always honest. As for least favorite, I don’t really have one. But I’m going to guess it probably wasn’t a whole lot of fun covering the Knicks this year.
Mobley: One of my earliest basketball memories is Julius Erving cupping the ball, and gracefully dunking over Michael Cooper. What is your earliest basketball memory?
Hill: I’d probably say Bird v. Magic in the NCAA title game. I sensed it was very important, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that I understood why. We were looking at the future of the NBA.
Mobley: Besides yourself, who are your favorite NBA writers/columnists past or present?
Hill: David Aldridge and Stephen A. Smith are excellent. Very well sourced and they just know the league so well. I’d also add Marc Spears at the Boston Globe, Sekou Smith at the AJC, Vince Thomas and Lang Whitaker at SLAM, Henry Abbott at TrueHoop — very underrated guys who are a pleasure to read.
Mobley: In your humble opinion, who is the best b-ball player to come out of Detroit?
Hill: That is a really difficult question. I’m only going to go with my lifetime, but most people my age would say Chris Webber or Jalen Rose. But the old heads would definitely say Curtis Jones, a playground legend.
Mobley: How do you feel about Gilbert Arenas’ blog, and NBA bloggers in general? And as a writer, does it bother you that you are now sharing space with them on the internet?
Hill: I love blogs and I love that players are blogging. The only thing that bothers me is when blogs take vicious shots at people, and unfortunately they do that a lot. They’ve done it to me, but I’m able to have a sense of humor about it. I also don’t think blogs should hide behind this idea that the further removed they are from the games and the athletes, the more objective they are. Having to face a guy after you’ve ripped him makes you more accountable and careful about getting the information correct. I love Deadspin. It is one of my favorite blogs, but I can’t agree that access corrupts you. But I’m not so conceited or territorial so as to think that my voice is the only one who should count because I’m a “classically trained journalist.” Players should definitely blog because they have a right to have their voices out there. Besides, there is some information we simply can’t get from them. Why not allow them an avenue to express it on their own?
Mobley: What is the feel good NBA story of this season in your opinion?
Hill: The league’s reputation being restored. People have been so down on the NBA since the fight between the Pistons and Pacers at the Palace and this year. This year, the NBA was energized by the trades to Boston and Los Angeles, the resurgence of the slam dunk contest and the most competitive Western Conference we’ve ever seen. This is the best year the NBA has had since Jordan left.
Mobley: Based on people that I know and have talked to, they either love the WNBA or you hate it. There seems to be little middle ground. Why do you think this league isn’t more popular? And have you been to a game?
Hill: People love taking shots at the WNBA, which I often find to be pretty demeaning, and I admit, I’m a little biased. I covered the league its first two years. I’ve covered a lot of college women’s basketball and I’ve developed a few close friendships with players over the years. I watch the WNBA. That Sparks/Mercury game on ABC to kick off the season was a fantastic game. But the product isn’t as good in the pros as it could because it’s a short season and teams don’t get a chance to really gel. The obvious result is bad basketball played amongst some fantastic players. Unfortunately, it’s always been en vogue to take shots at women’s sports, even though it’s a little juvenile.
Mobley: Channel your inner David Stern and give me three things you’d change going into the next NBA season.
Hill: I’m kinda old school and I just loved basketball in the 80s and 90s. I wish I could change things to allow a little more contact. I miss playoff fouls that didn’t result in suspensions. I miss offensive players having to develop two or three counter-moves because the defense was so good.The changes I’d want to make, like fewer guaranteed contracts, couldn’t be made next season.
Mobley: Assuming Derrick Rose is picked first, if you are Pat Riley, do you draft Beasley or OJ Mayo
Hill: Who says Rose will be picked first? The right move for Chicago is to draft Beasley, and the right move for Miami is Rose. Miami needs a point guard. Dwyane Wade is very talented, but his ball-handling is suspect. He’s a turnover machine and he’s as guilty of over-dribbling as LeBron. And am I the only one who sees a reincarnation of Glenn Robinson in Beasley? Robinson was an automatic double-double, but I’m not sure the comparison is a good thing.
Mobley: Did you vote for MVP? If so, who did you vote for and why? If not, who would you have voted for?
Hill: I didn’t have a MVP vote, but if I did, I probably would have voted for Chris Paul. That’s a painful admission because I’ve been beating the Kobe for MVP drum for the last two seasons. Kobe taking Smush Parker, Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, etc., to the playoffs was a lot more impressive than what he did this year. Chris Paul had one of the best seasons any point guard has ever had. He turned around a franchise and they nearly finished with the top seed in the West. How he elevated the games of the players around him was remarkable.
Mobley: Do you have any website of your own, in other words, plug your own stuff?
Hill: I have my own website, jemelehill.com. It started it as a way to give readers and viewers more personal insight. I’ll also admit it’s an easy way for my friends and family to keep up with my schedule.
Mobley: Thank you for you time Jemele. I look forward to seeing you host “Jim Rome is Burning” all next week on ESPN.