In a first-round Bulls-Celtics NBA playoff series already marked by surprises, chief among them the Bulls’ 2-0 lead over the Eastern Conference’s top seed, ESPN has a doozy of its own set for its Friday Game 3 telecast.
Working the United Center sidelines while Mark Jones and Hubie Brown call the action will be Adam Schefter, ESPN NFL reporter.
“This, to me, is like a professional vacation,” Schefter said during a phone interview this week interrupted only once by an NFL source’s call on another phone. “I’m going to put my draft work down for the night and swoop in, do the sidelines for the night.”
It took him 27 years to get to a Bulls game, by his own estimation. But he’s finally made it. In almost every way, it seems.
That’s because the story behind Schefter’s NBA assignment, the third game he’s been assigned to work this year, doesn’t begin with the ESPN contract extension he signed late last year giving him occasional opportunities to dabble in his nonfootball interests.
It dates back to 1989 and ’90. Schefter was attending graduate school at Northwestern and freelancing sports stories for the Chicago Tribune to get his career off the ground.
“Back then,” Schefter said, “the Bulls were such a huge thing. That was Michael’s heyday. I couldn’t get a ticket or afford to get a ticket to go. I always wanted to go to a Bulls game, and then the way I had to do it is come back 27 years later as a sideline reporter moonlighting from the NFL draft.”
Tribune trials and tribulations
“Honestly, that was one of the most professionally challenging and trying periods of my life,” Schefter said of his time in Chicago. “I wanted nothing more in life than to be a sports reporter.”
Schefter reported on suburban high school sports such as gymnastics, fencing, football and swimming and wrote the occasional sports feature for the Tribune at $50 a pop while pursuing his master’s degree in journalism.
“The only reason I went to graduate school at that time was because I couldn’t get a full-time job” after earning an undergraduate diploma from the University of Michigan, he said. “But I was learning just as much at the Chicago Tribune.
“I was literally in awe. It would be like a minor league baseball player getting to go to spring training with Major League Baseball players. I remember Bob Verdi and Bernie Lincicome and Phil Hersh and Paul Sullivan and Ed Sherman and Mike Conklin. It was a big deal to me.”
Schefter recalled one weekend that tested his resolve early on. His Michigan friends were all watching the No. 2 Wolverines lose to Rocket Ismail and No. 1 Notre Dame. Schefter was covering the New Trier Invitational tennis tournament.
“I really believe I got sent out on all the things no one else wanted to do, but I wanted so badly to do it that whatever they gave to me I was thrilled and honored to do,” he said.
No need for Plan B
It took only a few months after leaving Chicago for Schefter’s byline to appear again in the Tribune. It was on a story about the NFL’s Broncos he wrote as a general assignment sports writer for Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, which hired him after a summer internship with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“Literally my greatest regret in my professional career is missing my graduate school graduation day at Northwestern to start as an intern in Seattle,” Schefter said.
Had Schefter not landed at the News, who knows? Would he have made it to ESPN’s many media platforms in 2009 after hitches covering pro football at NFL Network and Denver Post?
“My (backup) plan was to come back to Chicago, get a job as a waiter or bartender and continue to do” freelance stories, Schefter said. “I could have done that in New York, where I was from, but I really loved Chicago. I really loved the Tribune. So that was my grand plan at 23.”
On the clock
Wonder why Schefter might seek sidelights such as a new podcast and picking up an occasional NBA assignment?
There’s a price for deadline-every-minute reporting and always waiting for one of the two phones with him at all times to buzz, so he can feed his Twitter following of more than 6 million.
“It’s changed the way I live my life and even the way I think,” Schefter said. “Flying to Arizona for the owners meetings, I had a hard time focusing on the movie. I used to love going to the movies. I’d sit there for two hours. But my attention span just isn’t there anymore. I’ve lost that.”
Don’t expect him to turn off his phones during Game 3, either.
“I was on the court getting ready to do my first live hit (for ‘SportsCenter’) in Oklahoma City when I got a text that the Jets had just cut Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, so I reported that as we were talking about the Thunder and Knicks,” Schefter said.
“If on Friday night, the Seahawks decide to trade Richard Sherman or the Patriots decide to trade Malcolm Butler, and it comes in the middle of the game, I would say to my producer, ‘Hey, I’ve got some breaking NFL news.’ ”
Called for traveling
Schefter initially wasn’t sure it was a good idea to accept a playoff assignment, especially with the NFL draft in Philadelphia coming up in another week.
“But then I heard ‘Chicago,’ ” Schefter said, “and I’m like, ‘Oooh, I get to go back to a city I love, the place I went to graduate school, the Bulls playoff game I never got to go to, a regular flight schedule to New York. Ahhh, let me make it work.’”
That was before the Bulls, the bottom seed in the Eastern Conference, shut down the No. 1 Celtics on the road in the first two games.
“I actually thought it would be interesting all along,” he said.
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