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Chris Ballard '95 Finds Journalistic Inspiration in the Details of Basketball and Writes "The Art of the Beautiful Game"

Book cover: The Art of a Beautiful Game

The magazine world doesn’t always lend itself to an abundance of “aha” moments. You do your research, churn out some copy and, before you even get to see your words in print, you’re on to the next assignment. For Sports Illustrated basketball writer Chris Ballard ’95, however, a journalistic revelation snuck up on him just a few years ago during a conversation with Detroit Pistons forward Ben Wallace. Rebounding was the topic.

“Wallace is not known as an especially talkative guy, but when we got to discussing specific techniques, he started opening up about all these emotional attachments he had,” Ballard says. “A light went on for me as a writer—I realized that talking to players in this way could spur them to reach a whole new level of eloquence.”

This editorial epiphany helped spawn Ballard’s new book, The Art of a Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan’s Tour of the NBA, in which he conducts in-depth interviews with players about their craft. Among the author's adventures include shooting free throws with a guru who once hit a world-record 2,750 in a row, and sitting in on drills with Idan Ravin, a former lawyer with no college basketball experience now known for the torturous training sessions he runs for NBA all-stars. During one memorable episode chronicled in the book, Ballard even found himself drag-racing across suburban Phoenix with a 7-foot, leather-clad motorcyclist he soon recognized to be Shaquille O’Neal.

Where other journalists might pester players about contract negotiations or off-court distractions, Ballard takes a different tack in Beautiful Game, asking his subjects nuanced questions concerning everything from their shooting form to conditioning routines. “Players typically haven’t been asked these kinds of questions before,” he says. “When they figure out that you actually care about the little details, they talk to you differently."