Building a Reputation: Oliver Maroney’s Path to Credibility

By: Peter Studer, @Pete_Studer

Photo Credit: Bruce Ely, Portland Trailblazers

Photo Credit: Bruce Ely, Portland Trailblazers

Oliver Maroney has been a writer, columnist, and editor in the NBA for more than 5 years. Oliver has spent time with some of the NBA's best, getting the inside track on news and information. Most recently Oliver has produced articles for C.J. McCollum, Terrence Jones, Elfrid Payton, Kristen Ledlow (NBATV Analyst, Host of Inside Stuff) and Amin Elhassan (ESPN Insider). Always working to improve, Oliver comes out with multiple articles on About.com and freelance work for various sources. With work published in the Oregonian, ESPN, NBATV, NBA.com, TSN, and other nationally accredited publications, Oliver has been a staple in NBA media circles. Besides writing, Maroney frequently appears on radio, television, and webcasts talking and discussing news about the National Basketball Association. He also hosts his own podcast called the K/O Show which has been featured on the Toronto Sports Network. You can find Oliver's work at olivermaroney.com, basketball.about.com, and on Twitter as @OMaroney

Throughout your career, you seem to have always held a job in addition to your writing. How have you managed to balance the two, and how has that balance shifted over the years?

I’ve had, as most people know, two or more jobs over the past couple of years. I started as a high school sports reporter for the Oregonian. I love basketball and I’ve been around the game for a very long time. In the past 5 years, my balance has shifted from just doing freelance work here and there to a much more consistent approach as my work has gotten more flexible.  I’ve really tailored my nights to writing about basketball. Every night when I get home from work, I hop on my phone or computer and start jotting down my ideas, talking with players, or talking with other media members about ideas surrounding specific players, or topics. This helps me gather what I really want to talk about and begin to form a piece. From there, I just start writing. Typically, an article gets formed and I post it the next day.

You can have a day job and still do this. Many people don’t know that I do this with a full time job. I do this at night. It is round the clock work, but if you enjoy it you can get it done. 

What does your typical day look like as a freelance writer? What things do you do on a daily basis that help you advance professionally?

I’m always trying to be as nice and cordial as I possibly can to everyone I meet. I’m always happy to respond to every person at any point in time. I’m aware that someone I talk to today could be very important in 5-10 years and so you have to treat everyone with respect no matter the situation. I also treat all my work with a sense of pride. And really make sure that I do the best job possible to be nice to everyone and to be open and accepting of whatever their opinion might be. That’s helped me quite a bit. Through my work career, I’ve built a bunch of relationships with people around the industry through being honest. That’s the number one thing I’d say. Be honest, be open and informed about the things you talk and write about.  That’s a huge key to why I have success with certain players. A lot of media members are willing to help me out because of that.

How have you managed to establish credibility in such a crowded field?

Trust, honesty and being knowing of the situation. If somebody tells me they think they’re going to get traded, I won’t just post it out there or quote the source. I’m pretty standoffish when it comes to that. I’ll use other people, like Woj or another big name, as platforms and go off of their tweets because I don’t feel comfortable doing it. I don’t like breaking news for reasons like that. You don’t want players against you. You want them with you. You want to have friendly conversations and make relationships. I think that’s where I’ve become successful. I’m only 24 years old, so when a lot of these players are 24, 25, 26, they have a lot of things in common with me outside of the basketball realm. Treating them as just another person, as a friend, helps out in such a huge way. For them to talk to you and understand that you won’t just post everything they tell you is huge.

Is there one moment you can point to as a breakthrough in your career?

Last summer I went to the NBA Summer League. That was my first big NBA jump from staying in Portland and covering the blazers to moving to a broader aspect of NBA coverage. Kristen Ledlow was nice enough to give me 3-4 days where I spent time on the broadcast learning about what was going on behind the scenes and how she deals with things. I was able to spend a couple of weeks conducting and creating an article about the behind the scenes work of Kristen, the host of Inside Stuff. I conducted an article, an in depth one at that, and spent a lot of time making sure it was foolproof. It got posted and ended up getting a lot of love from a love of different people at the same time. That’s when my twitter blew up. One thing lead to the next and I ended up on NBA TV discussing a few things about the article.

People see good work no matter what industry you’re in and I think that was the culmination of a lot of good things I’d done to prepare and provide information that people didn’t know about her. She may not be the most popular broadcaster out there, but she is one of the higher end broadcasters and has certainly made a name for herself. Finding her path, her history and finding out what she did to succeed laid the foundation for a really successful piece. I added a few other fun facts, and ended with a Q and A that really differentiated it from other similar types of articles.

It was really a culmination of my hard work and dedication to what I was doing in those 3 weeks. People noticed, people saw, she posted it on all of her social pages and really helped me out as well. I’d like to thank her for that. 

Being on NBATV was amazing. As a kid I dreamed of being on NBATV for shooting hoops, but the next best thing is to be on there as a writer or a reporter. For me that was when I realized that things were going to be a different from there on. 

What prompted you to take that step?

Before the summer league started I had paid my way and decided I was going give it a shot. I had paid my way for everything including hotel, food, and travel. I wasn’t getting reimbursed for anything. I knew this was a step I would have to take to branch out and at some point I would have to find a way to get past some of those barriers. To cover people and to get inside knowledge and make connections and break through in the industry is to more or less make as many connections and meet as many familiar faces as you can. I paid my way, but I did schedule a lot of stuff before I left with Kristen and Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.

The thing is, most media members who have made it to the pinnacle are more than happy to give you the time if you have a reason and seem like a good hearted person trying to make it in the industry because they were there once. And I do that too. The industry helps itself out a lot by giving people opportunities and understanding how hard it is to break through in this industry.

How do you take the next step in your writing career?

Well at the current moment at some point you have to basically look back and see is it worth asking around for job opportunities or something along those lines and honestly if your work is good enough, you’ll be recognized and people will see your work and people will want to hire you. So yes, while I would like to work at a bigger network or bigger opportunity, I’m not out seeking those jobs. Day in, day out I’m working hard to produce the best quality content. The most original and interesting content that I can possibly put out there and hopefully at one point or another someone will call with an opportunity.

You can’t be searching or asking about jobs constantly trying to figure out a way to get into a certain job because the way jobs are offered in sports are through connections and contacts and what people know about you. People are going to take a pass and would rather have the guy that isn’t really looking but is spending his time producing the highest quality content he can. 

I have dreams and aspirations of being a full-time sports writer, particularly in basketball, but I take it one day at a time and don’t take anything for granted.

I look forward to the day when something comes along that I can take a bite on and just climb the ladder because this is a constant grind.

Who do you like to read?

My personal favorite is Ben Golliver from Sports Illustrated because he has done a lot of great work and knowing him personally I know how hard he works at piecing together information and creating stories. Zach Lowe is up there and Rob Mahoney of SI is a good one, but Ben Golliver is one of the guys I’ve looked up to for a very long time because of where he came from.

He went from building his own blog, to a bunch of different networks and then landed at Sports Illustrated. Knowing him personally and professionally gives me a more in depth view of how hard he works and what he does specifically to branch off of the Sports Illustrated success.

Ben Golliver has been a huge help to my success and growth as a writer. After spending time with him at the NBA Summer League and other NBA events, he's shown and illustrated many tools to be successful in this business. He's certainly a writer I look up to, as his style, ability, and consistency is one of the best in the business.

We’re speaking on the NBA Trade Deadline, what does a day like today look like for an NBA writer?

I’m constantly on my phone and laptop and trying to communicate with people to find as much information as I can. I’m used to writing long form content, so I like to breaking down at least 3-4 articles in rough draft form by the next day. Trying to figure out winners and losers and giving my best analysis. They’re hectic, but in general they’re less hectic than something like an All-Star Weekend when you’re trying to go, go, go and get as much information as possible in the short time you have.

Days like today are exciting because you can digest the information. Obviously I have a lot more time at night to take a look informationally and on paper and see what the players that are traded do for specific teams. I think it’s all in fun, everyone messes around with the trade machine. I’m one of those people who likes to look at ideas that come out. It’s fun to watch where the pieces fall and see where the dominos lead.

You took in your first NBA All-Star Weekend this year. What was that experience like?

This was my first time actually covering the All-Star Weekend. It was a totally different experience than what I would’ve expected. I thought it would’ve been more mapped out and easier to find people. I had some scheduled stuff that I was planning on doing at certain times but it almost all fell through due to different timing errors. You’re really just jumping around trying to find things to cover. For instance, I got a call saying that Elfrid Peyton and Deangelo Russell were available and you immediately have to jump up and go cover it. 

There are parties going on all at the same time, so you have to go here and there to find the right people. There are shoe releases, too. I was at the Way of Wade shoe release with Wade and Terrence Ross which was intriguing in and of itself.

The All-Star festivities were the best part of it, though, because you can just sit down and kind of relax for a little bit and watch the game that you love. All-Star Saturday night was great. The whole event was well hosted by Toronto, aside from the cold and crazy airport set up. 

It was really fun and interesting. I really enjoyed it and am definitely looking forward to going back. I don’t know if a cold weather city is needed for quite some time though. Hopefully Charlotte will be a little warmer than Toronto was, but it was a good experience and I’m looking forward to going back.

NBA writers and fans have a reputation as being especially active on social media. How do you use that to your advantage?

It’s more about creating community and engaging, funny content. People will see that. It’s strange how the world works. At certain times one tweet may take up a ton of traction and another may not. I try to move between different ideas and thoughts as well as my different articles. It’s definitely difficult to keep track of what you should and shouldn’t tweet. I always read mine 20+ times before I send it. I really never send one out without rereading and editing it a number of times. You try to come up with funny stuff, but it’s not always a guarantee.

One tweet can get 100 retweets and another will get 0. You try not to take it for granted when you have success. One article may get a lot of love from people, but the next article which took 20 hours may get 0 retweets. That’s kind of just the nature of the beast. 

It’s definitely helped me in having the social media following that I have as far as getting my name out there. More or less when other people recognize my work it really helps, because obviously their followers are in tune and looking at my work as well. It’s about finding the people who are willing to help you out and being willing to help them out as well. 

I think social media overall has been a huge help for me and I think anybody who’s doing the NBA business nowadays pretty much has to be on social media all the time to keep up with the transactions, trades, rumors, and just different stories that come out every second.

The Blake Griffin story broke and if you’re not on Twitter, you don’t hear about it until 2 hours later unless you’re in front of the TV all day. So I think that definitely helps with the NBA and social media overall is really powerful specifically for the NBA over other sports leagues.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give for someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t be afraid to reach out. I struggled originally finding ways to try to branch out and get my ideas out there. You can’t advertise yourself by sending out your articles hoping that they’re going to respond and say, “Hey, this was a great article.” If you reach out with the genuine attitude of wanting to spend an hour or two picking their brain they’ll give you a full idea of what they do.

I try to take everyone’s advice and match it together. Kristen really taught me a lot about the industry and the people that she knew. Spending time with those people and understanding the nature of the business and how it works really gives you an inside track on how to succeed and get to a point where you feel comfortable with the brand and have built up some recognition.

It’s about not being afraid and being humble. Continuing to grind and work 24/7 and make sure that you’re not just advertising yourself. That’s the really big thing and I’ve tried to be passive about it. I really want my people to see my stuff, so I’ll tweet it out, but I’m not going to attach 20 people names to it asking for a favor. That doesn’t seem to help at all and people aren’t interested in people advertising. They’re willing to help you, but they want to make sure that they’re not wasting their time.

Don’t be afraid to reach out and reach out to the people you look up to. It’s not unknown or uncharacteristic for, even guys like Reggie Miller or any of the guys on TV or writing on ESPN, to help you out. If you put a tweet together and say, “Hey I’m interested in getting into basketball writing, I’d really like to talk to you for 10 minutes if you’d be open to it,” you have a good chance at getting a response. It’s not a guarantee but being genuine about what you’re trying to accomplish and being able to back it up with work with help your chances. 

Finally, when you do ask someone for help, make sure you give it back to them in return through an article or a thank you. Just show that you’re appreciative because their time is worth more than yours and their help can go a long way in helping you become successful.

You can follow Oliver on Twitter (@OMaroney) for more NBA Insider content.

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