Thursday, May 26, 2022

Inside the mind of Shams Charania with his free agency looming

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Asking reporters to name their biggest scoops is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child, but Shams Charania reckons the scoop of his that might have had the biggest “magnitude” was Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19 in March of 2020.

Charania, an NBA insider for The Athletic and Stadium, spoke to The Post over lunch in Chicago last week about his career path and what he wants out of life with his own free agency approaching.

Gobert testing positive was a flashpoint not just in sports but in broader American society. It was such a surreal moment, given that he had dismissed the disease by mockingly touching microphones in the days prior to his contraction. One night, the NBA was staging games in full arenas. The next, like much of the country, it was shut down indefinitely, as we saw wild video of Thunder and Rockets players leaving the court minutes before they were set to tip off in Oklahoma City. There were rumors the Jazz might have to return to Salt Lake City by bus.

Shams Charania is about to become a free agent of himself

“When you break signings and trades and day-to-day NBA stuff, that’s on you to get things right. This was one where there are legal boundaries. There’s lawyers, ”Charania said. “We were at a point at that moment where stuff was starting to get canceled. It had just been declared a pandemic world. Tom Hanks announcing he tested positive right before Gobert was an ‘oh s – t’ moment. I was sitting on the Rudy news for 90 minutes – an eternity in this world. The whole time I thought I was going to get beat. ”

Charania is a looming free agent this summer. Currently, he contributes writing to The Athletic – the subscription site recently acquired by the New York Times – and social, TV and video content to the Sinclair-owned Stadium. When he gets a scoop, he tags both outlets for the credit.

He won’t discuss the specifics of his current negotiations, but an intriguing element is whether he would collaborate with a sports gambling company for all or part of his work.

The marketing money that the sportsbooks have spent in hopes of customer acquisition has been enormous, and they’ve sought to lure big-name talents away from established brands.

“I remember every story I’ve gotten, and I definitely remember every story I haven’t gotten.”

Various gambling companies tried to land Adrian Wojnarowski and Adam Schefter when their deals with ESPN were up, but the duo, both repped by CAA, opted to remain at the Mothership.

So far, the people who have tended to work most successfully in affiliate relationships with the sportsbooks are edgy personalities with big individual followings like Pat McAfee, Clay Travis and Barstool Sports talents such as Dave Portnoy, Dan Katz and PFT Commenter (Eric Sollenberger).

The league insiders have incredible social engagement from their legions of followers, but we haven’t yet seen one of the elite-tier insiders of a primary league like the NFL, NBA or MLB try their hand at it. This is partly because the outlets and networks where they work have ponied up to get and keep them – they have tangible value in the hours they spend on-air, and intangible value in allowing places like ESPN and NFL Network to trumpet their scoops on their perpetual ticker – and partly because the rigors of the job and barriers to entry of source cultivation have made it so there are that many of them out there.

Whether Charania could turn even a fraction of his nearly 2 million combined followers on Twitter and Instagram into regulars at a shop like FanDuel, DraftKings, PointsBet, BetMGM, BetRivers or Caesar’s is an intriguing question, and he could be one of their last bites at the proverbial apple for quite some time.

Charania wrote for RealGM from 2011 through 2015 while he was in college, trying to do whatever he could get noticed.

“The public is not going to notice you when you’re breaking 10-day contracts and European signings,” Charania said matter-of-factly. However, those nuggets doubled as building blocks as he compiled relationships that ultimately provided bigger scoops.

His coming-out moment, so to speak, was breaking the trade of Luol Deng from the Bulls to the Cavaliers in early 2014. Charania, now 28, was just 19 at the time.

“I think that was the moment where a lot of people were like‘ Okay. This kid is legit, ‘”Charania said. “So, the door had opened, but it was like,‘ what am I gonna make out of this? Am I going to be a one-and-done or am I going to do the work? ‘”

The following year, Charania joined NBA scoop maestro Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical, the NBA site Wojnarowski had launched within Yahoo Sports.

The mentor and protégé have become rivals since Wojnarowski left Yahoo for ESPN in 2017.

The ongoing battle between the two for news breaks has occasionally taken on a surreal life of its own, with social media users keeping score and making memes of the reporters’ trials and tribulations.

The public gravitates toward insiders like Schefter and Ian Rapoport, but doesn’t have nearly as voracious an interest in tabulating who wins NFL or MLB scoops sweepstakes.

Shams Charania (far right)
Shams Charania (far right)

As far as what Charania will say directly about the relationship between himself and Woj, the answer is nothing – he politely declines to comment on the matter. Through an ESPN spokesperson, Wojnarowski also declined to comment for this story.

While we can’t know what either believes about the other in their heart of hearts, both of them clearly relish the competition. They work relentlessly at all hours of the day and night – and neither publicly acknowledges the other.

Even if he won’t discuss his rivals, Charania lives in perpetual fear of getting scooped.

He tries to play basketball, one of his scant hobbies, at times when he believes nothing might break.

Asked about his screen time, Charania answered that the typical amount is 17-18 hours per day – and that it climbs over 20 hours during frenetic periods of the NBA Draft and free agency.

It makes his “heart sink” when he is on a flight where the Wi-Fi doesn’t work. He mostly forgoes driving for ride-shares – his trips from the suburbs into Stadium’s offices adjoining the United Center are about 40 minutes each way, a couple times a week – lest he miss a scoop while behind the wheel.

“I remember every story I’ve gotten, and I definitely remember every story I haven’t gotten,” he said, in an aside when we were discussing his heart pounding in the process of obtaining the Gobert scoop.

Charania has been grinding at this profession since his early college days. This has meant that at an age where many of his contemporaries are partying on the weekends, he was off to various events, or otherwise glued to his phone and computer.

What made him choose that life?

First, he’s always been enamored with basketball and wanted to work around the sport. For years, his dream was to play, but he ultimately realized that it was not an accomplishable goal.

“As long as I could fulfill my passion, I was satisfied,” Charania said of logging long reporting hours in college. “In the moment, why wait to live out your dream when you can live it out now? In my mind, writing at RealGM was ‘I made it’. Everything else was a cherry on top. ”

He did have occasional doubts, but they would dissipate quickly.

“I’d be lying to you if I said [it’s never crossed my mind], ”He said. “There are moments when I’m lonely and I think about‘ What if I was that everyday young adult, or had the partying college lifestyle? Because there are sacrifices that you make when your friends are going out on the weekend and you’re driving to Milwaukee or Indianapolis for a game. That might be a thought on a late Saturday night, but then you have a conversation with someone [important], and you get reminded real fast that there’s a reason why you’re doing it. I’m passionate about the job I do and the people I work with, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. ”

Whereas most of the prominent league insiders have a wife and kids – Wojnarowski, Schefter, Rapoport, Tom Pelissero and Jeff Passan to name several – Charania is untethered from familial responsibilities. He has strong family bonds, living just minutes away from them in the Chicago suburbs, but says he is not giving any thought to forming one of his own.

Shams Charania
Shams Charania

“I’m really close to my mother, brother and sister,” he says. “Immediately family means a lot.”

But he’s not pursuing a mate at this time.

“Not right now,” he answers quickly. “I live such a crazy schedule. I’m 24/7/365. It would definitely take the right person. I have colleagues at The Athletic and Stadium who have spouses and I don’t get how they do it. I look at myself now, and I can’t even imagine having a wife or child. I barely have time for myself! I’m sure, one day, my priorities might change, but right now it’s work, work, work, family, work, work. That’s what consumes my mind. ”

Reflecting on what has been a whirlwind decade-plus in the industry, Charania purports to have become more relaxed about the timeline of its trajectory and letting things happen more gradually.

“There’s a tendency, and I deal with it even now, where you’re kind of impatient,” he said, speaking about himself in the second-person. “You want everything so fast. That’s something I definitely grappled with in my early 20s. I wanted the world. I wanted to dominate at a very early point in my career. But then you hone in on your principles and understand it’s a bigger picture thing, and you want relationships that are long-lasting, not just something that is a flash in the pan. ”

He claims not to have particular long-term goals beyond continual improvement at his already-existing tasks and audience metrics.

“I get asked the five-year goal question a lot, because you never know what can happen in a week, ”He said. “I try to live a day-to-day life. When I was growing up, I thought it was the biggest cliche of how players and coaches would say they take it one game at a time. But it’s actually true.

“Overall, when I look at five years from now, I hope I’m more developed on-camera, dominating the space on-air. Overall, I want to do better articles, videos and shows. Our shows have gone from 100-200K views on digital shows to millions of viewers on Twitter live. Now I want to get to 2 or 3 million. I want to keep growing and rising. As long as I feel like I’m meeting my standards. ”

Charania did acknowledge that he would like to branch out into making content like documentaries or other long-form video content, but has not gotten there yet.

He also says that he is “not at all” motivated by money: “I didn’t get into this for that. I got into this because I’m passionate about the field – basketball, storytelling, sit-down interviews. I let [my agent] Maury [Goftsfrand at The Montag Group] handle that. ”

Shams Charania
Shams Charania

When he claims not to have forward-looking goals other than the athlete-cliche continual improvement, and not to have lofty financial motivations, it is a little bit hard to believe given the sacrifices he has made. For those assertions to be fully true, it would place him at odds with a vast majority of other highly ambitious, limelight-seeking reporters.

Nonetheless, the way Charania projects itself interpersonally makes you understand why he is talented at cultivating relationships among the powerful. He is confident and composed and does not come across as anxious or in a self-absorbed hurry. In a skill that is vitally important for reporters, he gives the impression of being an interested listener. He seeks advice, and compliments queries as “good question.”

Because his content generally concerns empirical facts – a trade, a signing or details about something that has happened or is going to happen – he does not risk alienating sources with his personal opinions.

Certainly there must have been times where he’s reported on behind-the-scenes elements in NBA locker rooms and organizations where subjects have been irate about details coming to light. At first, he claimed that he has no specifics that immediately come to mind of it having happened. Pressed, he laughed and acknowledged that it has occurred, but declined to specify which players, coaches or executives have given him an earful.

With his own free agency looming, it will be interesting to see what shape Charania’s work takes next, and where it is delivered.

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