A clever lede can make a ho-hum attempt at creative content into something so much more than it is. A few wildly obscure adjectives or odd homages from something distant in memory but close enough to be accessible, and you have yourself a hit.
Ledes, the (hopefully) short opening paragraph that introduces a reader to the upcoming story, are not meant to be mysteries.
This was something taught to me by former Wilkes-Barre Times Leader sports editor Dave Konopki.
Many moons ago, an aspiring Internet Scribbler named Joseph Nardone worked at a rental car company at the Wilkes-Barre International Airport. It’s only international in name because the runway meets whatever arbitrary criteria is set which allows an airport to hurl a word so magical in its title.
The Wilkes-Barre ‘International’ Airport is the clever lede of airports.
Anyway, aspiring young (and then thin and then handsome) sports writer Joseph was in the middle of a conversation with a man about to rent a car.
“How’s it going,” the renter asks. “Living the dream,” the mentally washed employee responds.
Dave liked my bad attempt at a joke and we made quick small talk. At the time, I was unaware he was the paper’s sports editor. Over time, as I continued to write “columns” and “stuff” for numerous outlets in the Early Internet Era, I slowly realized he was a man of relative importance in the industry — especially in my area.
Not sure how he’d feel about being accosted, but being young enough to not know any better, I eventually told Dave I was trying to become a sports writer in the hopes he might drop a few pearls of wisdom on me. Instead, he gave me his email, told me to write a gamer and send it his way.
Eager, I did that very night.
Knowing what we all know about ledes, I made sure my first two sentences were a work of art. After all, if I impressed Dave, maybe something neat could happen. I mixed in words that I used a thesaurus to find a spot for, all while dancing around the game itself.
It was glorious… I thought.
Paraphrasing here, since it is a happening that took place well over a decade ago, I got a return email. Something along the lines of, “There’s promise here, but you’re not writing a mystery novel. You’re writing a gamer. How about telling the readers who won the game in the first sentence?”
It never dawned on me that straightforward, you know, linear ledes are as important as those mystical ones many writers chase after. Not until Dave pointed out to me the insanity that would be picking up the morning paper to find out who won the Cavs-Sixers game, only to see some random dude use weird allegories to explain how LeBron James is like Mr. Snuffleupagus.
Despite my shortcomings, Dave did invite me to the paper’s office to talk about what I could do next. He mentioned in the email about maybe working the phones to gather local box-scores and eventually/maybe covering high school cross country.
It bothers me a ton to admit this, but this bothered me. The idea that aspiring sports writer Joseph Nardone should take the journey to stardom from the bottom rung of the figurative ladder.
What an idiot I was. Hindsight 20/20, sure. Nevertheless, what a fucking idiot I was.
(We can argue about the kind of idiot I remain to be at a later date)
I no-showed our meeting. It is something I think about at least once a week, every single week, since that email exchange over 10 years ago. A man who owed me nothing, who offered me at the very least the chance to sit in a newsroom, was shunned by some dumb asshole because the Internet seemed like the more glamorous, faster and desirable route when taking on the moniker of sports writer.
Seriously. Build me a time machine. Let me go back and drive to that meeting.
Since that exchange, I never had the fortune of talking to Dave again. Unfortunately, he recently passed away.
His passing, keeping in my selfish behavior, has rekindled that conversation about ledes and starting at a local paper at the bottom talk in my hollow cranium. It’s been at the forefront of my mind every single day. I can’t stop thinking about it.
Dave knew a process in this industry. He trusted it. He Trusted His Process.
I had no process. In turn, nothing to trust. I was an idiot with trust or a process.
Consider all of that my 700 word lede, in which I did not make Dave proud. For those who follow me and are local, hopefully this is a solid glimpse at the kind of man Dave was. The sort who would offer something to some dipshit too dumb to realize how great of an offer it was.
The city of Philadelphia finally has a chance to celebrate its Trusting of The Process. With one round in the books, an impressive 76ers team is looking so swell that people are ready to dethrone Mr. Snuffleupagus for the fifth year in a row. It’s obviously worth noting that, for the previous few years of everyone claiming he is washed, LeBron has yet to become the superstar from yesteryear. He is still, even when not winning it all, the King of the NBA.
Eventually, at some point, these people who claim he’s dead season after season will be right. Mother Nature is undefeated. That fickle lady has defeated all competitors. All of them. Tout Tom Brady all you want NFL fans, but members of the human species are not immortal. At some point, his flame will flicker to an end; as will LeBron’s.
It remains unknown if Philly is bullied around the edges enough to beat a James-led Cavs in a playoff series, but it all makes for fun banter. That’s not really the point. Not right this second at least.
The Process truthers, at both ends of the spectrum, happen to be what makes sports so great. It is Us vs Them. You vs They. Good vs Evil.
There’s no right or wrong side to this, either. The “winner” of this debate will be determined not be The Process itself, but by whether or not the core group of Sam Hinkie-alites lead the Sixers to at least one NBA crown. If they do or not has no meaningful impact on whether Hinkie’s legacy.
His approaching the NBA Draft system through its ping pong ball loopholes, attempting to throw as much stick at the wall, hoping enough of it stuck to make something of value. His legacy will be whatever you, the individual, decide it is.
No matter what happens, it will vary not only from city to city, but from person to person.
And yet, Joel Embiid — and, more importantly, those who are in the Process’ bubble — live by the creed. They have Trusted The Process so much so that they are all, at least in a little way, The Process themselves.
Those who stay on the opposite side of Hinkie’s ideas, they aren’t inherently anti-Process people, but simply folk who have a differing viewpoint.
There’s no real wrong side here. Not on its foundation. There’s some uneducated wrong. But for the most part, a smart opinion can be had for both the pro- and con-Process people.
Nevertheless, the Processors and keepers of the NBA integrity game have created another layer of drama to a league riddled with the best story lines, personalities and petty beefs. A sports organization that allows, altruistically or not, its stars to be whoever they are to the benefit of everyone who enjoys the game of basketball.
This has all created notions of ideals vs virtues vs beliefs… in sportsball. I love it. You do too, even if you swear you don’t. I know this, because Twitter spends hours arguing on both sides of the Process’ merits.
Long ago, a man once told me that the start of something in a story shouldn’t leave the reader in anticipation. Rather, get that person summarized, just a little bit, with what is about to unfold in the rest of the column. That, even if you have to spoil the ending, you can have a straight lede and leave a reader wanting to see what’s coming in the next few paragraphs.
The Sixers are the coolest lede in all of sports right now. Like me writing some nervous email to Dave Konopki years ago, the start to their story leaves plenty of room for future doubt, but there’s a Process in place and the people around them have embraced it. It is them. They have a Process and trust it blindly.
Dave would have hated Philly’s lede.
Maybe this is a bit presumptuous of me, as I didn’t really know-know him, but I’m pretty sure he’d enjoy the idea of an entity championing its Process.
Starting from the bottom, working its way, and finding its footing. Years ago, I found it stupid. In 2018, it’s goddamn romantic and the CORRECT route to go in this industry.
Rest in Peace, Dave.