An NBA reporter for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Darren Wolfson has learned a thing or two about the process it takes to reach that point.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be the person that’s blessed with the opportunity to break the news for the NBA? I got the privilege to catch up with one of the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ biggest reporters Darren Wolfson and see what it’s like to be in his shoes. Here’s what he had to say on things.
How it started:
Logan Alten: Before we get into things, let’s get to know you a little first. What made you want to become a reporter and what did the journey of getting there look like?
Darren Wolfson: I took an atypical path. I was always passionate about sports and played until I wasn’t good enough, which was halfway through high school. While in high school I went to Sibley in Mendota Heights and graduated Class of 1997. I took a class my senior year which was mentorship-related. The instructor had a student the prior year who did one with Dave Dahl of the news channel, KSTP. So the instructor thought Joe Schmit at KSTP would make sense for me with my passion for sports.
A connection was made and I had my foot in the door at KSTP. At the same time, my parents encouraged me to touch base with a local radio station, KFAN, since I listened constantly. I got in with Eric Webster, and he took me under his wing. My college decision of Minnesota was made that much easier after I had established relationships in town that I wanted to continue to develop throughout college. While in college, both outlets hired me part-time, and eventually, KFAN hired me full-time once I graduated college.
LA: What was it liking forming your first relationship with an agent or league official? How did you approach it?
DW: While at KFAN I worked with Chad Hartman, the then voice of the Minnesota Timberwolves. In my single days, I went to every Wolves home game. Chad introduced me to many people, and through the radio show I worked on with him, we had many NBA luminaries join. I also took it upon myself to introduce myself to whoever I saw fit at the arena. So I got to know former Timberwolves coaches Kevin McHale, Flip Saunders, Randy Wittman, etc. just from being around Chad and the Target Center a lot.
LA: What was it like continuing to network and build more relationships across the league? Was there ever a moment where you got discouraged from trying to build/maintain those relationships? If so, how’d you right that ship?
DW: I’m an extrovert, so it wasn’t tough. What was tough was when KFAN let me go in 2009 when Clear Channel laid off 2,000 employees nationwide. I decided to reinvent myself as someone who chased news. While doing radio daily, it was more about entertainment. I looked at the landscape of the market and thought I had a chance to make a niche. I figured I had a thick Rolodex from booking radio guests, knew a ton of important people, and could get access to information.
LA: What was the first piece of basketball news that you were the first to break?
DW: I truly care more about being right than first. I also focus often on adding to a breaking story. Someone might have the first bit of information, but then I can advance it. In terms of breaking and basketball news, we, the KFAN team, were all over the Stephon Marbury trade and I helped secure the first interview he did. Since then, things have ranged from any number of free-agent visits and/or signings, trade interest in guys or draft prospects committing to an agent/agency/who is in on them, etc. I also have gotten any number of scoops just from having Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on my podcast. He’d say something that hadn’t been reported yet, and boom, I’d have it.
Acquiring information and what to do with it:
LA: As a reporter, you get a piece of news from an agent or team official, what can the process look like after that?
DW: Journalism 101: Why is this person lying to me? Journalism 102: Why is this person giving me this information, to begin with? Always ask yourself those questions. Running with something an agent tells me, and not verifying can be dangerous. However, over the years you form strong relationships with agents and/or league execs and know they won’t burn you. Being able to verify any piece of news through a 2nd source is by far the best route to go.
LA: Sometimes agents and teams can leak false rumors to help their negotiations, how do you differentiate what’s real and what isn’t?
DW: Piggybacking off my previous answer, you need to vet out info. Thankfully, I have contacts with many teams. So if an agent tells me something about a particular team, I can try and verify. But make no mistake: we all get lied to.
LA: Has there ever been an instance where you leaked a false rumor on accident and it got you in trouble with one of the sides? If so, how did you mend that relationship and balance the agent/team official relationship dynamic?
DW: Heck, there’s been times I’ve said/reported something that’s true and that’s happened! Since Kevin Garnett is on everyone’s mind today, I recall years ago saying that Charles Banks was helping him, among a few people, and that Andy Miller, his long-time agent, wasn’t. Andy sent me a note saying to never rely on him ever again for information. What I said wasn’t wrong, but he clearly was pissed off that he wasn’t being associated with KG any further. So when KG re-signed here his last year, 2-years, $16.5M, Andy didn’t have anything to do with that.
Things for the fans:
LA: You’re one of the most interactive reporters on social media, what is it like interacting with fans and getting to answer some of their questions about their favorite team?
DW: I like it, for the most part. My theory: if someone takes the time to reach out to me, I darn well better take the time to get back to them. I don’t have every answer and have no problem saying as such. But its common courtesy to get back to people. Heck, I rely on people getting back to me! It’d be pretty foolish of me to then ignore when people ask me for stuff.
LA: What was your favorite/most enjoyable piece of news to break and why?
DW: I got a bigger kick in my younger years, pre-social media. Like, I had Stephen Weatherly going to the Carolina Panthers early in NFL free agency 3 weeks ago. Within 2 minutes, it was lost among a million Weatherly tweets, plus it’s rare for others to give you credit. I’m sometimes guilty too of that. Others take my approach and just try to advance the story.
As for hoops-related, Marbury was great, there’s being front-and-center when the Wolves traded Kevin Garnett or the thrill of having access to the owner 1-on-1 for 25+ minutes 5-10 times/year. So is being able to text and talk with a few coaches and a number of front office folks. Just hearing a lot of the behind-the-curtain happenings, even if a lot of stuff doesn’t make sense to report/not worth burning a source. I am big on process. The how and why. Just hearing Tony Ronzone, the Dallas Mavericks Director of Player Personnel, tell me how far back his work on Luka Doncic goes is really cool. Surely, that’s a story if I covered the Mavericks. Being a Twin Cities-based reporter, not a national one, there’s not a reason for me to do a deep dive. I still love to hear stuff, even if it’s not applicable to the Wolves/what I do now for KSTP and Skor North.
LA: If there was a youngster looking to follow your path, what would be your advice to them?
DW: Write a lot, and work on being a good listener. Being a good listener is an underrated skill. If trying to establish relationships, try and talk, not email and/or text. The spoken word is getting lost, somewhat. If more interested in broadcasting, you need reps. Same goes for writing. Quantity over quality early on. Practice doing interviews, even if it’s just media members.
You also want to be versatile. I think in my ‘A’ job, TV, everyone wants to be on camera, which is fine. But can you write? Can you edit? Can you shoot video? Can you build graphics and produce? Are you solid on social media? How can you benefit your web department? There is a lot more than putting on a suit and makeup and reading a teleprompter.