Following on from the first feature, with Trevor Lane of Lakers Nation, of our new article series “A Conversation With..”, we are delighted to welcome Ryan Ward of Clutch Points as our second special guest to the series.

Ryan has been covering the NBA, as well as the NFL, for nearly a decade now, and has been credentialed by the Lakers since 2011. We are huge fans of his work and the coverage that he provides of the Lakers. We hope you enjoy reading the interview below, it’s a good one!

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Q: Thank you for taking the time to speak to Lakers Fanclub UK, Ryan. It is much appreciated.

Ryan: “No problem, Matthew! My pleasure.”

Q: On your Twitter bio it states that you are ‘UK born’, where in the UK were you born and when did you move over to the US?

Ryan: “I was born in Northern Ireland. Both of my parents were in the British army at the time and were stationed in Portadown when they had me. We moved to the states when I was about five after bouncing around a few army bases, including one in Germany. My mum’s side of the family is mainly from Liverpool (I’m a huge Reds fan btw) while my dad’s is down south in Plymouth.” 

Q: NBA games have been played in the UK since the early 90s, what are your thoughts on the popularity of the game on this side of the pond? Are the global games a positive thing for the league?

Ryan: “I think global games are a positive thing for any sport. Basketball started to take off globally after ’92 with the Dream Team led by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. It has only gotten bigger and bigger since then with a huge presence in Asia as well as Europe. I don’t think it will ever be as popular as soccer (football) on a global scale, but I think the sport as far exceeded expectations at this point.”

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Q: We see that you have been credentialed by the Lakers since 2011, our readers would love to gain an insight into the life of a credentialed reporter. What is the routine of a typical game-day for yourself?

Ryan: “I’ll say this, if you aren’t passionate about the sport you cover, you won’t last long covering a team. It’s a grind that really puts your love for the game to the test year after year. At least, that’s been my experience and it may be different if I was covering a winning team because it has been rough with the Lakers during my stretch. 

As for a typical game-day, I arrive three to four hours before tipoff. Find a spot in the Chick Hearn Press Room to setup for the night then head out to the floor to get some footage of the players shooting around while chatting with some colleagues. Then you wait for the head coach to speak before the game. He’ll usually talk briefly about starting lineups, any changes, and field some questions about whatever might be going on with the team moment, and with the Lakers, there’s always something going on. 

After tweeting out some quotes, I’ll usually head back to my cubbie in the press room and either get to work on a story from the coach while eating some ice cream from the famous ice cream machine in the back. I’ll then grab my laptop and head out to my assigned seat which is almost always in section 117 of Staples Center. Once the game gets underway, I’ll live tweet for the majority of the game while taking notes for post-game articles I plan to write. 

After the final buzzer sounds, we usually head straight back to our cubbies and drop off our stuff before heading to the post-game presser for the head coach. The coach will talk for 10-to-15 minutes about the game before the locker room opens up and a mad dash ensues with all sorts of media trying to get in first for position in scrums. This can be chaotic, especially last season with everyone trying to get footage and quotes from LeBron James. Very similar to when I covered Kobe Bryant in terms of the amount of media in what isn’t a very big locker room.

We usually do the rounds from locker to locker in terms of players talking and answering questions. I’ll take some footage for Instagram while also tweeting out quotes when I’m in there before heading back to the press room to begin typing up a story or two which typically has me walking out of Staples and to my car anywhere between 12 and 1am. 

It can be a long day, but a hell of an experience considering all the people you can meet and players, celebrities, and basketball legends you get to see up close and personal. There’s nothing like it.

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Q: We see that you have conducted numerous exclusive interviews with professional athletes. We’re sure that you are proud of each one but which interview sits at the top of the pile for you?

Ryan: “That’s a good question. There’s a few I was proud of just to land, like the interviews with Ice Cube and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but I’d have to say the one at the top of the heap has to be Dr. J. Julius Erving was not only huge to get for an interview, but we talked for 30-plus minutes. He was only supposed to be on with me for 10 minutes, and the conversation kept evolving as it went on. 

He’s an incredibly nice man and an absolute pleasure to talk to with stories galore about his journey to becoming a basketball icon. I wish I could’ve done an hour-long interview it was that good. Another interviewee I really enjoyed talking to was Byron Scott. Genuinely a good dude.

Q: Obviously last season did not go as expected, could you round-up your thoughts on the 2018/19 Lakers campaign?

Ryan: “Started out strong with a lot of promise and flamed out like no other season I’ve seen before. I’ve never seen so much go wrong from Christmas until literally the last day of the season. From LeBron going down for the first time ever with a serious injury, to countless trade rumors that ripped apart the locker room, to Brandon Ingram’s blood clot, to Magic Johnson taking everyone by surprise and quitting before the last game. It was a soap opera/reality show from start to finish and personally I’m glad it’s over. 

I think what gets lost in the season is the fact that the Lakers showed a lot of promise to be a forced to be reckoned with in the West before LeBron’s injury. This team was coming together and looking really good, night in and night out. The real question is whether all of this is repairable. The quick fix is landing a second superstar which might be a stretch at this point due to all the dysfunction. 

It’s a sign of the times when the Clippers are a franchise that is widely perceived to be better managed and a more appealing destination than the Lakers. The dark days in Los Angeles might not be over, at least for the purple and gold.”

Q: Last season was obviously a tough one for the young core, who would you say has the highest ceiling out of our young players?

Ryan: “Personally, I’d go with Kyle Kuzma. He may not be a great defender yet and still needs a lot of polish in other areas, but mentality he is exactly what you want from a young player. He is determined to become a star in this league and I think he’ll get there whether it be in a Lakers uniform or elsewhere. I believe he’ll be an All-Star in the future.”

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Q: With Magic Johnson unexpectedly stepping down a few weeks ago from his role of President of Basketball Operations, what are your views on how the situation unfolded? Can you see an external executive being brought in, or will Rob Pelinka take on the extra responsibility?

Ryan: “I’ve never seen or covered anything like Magic’s resignation. The way he went about it is still very strange to me, and it seems that LeBron James has the same stance from what he said recently on HBO’s The Shop. 
I think Magic didn’t tell the whole story as to why he stepped down the way he did. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. 

As for Pelinka, I think they’ll give him more power and won’t bring in someone from the outside to run the show. It just seems like that’s the direction it is headed at this point, but that could easily change if a big-name expresses interest once the season is over. It may just be a case of that executive wanting his name out of news until the playoffs conclude.” 

Q: Last week Frank Vogel was announced as the Lakers’ new head coach, after a chaotic hiring process. What are your thoughts on Vogel, will it work for him in LA?

Ryan: “I think he’s an ideal fit considering the options that were available. I’m not sure if he’s the answer they’re looking for, but I believe he’s capable of doing a good job in LA. Only time will tell.”

Q: Can the Lakers tempt another star free-agent to Los Angeles in the off-season? Of course, the possibility is there for the Lakers to strike out all together. How disastrous would striking out be, or would it?

Ryan: “This is where it gets tricky. I don’t think a superstar, who controls his own fate, is going to come here willingly after all that has happened. 
The ideal fit is Kawhi Leonard. He checks all the boxes and would take the load off of LeBron, but it seems like he’s headed to the Clippers. Every other star seems to be linked with other teams as well, like Kyrie Irving (Knicks), Kevin Durant (Knicks, Clippers), and Klay Thompson (Warriors). 

The one player I think they’ll have an outside chance at is Jimmy Butler. I think a lot of teams aren’t willing to bring in a guy like Butler and that could result in him taking a serious look at Los Angeles to get the money he thinks he deserves in free agency. 

Striking out would be yet another bad look for the Lakers as it would appear nothing has changed even with the addition of LeBron. The fact that Paul George said no last year was bad enough, but two years in a row with superstar players available that want to change teams? No bueno.”

Q: Thank you for answering our questions, Ryan. We appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak to us. All the best. 

Ryan: “Thanks, Matthew! An absolute pleasure!” 

By Matt Evans (@mattyyyevans)