IW: First of all, what was it like working at the Daily Illini?
WL: My fiancee went to Northwestern undergrad and Ohio State grad school, and was one of those annoying people who went to every class and took notes for people like me to steal the night before finals. My time at Illinois, studies-wise, is kind of a blur; I was the type of person who would wake up in time for my 9 a.m. class, make it all the way to Greg Hall and then, right before I walked in, turn around and go get a cup of coffee or something. I'm not really a classroom type, which is to say, I'm not very smart. But the Daily Illini, man, I pretty much lived in the bug zapper from the first day of my freshman year until I graduated (in four years, somehow). I couldn't believe I could type something on Tuesday night and have it in print 12 hours later. I was there from 93-97, and other than a couple ugly incestuous Daily Illini relationships, it was among the highlights of my life. I miss it terribly.
IW: What was your favorite after-game hangout in Champaign?
WL: At the U of I, as you and your readers well know, the Greek system reigns supreme. But personally, I was all proud of myself when I was there for my "individualism" and never joined one. This, in retrospect, was a wretched decision: I would have had much more sex in college had I been in a frat. Oh well. My point: Not much Kam's and C.O.'s for me, though I did sneak in a few Time Warp Tuesdays. I was much more of a Murphy's, White Horse and The Library person; I spent my 21st birthday doing Prairie Fire shots off the Library's oaken tables. Since I was covering the games, I'd file my story and then drink with the other DI people once they put the paper to bed. Then I would pass out and wake up just in time to walk to Gregory, then turn around.
IW: Where were you during the 1989 Final Four loss to Michigan?
WL: In my parents' living room, throwing our cat across the room. I greatly prefer recalling the Nick Anderson two-thirds heave against Indiana that year. My father and I were jumping around with such abandon that we accidentally hugged each other. We're not the most outwardly emotional family, so we looked at each other for a second, grunted and then started screaming again. That's still my favorite Illini sports moment, though, obviously, last year's Arizona NCAA game is awfully close.
IW: Both moments definitely belong in the top five. Is it true that C. Montgomery Burns from the Simpsons is actually based on Loren Tate?
WL: Actually, Loren Tate died in 1943. It's his mummified corpse still typing those stories; you didn't notice, did you? (This is the time in the conversation when I point out that Loren was always quite nice to me, actually.)
IW: We've never met him. Anyway, who was your favorite Illinois basketball player to interview and why?
WL: Without a doubt, Brian Johnson. I know everybody loved Lucas Johnson, but Brian was just the coolest, most laid back, accessible, down to earth guy. Plus, he let me borrow his notes one time too. Can you imagine? Copying notes from a basketball player? I still can't believe I graduated, I really can't.
IW: What's the most exciting game you covered?
WL: Well, I covered the end of the Lou Henson years, so ... slim pickings. I'm going to be sacriligous and say the Penn State-Illinois football game. That was the undefeated Penn State team that had Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter and Bobby Engram. (Funny, those names seem less impressive now.) Illinois had that game. You could see I-Block just shaking, they were so ready to storm the field. It still kills me they lost that game.
IW: Funny, that is actually one of the few games of...ahh...what do you call it...oh yeah, football, that I ever attended. But back to a real sport: When you were with the PostDispatch, did you find it difficult to be impartial? Did you even try?
WL: Well, actually, I was a senior when I covered the team for them, so it wasn't too hard; I was sitting in the same spot on press row as I was when I was writing for the DI. But it is impossible for any beat reporter to be impartial, and anyone who says otherwise is lying to you.
WL: I knew it! Well, enough about dead tree sports writing..what impact do you think the blogosphere has had on sports coverage?
WL: I'd look at the Clinton Portis story as an example. When he first started doing those goofy press conferences, nobody was paying any attention at all. But myself and other blogs picked it up, and we kept riding it, and now it's on the Fox pregame show. We can pick up stories and hit them faster, funnier and with less burden than the major networks. They're obviously noticing; expect much bigger blog presences on the ESPNs and SIs in the next year or two. Sports is ideal for blogging; we can drive the news cycle. Once you've done that, your'e home free.
IW: Drive the news cycle? I'm just trying to keep up with it. How did you end up at Deadspin?
WL: Basically, I pitched Gawker Media on it. They had been wary of doing a sports site before this -- I think they thought it would either be all stat nerd stuff or "JETS SUCK!!!" message board junk. I knew Nick Denton and Lockhart Steele from my other site, BlackTable.com, so I sat them down in a meeting and gave them my vision of how the site would work. And, the suckers, they bought it. But before this, and after college, I've been all over the place, working for finanical mags, media mags, other Websites, in doctor's offices, even Telemundo. (Just for one day; apparently they prefer that you speak Spanish.) And I wrote a couple books, which I encourage all Illini fans to totally buy. I kept busy. But this is the most fun job I've ever had. Except for maybe the DI.
IW: What's it like being part of the Gawker empire?
WL: You basically have tons of access to free gay porn. Not my cup of tea, but I tell you, by typing the phrase "free gay porn," I just guaranteed that Illini Wonk's Web traffic is going to triple in the next week.
IW: Uh, thanks I think. Well, what else do you want to tell Illinois hoops fans?
WL: Every game you're watching, I'm sitting in front of my television, wearing my Jamar Smith jersey, screaming. We're all in this together. Oh, and Richard Keene totally, completely sucks.
IW: Now that you've read the interview, go read the blog. You won't be sorry. BTW, when it comes to the Illini, he's way out of the closet as a big fan.