ESPN’s Stein nourished by his WNY sports roots - The Buffalo News

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ESPN’s Stein nourished by his WNY sports roots

Marc Stein spent eight years of his childhood living in Olean before moving with his family at age 10 to Southern California. His time in Western New York had an outsized influence on his life in sports, though. Look inside his home office in Dallas these days and you’ll see enough Buffalo sports memorabilia to fill a small museum.

Stein is an NBA columnist for ESPN. He contributes to SportsCenter, as well as the network’s NBA programs, podcasts, ESPN.com, and is a tireless tweeter. And his love of sports is forever intertwined with the years he spent in Western New York in the 1970s, when Gilbert Perreault, Bob McAdoo and O.J. Simpson were making headlines.

“I loved the Sabres and Braves with equal fervor,” Stein said via email from New Orleans, where he was covering the playoff series between the Pelicans and Golden State Warriors. “I vividly remember listening to a whole Bills-Falcons game on the radio when I was about 8 years old, which the Bills won in a 3-0 barn-burner. ... Most of my fandom was restricted to viewing or listening from afar, because I could never convince my dad to take the free tickets we’d be offered whenever the snow was really bad to make the drive from Olean to the Aud.

“The only lasting quarrel I ever had with him is that he didn’t take me to my favorite arena I’ve never set foot in,” Stein said, referring to Memorial Auditorium. “I’m sure you remember that driving around, especially in ’77, was not too advisable. But I didn’t understand it at the time.”

Stein’s father was an engineer, born and educated in Romania before fleeing the Communist rule there for Israel. In the 1960s, Stein’s parents made “the bold move to the United States,” he said. After two years in the Philadelphia area, Stein’s father got a job with Dresser Clark in Olean, a manufacturer of industrial products that later became Dresser Rand. The family spent eight years in Olean before relocating to Southern California in the summer of ’78.

“I like to pretend it was in protest to the Braves leaving town,” Stein said. He went to high school in Lake Forest, Calif., with future Bills quarterback Rob Johnson. “And yes, I have his replica Bills jersey in my collection.”

Stein says by age 7 or 8, he knew that he wanted to be a sportswriter.

“The first hint was around 1975 or ’76, when then-Yankees GM Gabe Paul came to a Friday night temple service in Olean because he apparently had family in the area. Who recognized him, cornered him and asked him a bunch of questions? Six-year-old Marc Stein.”

Stein got his first newspaper job at age 16, working for a twice-a-week community paper. At age 18 he talked his way into a part-time job at the Orange County Register.

“I just kept grinding and refusing to take no for an answer after that,” he said.

“I would say baseball was still the beat, throughout the ’80s and into the early ’90s, that most sportswriters coveted most. But I got my first taste covering the NBA as a 20-year-old in 1989 at the famed old NBA summer league at Loyola Marymount, and I immediately felt at home. I knew that was the beat where I belonged and, through the requisite doses of perseverance and major league good fortune, I was given my NBA shot in 1994 by the Los Angeles Daily News covering, of all teams, the Clippers. As a kid, I always refused to see the Clips as an extension of the Braves, even when Randy Smith and Swen Nater were still there. The record book, of course, says otherwise.”

After stints covering the Clippers and Lakers, Stein moved from the Los Angeles paper to the Dallas Morning News in 1997. He started writing weekly columns for ESPN.com in 2000. “Then in September 2002, when ESPN landed the national television contract for the first time in years, they created an opening for a full-time NBA columnist/reporter online and changed my life by hiring me to fill it.”

Stein lives with his wife and two children in Dallas. The NBA postseason means nonstop travel, writing, TV and radio work, along with phone calls, emails, texting and tweeting as he works his beat. His workload reaches fever pitch in April, May and June, but you won’t find him complaining.

“The only protest you will ever hear me lodge is the time I have to spend away from my family,” he said. “That’s the truly hard part. We’ve got an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old, so it’s certainly not easy to be away from them for days at a time. Luckily for me I have an amazing wife and two brilliant boys who have learned to cope with the madness of the NBA lifestyle. I think they also understand that this is what I was born to do.

“I believe that doing work on a variety of different platforms provides its own energy. There are a bunch of us at ESPN who were raised as print reporters and now find ourselves doing TV stuff, radio stuff and all sorts of interactive business via social media that you couldn’t even imagine 10-15 years ago. The challenges are thrown at you constantly and learning new disciplines keeps you locked in.”

Stein added that a bonus of working for ESPN is that several of his colleagues share his allegiance to Buffalo sports.

“I have been blessed to work with SportsCenter’s Kevin Connors, ESPN Radio’s Christine Lisi, former DeSales Catholic High School star Chris Ramsay – one of the best bosses you could ever wish to have – and of course Chris’ father, the late, great Dr. Jack Ramsay.”

Who does Stein think will come out of the NBA playoffs holding the trophy?

“Things have lined up so well for the Warriors,” he said. “They don’t have to play the Spurs or Clippers – who are widely seen as the two biggest threats to Golden State in the West – until the conference finals. And one of those teams won’t even make it to Round 2.

“I’m in New Orleans as we speak and, when you watch the Warriors pull out a miracle like Thursday night’s Game Three, you have to start asking the question: Is the fickle fortune of sports on their side this season?

‘The Cavs are the favorites in the East, obviously, just by virtue of LeBron’s presence, but the Cavs’ inexperience as a unit on the big stage and the fact they have to get by both Chicago and Atlanta to reach the Finals makes it iffy-er to me than Vegas sees it. But Warriors-Cavs, as we speak, is the most likely Finals matchup.”

Stein says a highlight of his year was a pilgrimage he made to Buffalo in February, after covering a Cavaliers game in Cleveland.

“This was, quite simply, one of the greatest trips I’ve ever taken. It was way too short, but I gratefully managed to carve out 24 hours to finally return to the area for the first time since my youth. …

“About a week after the NBA trade deadline, I had a TV assignment to cover the Cavs and Warriors on a Thursday night, then took a personal day to make my return to the 716 for the first time in literally 37 years.

“First I drove to Olean to get reacquainted with where we lived. Once I ran out of daylight, I drove to Buffalo to spend the night right across the street from First Niagara Center ... but not before I had the pleasure of discovering the first real British fish-and-chip shop,” the British Chippy on South Park Avenue, “that I’ve ever seen in the United States. As an English soccer lover since the age of 11 who makes annual trips to Manchester to watch my beloved Manchester City, this was a massive find. Authentic UK fish and chips in Buffalo – that alone might lead to me moving back!

“Then the next morning, I woke up to just check out the arena as much as I could before I had to drive back to Cleveland to fly home. John Boutet, who curates” the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, “is a Facebook friend who helps keep me plugged into local sports matters, so it was a wonderful opportunity to see the museum he’s assembled in person at last. And then I spent forever in the Sabres Store, like a kid who suddenly gets access to his parents’ credit card, buying up all sorts of Sabres toys that I don’t need but couldn’t resist.”

Stein said he wants to return next winter so he can see Jack Eichel play for the blue and gold.

“Or better yet, I want to be there the night when the First Niagara Center finally does right by the Braves and hoists a banner to the rafters to commemorate McAdoo and Co.’s all-too-brief but rich history.”

email: gconnors@buffnews.com

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