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What the Hell Were You Thinking?: The Lightning Rod of Sports Journalism Explains What on Earth He's Doing In San Francisco 

Wednesday, Mar 25 2015
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In the lobby of the Twitter building, which is near the Uber building and the Dolby building and a residential tower where $5,500 a month will get you 969 square feet and a parking spot, I visit a gourmet market that makes Saison look like Burger King. I examine a $75 bottle of 2007 Fiorita Brunello, check out a $67 jug of French lavender shampoo, consider a $130 slab of Jamon Iberico Pata Negra ("pure acorn fed Iberian pigs") and settle for a $6 ice cream cone. Then I stroll outside, absorb the glory of a blue-skies-and-71 afternoon, head across Ninth Street ... and have to weave and shake like Steph Curry to avoid a fresh puddle of bubbly urine.

That shower, truth be told, is among many reasons San Francisco is the best place to write in our thrive-or-die republic. It was left by a shouting homeless man whose pants are undone, one of thousands whose blighted survivalism is juxtaposed against the backdrop of the city's new rich. For a writer, this social clash is literary gold. I said as much to my new editor-in-chief at the Examiner — "You should have someone just walking up and down Market Street every day" — and, for a moment, I thought I should be the man for that beat. Who wouldn't want a daily pass to view kid tech wizards getting off trains and striding past the encampments, addicts, and other sad stories? Or, in SoMa and the Mission, watching the homeless hassle the techies as they board, rock-band-style, Silicon Valley shuttle buses to Google and Yahoo and Apple and Facebook?

But I am not here to cover gentrification and other ongoing dramas in the most complex and compelling of American cities. I am here to explore a sports scene that, in a different context, is no less fertile for creative material. After a career intermission that had more to do with catching my breath — roughly 7,000 columns and 1,700 ESPN TV appearances, hundreds of radio shows, 14 Olympic Games, 24 Super Bowls, travel to five continents — than a recklessly reported legal case, I find no greater reward than resuming my commentary in the Bay Area, where the striking beauty and exhilarating mystique are accompanied by what we in the sports media call great shit.

Last time I had the potential for this much fun, Snoop Dogg was staring me down before an "Around The Horn" taping, saying, "Who do you think you is?"

Who do I think I is?

I'm the Diddy by the Bay.


San Francisco has been the place for flower children, poets, gold-rushers, tech dreamers, drifters, politicos, and reinventists. Now, I dare say, this is the place for sportswriters. In Chicago, a previous stop of 17 years, I often bemoaned lousy owners and bad teams who were in bed with corrupt media, including two baseball franchises that have won one World Series over a collective 203 seasons. Here, the immaculate Giants have won three in five years, a near-impossible run in the sport's subsidy-driven parity era, while giving giddy fans a delightful roster of characters ranging from a Mad Bum to a Buster to a Freak to a scooter-driving hipster to a bitterly departed Panda.

Here, the Warriors play the most exciting basketball on the planet, led by the incomparable Curry, whose swag and splash on the court are matched by his decorum and charity work off it (as His Barackness quickly figured out and glommed onto). Here, the formerly regal 49ers are in a chaotic and cursed freefall, thanks to a front office that (1) allowed internal politics and professional resentment to subvert Jim Harbaugh's ultra-successful reign; (2) chose a curious successor in tongue-tied, unproven Jim Tomsula; (3) absorbed a mass exodus of high-character leaders; and (4) watched helplessly as Chris Borland, my early leader for Sportsman of the Year, prioritized his long-term wellness over his prowess as a 24-year-old linebacker. Here, the A's remain the quirky darlings whose winning defies reason and whose brilliant, Hollywood-famed GM, Billy Beane, finally may have outmaneuvered himself into a pretzel after trying to win it all last season. Here, the Raiders are at a low point in on-field cred as they threaten to move yet again, which, ideally, would hasten a gutting of the Coliseum — weep, you costumed loons — and lead to a new baseball-only park that restores the beautiful hillside views of yesteryear. Here, you have David Shaw, the coach the 49ers should have hired, mixing football prominence with Stanford's cooler-than-Harvard academic boom. Here, you have a maddening hockey franchise owned by someone who may or may not exist.

Here, there still are tremors. Only they happen in the stadiums and arenas, one entrenched as the best park in baseball, another as the most intimate pit in the NBA.

And what is coming next winter? Did you say the Super Bowl? Imagine life as the first city to win a World Series, win an NBA Finals and host a Super Bowl in a 15-month period. What's next, the Raiders going 8-8?

Amid those possibilities, I arrive as the sports director and lead columnist at the Examiner, which makes me a management guy for the first time and probably sparks visions of Bart Simpson being handed keys to the corporate bathroom. Someone suggested I print Zuckerberg-like business cards — "I'm Sports Director, Bitch" — but a wiser idea is putting together smart, gritty, daily sports coverage that brings high energy, intelligent debate, responsible news-gathering, and an element often forgotten in these scandal-dominated times — fun! — to the Bay Area.

My mission statement as a columnist, and as an editor by extension, is fierce independence. We will be big on topicality, immediacy, and perspective. On my watch, we will not drive traffic with trash, and we will not buckle to sports owners, athletes, industry cronyism, or social-media creeps. I'll repeat what I've placed on my personal site — jaymariotti.com — for some time: "It's vital to have independent voices who aren't stifled by institutional filters (while) recognizing that sports has taken complex and unprecedented turns and why the need for robust, serious commentary and investigative reporting is stronger than ever. Sports should be covered by commentators who are editorially and financially detached from the big mechanism, respectful that the fan also is a consumer who invests his passions, his mind, his time and his wallet."

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Jay Mariotti

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