Ball Is Life: Inside The Obsessive World Of A Basketball News Ace
Meet David Pick, international basketball's top information merchant and a guy who definitely works harder than you
“You might not have somewhere to come back to, but that’s on you,” is what David Pick said his then-pregnant wife, Sharon, told him 19 months ago. You see, Pick, one of the world’s premier international basketball newsbreakers, had plans to cover the Euroleague Final Four in Spain, but Sharon was due to give birth in Israel just four days after the final game. The possibility of missing his son’s birth and getting kicked out of his own home didn’t keep Pick from catching his flight though.
He’d been in Spain for a day and was finishing up an early breakfast with Andrei Kirilenko when, “All of sudden, my phone rings and rings again and rings again and it’s my wife,” Pick said. Sharon told him he had to get back home immediately. Instead, he tried to negotiate for a little bit more time.
“I’ll be there in three days,” he said to her. “Hang in there.”
It was then that Pick learned Sharon had already gone into labor. He bolted back to his hotel room, flung his clothes in a suitcase, and booked it to the airport. The first leg of the journey went off without a hitch, but moments after a connecting flight from Italy had taken off, his mother pinged him on FaceTime to let him know he’d run out of time.
“So I got to see my son’s birth via FaceTime,” Pick said.
As international basketball’s most prominent information merchant, getting the scoop is Pick’s life. He works a grueling, time zone-averse schedule and manages an ever-expanding rolodex that needs to be fed an average of 500 WhatsApp messages per day, all the while playing the role of dutiful husband and father. David Pick lives for this shit.
Pick was born in Englewood, NJ, the second oldest of six children. His family left the United States when he was four years old to move to Jerusalem. “The holiest city in the world,” Pick called it. The change was driven by his parents’ fervent belief in Zionism, which he shares. “Jewish people should live in a Jewish country,” he said. “Because if we don’t, then no one else will and then we won’t have a country.”
While still a teenager, he joined various after-school leagues where he got the chance to compete against future Israeli pros. There, he came to the realization that a professional basketball career was not in his future, as most people tend to realize when matched against future pros.
Still, he kept up a serious basketball jones and started hanging around his local team and building relationships with former fringe NBA players on the roster. “Being an American gave me an advantage,” he said. “For a lot of these players who come overseas to Europe, they stumble upon situations that they aren’t familiar with in the States. Whether it’s a language barrier, or not being paid on time, or a coach that doesn’t know how to translate what he’s trying to get across.”
With the start of a strong rolodex secured, Pick amped up his Twitter presence and began making frequent trips to the Las Vegas Summer League to pass out business cards and give NBA insiders a recognizable face and phone number. Meanwhile, he began writing articles for Eurobasket, Basketball Insiders, and, eventually, Bleacher Report. However, the question remains of how exactly he made the leap to not just the definitive news source on American players abroad, but also a reliable source in the hyper-competitive world of NBA scoops.
“I hit the lottery a lot,” Pick said. “I was lucky a lot of times, it throws people off. How does this dude 6,000 miles away sitting in an apartment in Tel Aviv get this information, break stories about NBA guys, people in China?”
The how is due in part to a 2011 story he broke. Jeremy Pargo was about to sign a two-year, two-million-dollar contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, even though he didn’t have a buyout agreement with Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Pick was first out the gate with the story.
“I was lucky enough I had Marc Stein, who credited me on ESPN,” he said. That not only upped his Twitter followers, but lent him real legitimacy.
Pick now considers Stein his mentor and even calls him the “NBA King” of news, rumors, and insider information. When Stein began following him on Twitter, Pick said “I was so geeked out, I printed the screen and… I showed it to my mom.
“I said, ‘Ma, this is Marc Stein from ESPN. This is unbelievable. It’s crazy.”
They struck up a professional friendship, with Stein helping Pick find the perfect set of 140 characters to use in a tweet and Pick returning the favor by giving Stein a few Hebrew lessons. Whenever Stein travels to Israel, they’ll meet up and share info while steering each other in the right direction as needed. “If he has a big story about China or something then he’ll definitely ask me what I think about it,” Pick said. “He’s been great to me.”
Reached by email, Stein was effusive in his praise of Pick and marveled at the size and scope of his beat.
“He’s relentless,” Stein said. “He’s hungry. He knows that this job is largely about building relationships, gaining trust, and making triply sure you’re right before you report something.”
At times, Pick will use those relationships he’s built to help out a general manager or coach in search of his wise council. He mentions that he recently spoke with a team in Italy whose starting point guard had just fled to Turkey. When the Italian team’s general manager got a hold of him, Pick mentioned four or five point guards that he thought highly of and were available.
“I think I play a lot of matchmaker in Europe as well,” he said. “I think that’s a lot of what I do. There are a lot of stories that I can’t break because at the end of the day, what’s most important is for these people to get paid… and get the deal.”
Asked if doling out direct advice to a GM or coach is ethically fraught at best, Pick said no.
“It’s not my neck at the end of the day,” he said. “I’m not getting paid to do this. No one is paying me. It’s not, ‘You did a bad job. We’re not going to ask for your advice again.’”
“I think it’s just a genuine, honest appreciation of my knowledge of overseas basketball,” Pick continued. “Nobody listens to me a lot, but when they do, sometimes I get it right. And that’s when they come back for more advice.”
Considering the sprawling network of agents he deals with, all of whom have some kind of agenda when leaking information about their clients, Pick has run into a few unsavory types.
It’s not an episode he recalls with great pride, but early in his career, Pick was working as a runner for an agent. (Pick declined to name this individual but said that, “other people know who he is.”)
He took the job because the agent in question had—poor reputation notwithstanding—ties to prominent Euroleague players, which made Pick feel like it was worth the tradeoff. Via Pick’s efforts, one player did end up signing a million-dollar contract, but the agent stiffed Pick’s justified share of the cut. The pair didn’t speak for two years after that, until Pick ran into him at the Vegas Summer league. While the agent wasn’t willing to hand Pick the money he was owed, he did offer him a counter-proposal.
“He said, ‘I’ll pay you if you get clients just this summer. Get me some guys, run for me this summer and I’ll give you all your money,’” Pick said.
Pick agreed, if only to learn which players the agent might be looking to snipe. He assumed that he was targeting “third, fourth tier maybe” players or “guys in Iran,” but instead he was handed a list including former MVPs and All-Defensive Team players. Pick then surreptitiously circled back to those players’ current agents and told them, “This guy’s trying to steal your clients. Be on the alert.”
He compared the relationships he’s built over time to a marriage, one that’s built on trust. “It takes years to build and seconds to break,” he said.
At times, his reporting even impacts ongoing negotiations. During the 2015 Summer League, he tweeted that Ronald Roberts would be signing with the Toronto Raptors, after a source in the Raptors’ front office tipped him off. Roberts’ agent, Adam Pensack, sent Pick a WhatsApp message informing him that his reporting was not true.
“Just apologized to Toronto for your inaccurate reporting,” Pensack wrote. “Now telling all the other NBA teams contacting me that you’re reporting is often not accurate.” [sic]
However, just 48 hours later, the deal was signed. Pensack was angry, Pick explained, not because the information he reported was wrong, but because once the he tweeted out the news, other NBA teams which had had shown interest in Roberts walked away, assuming the deal was done.
Reached for comment, Pensack said via email, “No clue why I would be mentioned in a story about David Pick.” In a follow-up call, he did confirm that Pick’s reporting scared off other suitors.
Pick works from home, regularly staying up until three in the morning to watch as many NBA and Euroleague games as he can while staying in touch with his network of contacts through emails, text messages, and social media direct messages, even if he’s not working on a specific story. Rather, the overall goal is to keep the information lines open and flowing, a task made all the more difficult considering the time zone differences.
Often, Pick finds himself chatting with an American seven hours behind his time zone about a deal in Beijing that’s six hours ahead. “I’m taking the time to be there for them as opposed to texting people at five or six in the morning,” he explained. I think they appreciate that. And that’s really just the grind. It’s a grind for me and it’s a grind for everyone… You just have to work all the time.”
A post-midnight call with Pick drives the point home. His voice is at an exhausted whisper as he methodically explains how he scored yet another basketball scoop earlier that day. In the next room over, his 19-month-old son, Liam, is finally out for the night. “As long as he’s sleeping, I’m happy,” he said with a weary chuckle.
Sleeping baby or not, Pick is all too eager to share the forensics of nailing down a scoop. The process began when Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C. head coach Rami Hadar resigned after just three months on the job. Pick said he wasn’t surprised since the team had posted a mediocre record despite a $30 million offseason spending spree. He also knew that the team’s next game was in two days, which meant the front office would have to move quickly if it wanted to secure an immediate replacement.
Countless phone calls and WhatsApp messages later, “I got a tip that they’re thinking out of the box,” Pick said, “that they’re deep in negotiations to buy out the contract of a successful Euroleague assistant coach.” He quickly deduced that Maccabi Tel Aviv’s target was Ainars Bagatskis, who was working as an assistant coach under David Blatt in Turkey on Darüşşafaka Doğuş, a team that had recently embarrassed Maccabi Tel Aviv in Tel Aviv.
Still, Pick needed to lock the story down. Luckily, he had written a brief profile of Bagatskis for Eurobasket two years ago, so all it took was a phone call. According to Pick, Bagatskis told him, “No, no. Can’t confirm anything but, as usual, you’re accurate with your information.” He went back to Maccabi Tel Aviv, got confirmation, and took to Twitter.
While that’s Pick’s day-to-day grind, it’s not his end game: the goal is to graduate to a front office gig. In the interim, he says he’s received a couple of offers for an entry-level position as a sports agent with American companies he declines to name, but feels he can’t abandon a steady paycheck for an unknown number of commissions. Pick also said there’s a ceiling to the money he can earn as a journalist in Israel, which means that unless ESPN or another major outlet wanted to hire him, it’s not worth the trouble of uprooting his family elsewhere. He’s not even sure if writing is something he’ll want to do five years from now.
But, for the time being, Pick is committed to the job, even if it means missing the birth of his first son and coming home to a rightfully pissed off wife.
“The things you do for basketball,” is how he sums it up.