When you tell stories for a living long enough, you learn that you almost never get the perfect conditions in which to spin the most compelling yarns. There are deadlines with which to contend. You may have caught a source or subject on a bad day — or vice versa.
Such experiences can be unsatisfying. You have to learn to do the best you can and, if possible, learn from the imperfections.
The story of Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir was one I desperately wanted to tell, and tell with depth and aplomb. George Blake, her athletic director at the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield, Mass., wrote me a few months ago, describing a Muslim girl who played covered and was on the verge of breaking Rebecca Lobo’s hallowed career prep scoring record in Massachusetts. Even better, Springfield is the birthplace of basketball. All the clashing imagery seemed to make for a great story — one that I constantly aim to draw people to ESPN HoopGurlz to see, hear or read.
The rub is that I live in Seattle, and the timing probably wouldn’t be perfect — or so I thought. I cover an event in the Bronx, N.Y., every January and thought to link that trip with one up to Springfield. I called Blake and also got to talk to Abdul-Qaadir about taking videos of some of her customs without being invasive. She said there’d be no restrictions, so I scheduled the trip. Turns out, I was at the very game in which she broke the record. So I, along with about two dozen other reporters, had the story all to ourselves.
Except, it seems no one else brings up Abdul-Qaadir’s Muslim background, which was central to my interest.
I did a story and photographs of the historic event:
The next day, Kristen DeLuca, who works for ESPN HoopGurlz, via Scouts Inc., to which we belong, and I went to New Leadership to shoot interviews with Adbul-Qaadir and Blake, then went to Abdul-Qaadir’s home to interview her parents and video their afternoon prayer session. Everything was going great … until we received word of an impending, classic New England snow dump. We needed to get to Andover, where Scouts Inc., is headquartered, so we cut our stay short and got out of Dodge (er, Springfield) before the blizzard hit.
I hoped I had the story. You can be the judge:
My own thoughts are that I got the essence of what I wanted, but I didn’t get enough images (b-roll) or natural sound to make it more compelling. I went after too much — two written pieces and a bunch of photos, in addition to the video piece. I would liked to have gotten better environmental shots — of Springfield and the plaque signifying the very spot where basketball was born, for example — but those are what we sacrificed when deciding to beat the snowstorm.
What I like best is the ending. It’s always good to end with a bang (as well as start with one). What I’m learning is that people perk up when a video camera that’s obviously more than just a camcorder enters the room. The younger kids at New Leadership swarmed us the second we got there. Teachers initially shooed them away, but I explained that I wanted to record the excitement. We went to the lunchroom, which was like a beehive. I told the kids that they’d only have a shot at getting into the story if they talked about Bilqis. Which they did, of course, all at once, with the boy chiming in, “she plays basketball …,” which was the perfect walk-off for the piece.
I have a lot of duties at ESPN HoopGurlz, so I seldom can focus on a piece the way I’d sometimes like. This was no different; I had to take a little time here and there. It’s a difficult way to keep a creative flow. But I keep learning.