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Hoop Story #034: Anthony Puccio, National NBA Writer: The Association

Hoop Story #034: Anthony Puccio, National NBA Writer: The Association

How did you fall in love with Basketball and the Nets? 

I was 5 years old living in Queens. We didn’t have a yard or anywhere to put a hoop, so my dad built a rim and attached it against a brick wall in the parking lot behind my house. Every day, he would teach me new drills with an NBA-size basketball -- ways to improve my dribbling and rebounding skills.

I grew up playing on that hoop, playing against older kids at such a young age.

One day in 2001, while I was playing on that same hoop, my pops told me to hop in the car. “The Nets are playing the Celtics,” he said as I looked at the ticket and admired both teams logos.

It was the beginning of it all. He bought season tickets the year Jason Kidd was traded to the Nets and told me, “I want you to learn from the best.” We never expected them to be good -- certainly didn’t expect them to make a championship.

I watched the JKidd Nets and studied everything going on. I asked questions, “Why is 31 (Reggie Miller) running around without the ball in his hands?” “Why is #5 (Kidd) pointing while he’s running up the court?” “Why is Coach [Byron] Scott taking Keith [Van Horn] out?”

My father and I grew a bond. The long drives from Queens to New Jersey, talking hoops and life. Arriving at Continental Airlines Arena, seeing the same folks every game -- despite the empty arena. It became my home.

Then, we moved to Long Island after their second championship run. I never played with kids my age. A prolific AAU coach saw me shooting 500 shots in my driveway every night, listening to Tim Capstraw and Chris Carrino on the radio calling Nets games. Hell, I’d try to reenact what Capper and Carrino were calling! That coach approached my dad one day and said, “I want that one.” 

He took me under his wing, and at age 7 I was playing with kids 5-6 years older than me. Coach would pick me up and we’d go to train with Jerry Powell. I was never treated like a little kid. I was treated like everybody else. And who else was there? Tobias Harris. Danny Green. Bria Hartley. Heck, I’d even see NBA players I recognized.

Coach would pick me up and we’d go to IS8, Lincoln Park, Gunhill, Roy Wilkins Park, AJAX Park, Africa Park -- just to name a few. I’d play pick up or we’d enter a league. 50 cent bumping. Dude on the mic doing play-by-play with nicknames ready for everybody. I was “mini me” because I was so much younger than everyone else. We didn’t have any clock, they counted it down, “3-2-1… Quarter!” I became engulfed in the lifestyle.

It was all part of my development, both on and off the court. I grew up in those parks, then I’d come back to Long Island, play in a fancy gym and put on a show. I loved nothing more than playing ball and studying the game.

Watching it -- especially the Nets -- was a bonus. JKidd, KMart, Kerry Kittles, Vince Carter… Those guys were all a huge part of my childhood, the bond with my father and the person I became today.

Talk about your journey and what has kept you motivated?

Where do I begin?

Life was pretty simple for me. I was in 8th grade. During the school year, AAU was for the weekends and school ball was for the week. I set all my middle school’s scoring records. Hung out with my friends and girls. I had to grow up a little faster than most because I was surrounded by older kids my whole life.

Then, my simple life hit a wall. My father got laid off from his job at Lehman Brothers in 2008. I was supposed to go to a basketball-driven school, St. Anthony’s. That was out the window, and as a result the public school I attended shunned me, knowing I wasn’t planning to be there - or be “one of them.” 

Remember, I was the new kid from Queens who listened to rap and wore his shorts a little lower than everybody else. I was never “one of them” at Macarthur High School. Varsity coach Eric Rubin. He told me I wasn’t allowed to try out -- no, not ‘he didn’t make the team’ -- I literally wasn’t allowed to try out for the team. I’d show up to open gyms and he’d ask, almost in a spiteful way, “What’s your dad up to these days?” My own teammates and their parents would boo me! One of their fathers even tried to fight my sick father in the parking lot after a practice, yelling “Your son’s a ball hog, we don’t want him here.” I felt more comfortable when we played at other schools because there were different types of people.

I just wasn’t like them in Levittown. Do your research.

So, my own school took away the one thing I had in my life: basketball. It led to anxiety, depression, hell, even an identity crisis at such a young age.

Not long after, my house fell under foreclosure. My parents struggled to put food on the table, so I had to go out and hustle. I had to pay for lunch, so I sold baseball and basketball cards. I collected hubcaps and would sell them for double the price. I’d go to older friends’ parties and impersonate famous personalities like Elvis Presley and walk around with a hat to collect money. I was 12 years old, man. I was just trying to survive. 

I thought losing the game and my house was enough.

For my 13th birthday Me, my dad and my mom went to a Nets-Nuggets game. We were sitting in the very last seat of the CAA. The Nets were up like 40 points and it was sort of a depressing night. My dad had tears in his eyes, knowing he couldn’t afford to do it but he did. He pulled out his wallet and told me to go get a souvenir for my birthday.

While I was at the Nets shop, a man approached me about participating in a shootout contest on the court. “Of course!”

My parents and I went down from the last seat all the way down to court side. My biggest dream was about to come true… I was going to step foot on the Nets court. My favorite player (Carmelo Anthony) was watching! I’ll never forget sitting in the tunnel and the entertainment coordinator yelling at the recruiter then asking, “How old are you?!”

“I just turned 13. Don’t worry I can ball.” 

The guy I was facing (about 20 years old) looked at me and said, “It’s GOYA night dude. Whoever wins gets a trip to the Dominican Republic, so I’m just wondering what girl I’m gonna bring.” I told him, “I just dropped 28 against the (New York) Panthers earlier today. Good luck.”

I took that personally. And I won. But in the end, I didn’t.

My father was sick the entire trip in the Dominican Republic. Just as we were leaving, there was a note from the hotel saying the water was contaminated. My dad was drinking the water all weekend. Two days later, I received a call from my brother as I was sitting in ninth period Social Studies class.

“Ant, I’m gonna pick you up. Dad’s really sick, doctors think it was something in the water from the trip.” - My dad was my superhero. I watched him get jumped in Queens, saw him have a stroke -- nothing ever changed him. “This is different Ant. It’s his liver.”

My dad was never able to return to work. He was diagnosed with a rare form of hepatitis and later an aneurysm near his heart. We never recovered from the deficits on my home, which is soon to be evicted on -- 13 years after my father stayed at home and fought to delay the process until my brother and I could graduate High School. My mom was the rock in my family, and worked tireless hours to do all she could to provide. The Nets, GOYA … nobody ever reached out.

Six months after my father’s diagnosis, Blowback Productions of HBO asked to do a film on my family. The absolute lowest points of my life on television for the whole world to see. No money. Just… hoping it would help someone out there. The film was called “Hard Times: Lost On Long Island.” Most of my family shunned us because they were ashamed.

And so, we were losing our house, my dad was sick and we lost most of our family. On top of that, I wasn’t allowed to play basketball at my school. The one thing I loved.

So, I got tired of dwelling on my burdens. I told myself, ‘I watch every game, I might as well try and write about it.’ I did it for years. I emailed writers around the country for advice. Some answered, some didn’t. Frank Isola did. He’s one I remember.

I drove around in a car that had a huge hole on the roof. I watched my mom drive that same car and get rained on, crying and walking inside the house soaked. It provided more fuel to my fire, and I took the writing thing even more seriously.

I wrote NetsDaily’s Fanposts. I reached out to Tom Lorenzo, site manager. Anything to get my foot in the door. He told me to keep writing, stay persistent and circle back. I wrote for two -- maybe three years -- and circled back to Lorenzo with a full portfolio of features I wrote on Microsoft Word. 

By time he answered me, I was a freshman at Nassau Community College. I was working at a pizzeria when he texted me that I could write my first game recap for NetsDaily.com. No money, just a chance. That’s all I wanted.

I covered every single Nets game in 2012-2013 from my house. That summer he asked, “You ready for the big leagues?” I told him “let’s go.”

I received my first season credential in 2013. I received a full ride to NYU, then I transferred to St. John’s University. I took classes 7am-3pm so I could get home to Long Island, shower, get in a suit and hop on a train to Brooklyn. The days were 7am-1am. 

The adversity didn’t stop. I took out loans to afford train tickets from L.I. to Atlantic Terminal that I’m still paying off. Fans crowdsourced money for me to travel to games in Philadelphia. I covered the team for 7+ years and I still couldn’t get a job. 

I didn’t have hot water. I didn’t have heat. I didn’t have a fancy car. But I had a dream. I had adversity. I had people who needed me. And that was all I needed.

What excites you most about the future of journalism in basketball?

The future of media and basketball is super intriguing. When I started with NetsDaily, the shift in newspaper to digital was inevitable. Eight years later, we live during a time where kids in high school are getting clout because of social media! Times where you don’t need to watch ESPN’s Top-10 Plays because you can just watch the highlights on Twitter or Instagram.

Pulitzer said, “Our Republic and press will fall and rise together.” So, I’m a believer in good journalism, longform storytelling where the truth is told and people are held accountable - good or bad. So people ask, with iPhones, streaming devices, etc., is there a need for longform? I say absolutely. We need to use that good journalism and bridge the gap between traditional media and the future of the media landscape. 

Journalism isn’t dead. It’s just changing, and we need to change with it. So, that’s why I’m excited about The Association, because you get all the hottest news, links to highlights, fan-heavy content all in less than 800 words. And it’s free.

I see the newsletter as one of many forms as to where the future of journalism in basketball is headed. We need good story tellers, but we need them to understand the audience. Separate the player from the human. Tell the story of the game, talk about the outfits, talk about the words that were said. Everything and anything to give the fans what they want. 

There is no journalism without readers and there is no basketball without fans. I’ll never forget when I was denied from one newspaper because I was “Too much on social media, without college newspaper experience.” LOL. What older folks in traditional media don’t understand is that social media is just one of many ways to tell the story.

Embrace it, don’t run from it.

Talk about the importance of trust as it pertains to access to players in the league?

If you want a player to let you in, you have to let them into your life as well. Be real with them. They’re human beings too -- and most are good ones, too. They remember where they came from. Don’t treat them like multi-millionaires, treat them like you would anybody else.

When you talk to them like normal human beings -- whether it be about life or about the game -- a relationship will form. They will ask how your family is doing. And then, they might be less reluctant to talk to you about certain things; contrary to the journalist who only shows up for a scoop or to cover a big story.

It isn’t just about being a good journalist. It’s about being a good person.

What advice did you wish you had starting out that you’ve had to learn the hard way?

Major in something outside the journalism realm. My media education was quite literally me being at the games, networking, doing social media and writing game stories/features.

I didn’t learn how to write a lede in college, I learned it from the great journalists I sat next to at games!

I went years without getting paid. I worked as a paraprofessional for two years in the A.M. then headed to Brooklyn or MSG at night to cover the Nets or Knicks. I wish I built a contingency plan through schooling versus learning things I already knew by being at the games.

As I learned in my life, nothing ever goes as planned. So always plan one step ahead.

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