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Zach Harper’s journey to getting his start as an NBA writer began inside an appeals court. Working as an employee there, Harper would make sure to get his work done for the day at 10:30 a.m. so he could focus on writing.
For the better part of two years, Harper would get to work at 8:30 in the morning, get as much work done as he could within a two-hour frame, and then turn his attention to his real passion. Come 2009, his work was being noticed by the people he looked up to in the industry. Fast forward almost nine years, and Harper has spent time at ESPN, CBS Sports, and FanRag Sports, with his next landing spot to be announced.
Passionate about everything basketball-related, Harper leveraged the power of social media and a unique voice to build a brand that is known both inside and outside the world of basketball. His story is one of dedication, passion, and flexibility.
Edited highlights appear below:
On Getting His Foot In The Door (11:49)
“Back in 2007, I decided to start a website because I was like, ‘I know more about basketball than anybody, right?’ Then, I started reading other people like Tom Ziller and Kelly Dwyer and realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. I quickly went from doing this because of an ego to doing this because I needed to get smarter at this and a lot better.”
“From 2007 to 2009, I was working for an appeals court. I would go into work every day and do clerical stuff, mailroom stuff, and all kinds meaningless stuff. I would go in at 8:30 and I’d be done with the majority of my work by 10:30 and then I would just coast and maintain the rest of the day. I would just sit there the rest of the day writing and working on my website. I did that for a couple of years and then I started to get noticed by people.”
On Building His Brand Through Social Media (21:46)
“I wouldn’t have a career without social media. Because I didn’t have any training, because I didn’t have any connections, because I didn’t have any inroads into the business, I had to build my name up on Twitter.”
“One of the things I started to learn once I built somewhat of a following was that people are on social media just to interact. We’re all just killing time either because we want to rank things, we want to argue about things, or we want to talk about how much we love things.”
On Making a Name for Yourself (26:38)
“It is very saturated. I think the key because it is so saturated is you have to be confident in what you know and you have to be very aware of what you don’t know. That’s something I try to instill in younger writers.”
“You can do two things, you can either be aware of that and lie about it and say ‘I do know all this stuff’ or you can say ‘how do I learn what I don’t know?’ The approach I always took was I need to learn what I don’t know so that I know what I’m talking about later on. I think that is huge for someone who’s starting out, but at the same time, it won’t matter unless you have the right approach.”
On What He Looks for in His Writing Roles (34:10)
“I look for freedom to do what I do. I try to bring smart, unbiased analysis that’s also fun. Sports are supposed to be fun, but they have become such an angry medium for people. One of my favorite pieces I have written came after J.R. Smith threw soup at his coach. I had another column lined up that I had to finish that day, but I told the editor that I was going to push it in favor of a piece on soup. When an employer is willing to let you do that, to me that’s the freedom that matters so much because I don’t want to do anything that’s cookie cutter or how like everyone else may write about sports.”