Dallas Mavericks BHM: The Story of Mavs Beat Writer, Earl K. Sneed
In the second installment of my Black History Month series, we go 1-on-1 with the Dallas Mavericks’ beat writer, Earl K. Sneed.
Dirk Nowitzki in the starting lineup, Chris Arnold’s voice promoting the fan shop, and Mark Cuban in his front row seat are just a few things you can bank on seeing at every home game in Dallas.
In addition to that list is a sharp-dressed, African-American man in his patent vest roaming the arena. From on-court interviews to working on press row, the beat writer for the Mavericks is an American Airlines Center staple.
This is Earl K. Sneed.
“I was born in Fort Worth, went to school in Arlington and I went to Oklahoma,” Sneed said when we sat down to talk about his story to the NBA. “My last year of high school I was being recruited for football and track, really track more than anything.”
Growing up in Texas, Sneed thought his future would look much different that what it does now. Looking like a college athlete, Sneed’s life took a turn when an injury altered everything for his athletic dreams.
“I tore my left hamstring and that ended my track career,” Sneed said.
Sneed went on to attend Oklahoma University where he would turn his focus on journalism. “I took all the journalism classes and interned at the Oklahoman,” Sneed said.
When I asked him his inspiration for getting into journalism, Sneed had a heart warming answer.
"“I would watch Stuart Scott do SportsCenter every morning over and over and memorize everything he said so I figured I could get into it.”"
After Sneed finished his time at Oklahoma, he moved back home where he got his feet in the door at ESPN Dallas as an intern. Despite already being a college graduate, Sneed took whatever he could get for journalism experience.
“I was working at ESPN radio as an intern even though I had already graduated. I showed what I could do and it turned into an overnight job.”
Working through the night and proving his worth, Sneed was hoping to move up through ESPN, but due to some leadership changes, found himself taking a different path in his career.
Sneed chose to move back to Oklahoma and free-lance as a writer covering Blake Griffin’s sophomore season at OU. It was then that he heard of the Seattle SuperSonics relocating their franchise to Oklahoma City.
This was his opportunity.
“I started free lancing for them when they first moved down and it came down to me and one other person for a position like I do for the Mavs now. They gave the job to the other person,” Sneed said.
After missing out on being the beat writer for the newly formed Thunder, Sneed once again came back to Dallas where he sent the biggest email of his life.
"“I moved back down here and I emailed Mark Cuban directly and told him I was somebody that could do something for him like nobody else was doing. He didn’t respond to me but he forwarded my email throughout the organization and I started free lancing for a year and a half.”"
You read that right. Sneed sent Cuban a direct email swinging for the fences and it paid off. A year and a half later, Sneed found himself with other career options on the table, but he wanted to stay with the Mavericks.
So Sneed decided to shoot another proposal at Mr. Cuban.
"“I had other job offers and I went to Mark and said I would love to come on full-time, I got these other offers. He just sent back “whats your [salary] number?” Sneed said. “So I gave him my number, he sent back his number, and we settled on his number…that’s how it works,” Sneed said as we both shared a laugh."
Sneed came on as the full-time beat writer for the Mavericks in the 2010-11 season…the year the Mavericks won the NBA Championship.
“I thought it was going to be like that all of the time,” Sneed said with a grin when I asked him about that season spoiling him.
Now, six years later, Sneed has went from a simple writer to a jack of all trades for the Mavericks.
“I went from just writing, to co-hosting Mavs Insider to jumbotron interviews. It all started with that simple email to Mark,” Sneed said.
“It all started with a simple email to Mark [Cuban]” -Sneed
So is it different being a black reporter compared to a white reporter?
“It’s different being black and young. Now there is a lot of young reporters walking around here. When I first started it was me and guys that were twice my age. I was the only black and the only young one,” Sneed said when talking about the growth he has seen since he has started.
But even though the number of black reporters are growing, the black community in the reporting world is almost like their own fraternity within the league.
“The more I have gotten to know national guys like David Aldridge, Mark Spears, Sekou Smith. Those guys have taken me under their wing. Every city we go to now there is black reporters we all link up together like our own little fraternity,” Sneed said.
Sneed went on to talk about how at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, they had a brunch where him, Smith, Spears, Bomani Jones and others got together to catch up.
When we talked about the increase of African-Americans in NBA franchises across the league, Sneed mentioned the growth he has seen right here in Dallas.
“Even down to sales and marketing I have seen it with the Mavs. We went from having like two black faces to having like two in every department.”
So when you see the players walk around in their shooting shirts and you read the front, what does ‘Black History Month’ mean to you?
"“That means something to me. As I have gotten older, the more I realize what I represent is bigger than me. I used to grow up and kind of shun the fact that I was black. My mom moved us out of the hood and into the suburbs and everybody was talking proper. Then I would be around family and everyone would kind of high side on me because I was talking proper.”"
In that representation comes pressure. That pressure puts somewhat of an unfair target on Sneed’s back that is something he actually relishes.
“I feel that way [that he has a target on his back]. Cream rises. If you put us in the position like that, we relish the pressure being put on our shoulders…I’m representing the color of my skin not just myself,” Sneed said.
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So what about cultures outside of the African-American culture that might not understand. What would you tell kids growing up in this America that would help them understand the African-American culture.
"“You grew up with an opportunity. You didn’t grow up with people automatically closing the door in your face before you had the opportunity to show them who you were,” Sneed said. “Be open to the understanding that these people are being told no and before they even got to you they probably kicked down three or four doors to get to that point.”"
On advice he would give to young black men growing up in this America, Sneed had two things.
"“Two things. Represent yourself as if you are the highest of the highest even if you are starting ground level and understand you are going to have kick through some closed doors,” Sneed said. “When someone tells you no, convince them why they need to tell you yes.”"
This is why I do what I do, for conversations like this. Hopefully we all can take something from the words of Sneed and help apply it to the racial tensions across the country.
On a lighter note, we ended our conversation talking about the Mavericks. So what is the best part about being a beat writer for an NBA team?
“Traveling. It’s the favorite part and at times, the worst part. It has put strains on my personal relationships. I have missed a lot of cool stuff but I have also experienced a lot of cool stuff. Going to Barcelona and Berlin with the team. Going to the White House with the team,” Sneed said.
My last question was simple, give me three, non-Dirk Mavs who were your favorite over the years personally?
“Brandon Wright is like my brother. He is a devout Christian. We graded the Mavs trade yesterday via text. I could talk to him about anything,” Sneed said.
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Wright was his first and quickest answer, next was a future Hall of Famer.
“Vince Carter is my resident hip hop head. People don’t even realize that about him. Anytime a mix tape or freestyle come out, I go to him because he has heard it already,” Sneed said.
On the last player, Sneed was torn from a trio of champions from his first year.
“Finding a third is hard, that 2011 team is so special man. I could take Tyson, JKidd, Jason Terry. I was close to all of those guys…I guess I would put Tyson on there. Tyson was my guy.” Sneed said.
The story of Earl K. Sneed is one to remember…and it’s just getting started.
You can follow Earl on Twitter @EarlKSneed where he reports from every Dallas Mavericks game.
You can read the first installment of my Black History Month series HERE where I tell the story of the Mavericks DJ; the first black female DJ in the history of the NBA.
Next: Inside Story of First Black Female DJ In the NBA
Stay tuned as the final installment of this series comes out this coming week.