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Why a soccer journalist mattered to basketball

Grant Wahl, who died this week while covering the World Cup in Qatar, won’t soon be forgotten

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A screenshot taken from video provided by FIFA shows journalist Grant Wahl at an awards ceremony in Doha, Qatar in Nov. 2022.

A screenshot taken from video provided by FIFA shows journalist Grant Wahl at an awards ceremony in Doha, Qatar in Nov. 2022. Wahl, one of the most well-known soccer writers in the United States, died early Saturday Dec. 10, 2022 while covering the World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands.

FIFA via Associated Press

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It’s hard to pick the right words to describe Grant Wahl.

He was not just a journalist who covered soccer, he was THE reporter covering soccer. But, he wasn’t just a world-renowned journalist covering soccer, he covered the game in a way that had real impact. He dedicated his professional life to every angle of the game, every ounce of equality that the game deserved and gave fans stories from every corner of the world in a way that promoted progress while both tackling topics that were beyond sports, as well as feeding the most fervent fans narrative delicacies.

News broke on Friday that Wahl died suddenly and unexpectedly after collapsing in the press box while covering the World Cup in Qatar. He was just 49.

If you aren’t familiar with Wahl, you might be wondering why, in a newsletter that revolves around basketball, the Utah Jazz and the NBA, are we talking about this reporter who was most well known for his coverage of a completely different game?

Well, it’s because although Wahl was best known for his soccer coverage, he left his mark on the basketball world in some truly remarkable ways.

In 2002, the cover of Sports Illustrated dubbed LeBron James, a then 17-year-old basketball phenom in Ohio, “The Chosen One.” It’s a historic cover of the magazine and the story about that high-school basketball player was written by Wahl. That story and that cover have been referenced for 20 years and it has been included in every discussion about the expectations that James faced when he entered the NBA.

Wahl also covered college basketball, highlighting the most amazing players that would eventually reach the NBA with stories and insight that nobody else had. The most rabid hoops fans might have known a bit about the top collegiate players and their on-court abilities, but Wahl’s stories would pull the curtain back even further and give readers an in-depth perspective on players that were going to make the leap to the professional ranks.

From John Wall, Kevin Love, Al Horford, Kevin Durant, Mario Chalmers and Stephen Curry, to Maya Moore, James Harden, Kristi Toliver, Brook Lopez, Michael Beasley and so many more. Go to Sports Illustrated’s archive and pick any Grant Wahl story, and even if you read something that is 10 or 15 years old, you’ll learn something new and you’ll be blown away.

He not only impacted the basketball world, but the journalism world in remarkable fashion. Wahl has inspired countless reporters who wanted to just be a fraction as good as he was at his job.

Reading stories by Wahl and SI’s Chris Ballard made me want to become a sports writer. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Andy Larsen has consistently been inspired by Wahl and the way he would dissect games. That’s just two examples of writers in this market who owe portions of their career to Wahl. The true number of people he inspired, I imagine, is countless.

He made an impression on the world of sports and how they are covered from inside and outside the pitch, from on and off the court. He was admired and respected by everyone, from readers and peers to players, coaches, executives and every one in between.

He was, and is, an absolute legend.

New with the Jazz

This week in Jazz history

On Dec. 9, 1988, Jerry Sloan was named head coach of the Utah Jazz, replacing Frank Layden who resigned as head coach. Sloan’s coaching tenure with the Jazz is the longest current term of service among head coaches in the NBA.

Bonus fun fact: On Dec. 7, 1982, the Utah Jazz, in a 137-121 loss at Portland, set an NBA record for free throw percentage in a game, connecting on all 39 of their attempts from the line.

From the archives

Extra points

  • 3 brothers surprise Rudy Gobert with custom sign in return ‘home’ (KSL.com)
  • An oral history of the Utah Jazz’s bonkers win over the Warriors (Salt Lake Tribune)
  • How change in media could impact the Jazz’s search for a TV deal (Salt Lake Tribune)
  • Hard work and determination paying off for Jazz rookie Simone Fontecchio (Deseret News)

Around the league

Zion Williamson’s late-game dunk caused quite a stir.

The history of NBA games played on Christmas Day.

NBA players’ union agrees to extend CBA opt-out date.

Which players can be traded and which cannot? A guide.

Up next

Dec. 10 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz @ Denver Nuggets | AT&T SportsNet

Dec. 13 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. New Orleans Pelicans | AT&T SportsNet

Dec. 15 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. New Orleans Pelicans | AT&T SportsNet

Dec. 17 | 6 p.m. | Utah Jazz @ Milwaukee Bucks | AT&T SportsNet