So it’s Tuesday afternoon, and I’m in an almost empty TV studio in the middle of Springfield. I am sitting next to Leigh Moody, news anchor at the local ABC station. I am the guest for the 4 p.m. news “Close-Up” interview.
And it’s the funniest thing. Because everyone — EVERYONE — wants to know how this thing started. But hardly anyone asks the really big question, which is:
How the hell is this thing still going?
I’ve started plenty of things that never went anywhere. But I’ve never started anything that’s lasted quite like Stry.us.
And that thought was rattling around in my brain when I hopped in the car after Leigh’s interview and turned on the radio. Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” was playing, and Bob was already through the first verse. And he sang:
How does it feel /
To be on your own /
With no direction home
And it all just kind of hit me at once. That’s what this has been — this solo journey, with no discernible course. Some projects are linear. Some have a definite road.
The path for Stry.us has been more of a squiggly.
I didn’t know what this thing was going to become two years ago. In my initial pitch for Stry.us, I talked about filming YouTube videos and wearing sponsored logos — like a NASCAR driver. (Seriously.) I was especially clueless back then. This thing’s gone through so many iterations that I’ve lost track of them all. It’s been a solo operation. A news syndicate. It went through a period of nothing, and then a few periods of serious somethings. And now?
Now it’s taking real shape, because I’ve paired it down to an incredibly simple mission. Stry.us is about two questions:
1. What matters to people?
2. And how do we tell great stories about those things?
It is the simplest thing in the world. And people get it. In my meetings this week in Springfield, I’m seeing that twinkle in the eye when I talk about Stry.us. People love the idea. They get the idea. The love what we’re doing with our reporting.
After two years, I finally got okay with the idea that we’re just a band of reporters in pursuit of really great storytelling, and we don’t need to be anything more. We’re focused, we’re uncomplicated and we’re really starting to go places.
So here’s the moment when I absolutely knew that my team was special.
It was back in January. My Missouri Tigers were playing their first Big 12 game of the year. Mizzou had been written off during the summer, when the Tigers lost Laurence Bowers — an All-Conference-caliber power forward — to a knee injury. The Tigers were playing small ball, with nobody on the team above 6’8”. Kim English, a 6’6” shooting guard, was being asked to guard players who were anywhere from three to seven inches taller than him.
And then something weird happened: The Tigers clicked. I was there in Kansas City the night Mizzou beat Notre Dame by 30. The next night, against the Pac-12’s best team, Cal, the Tigers won by 40. I was there in New York when the Tigers steamrolled Villanova at Madison Square Garden. By the time the calendar hit 2012, Mizzou was 13-0 and ranked #6 in America.
I was there in the stands for the Big 12 opener. Mizzou beat Oklahoma by 38, and it was memorable mostly for being such an absurd display of offensive skill. But one play stands out.
There’s 1:17 left in the game. Mizzou’s got three walk-ons in the game, and we’re up 85-49. Our point guard, Mike Dixon, takes a runner and misses. Oklahoma gets the rebound and the run-out. It’s a one-on-none fast break, and Oklahoma’s going to get a meaningless layup.
Except that Mike Dixon starts running. There’s no reason for him to; the team’s up 36, and he plays 30+ minutes a game for Mizzou. Nothing good ever comes from trying to make a play here.
Except that this time, something does. The Oklahoma player slows up for the layup, and Dixon — all 6’1” of him — comes flying from behind. The shot goes up, and Dixon swoops in and blocks it into the fourth row.
Michael Dixon is not a shot blocker. He has blocked five shots in three years at Mizzou.
And yet, there he was, chasing down a player shooting a meaningless bucket in an already-decided win. It was as tremendous a hustle play as I’ve ever seen.
That’s when I knew I loved this team.
One of the things I’ve learned in my 20+ years of watching college basketball is how to recognize when a team is great. Great teams don’t come around every year. It takes talent, and it takes effort, and it takes desire, and it takes a kind of chemistry that you need to see to understand. Few teams have it.
I’ve only seen a few teams in my life that were truly, truly special. But as soon as you saw them, you knew. And you didn’t miss a game.
You don’t miss an opportunity to miss that kind of magic. You have to understand in the moment that they might not be around much longer. When the spark’s there, you can’t not watch.
That’s why I went to Kansas City and New York this year to watch my Tigers. It’s why I snuck into the student section for the final Kansas game this year. It’s why I flew to Austin to see us beat Texas(1). It’s why I’m in Kansas City today for the Big 12 Tournament, and it’s why if Mizzou ends up in New Orleans for the Final Four — and I think we will — I’ll go, even if it means driving all night to get there.
My fellow Mizzou fans, I fear, don’t understand how special this team is, and they might not until after the season is over. They are witnessing an amazing season, but they don’t have a frame of reference to understand it. One day, they will.
Just not this year.
But when they do, they’ll never fail to recognize it again. I feel so blessed to recognize the moment my Tigers are in right now. I know that sounds absurd, but understand: At its core, I watch sports to be inspired. I watch sports for the moments when someone does something that I’ve never seen before — and couldn’t have even imagined until that very moment.
And in those moments, there is an absolute joy in knowing that I’m watching my fellow man push himself to limits that defy all explanation.
And so, yes, I feel blessed to watch a Tiger team as special as this, in a season an amazing as this. When you understand the moment, you’re willing to make sacrifices to appreciate something as special as this.
And yes, understanding the moment goes beyond basketball. Two years ago, in San Antonio, I realized that there was a big conversation happening in journalism, and I wasn’t a part of it. I didn’t yet understand my role, but I recognized the moment. And I did something a little bit — okay, a whole lot — crazy to give myself the time to appreciate and be part of the moment.
Moments like that pass all too quickly. I’ve let the pitch go past before, and I wasn’t going to do it again.
That’s why the Dixon chasedown block versus Oklahoma was so amazing. It was the surest sign that my team had started to understand the moment.
See, the greats don’t take plays off. They have one setting:
I saw Dixon’s block, and I knew: These boys would not quit. Ever.
Meaningless layup? To the fans, maybe. But not to those players. There is no quit in those players. They may not win the National Championship, but I know they will not quit along the way.
After all, they understand the moment, too.
I’m the tall guy in the yellow shirt in the bottom right corner of that screengrab, above. ↩
My buddy, Ryan, and I came up with the title during our senior year. Amazing things had started to happen. Our school’s basketball team was experiencing massive success. We were dating women we liked. We were applying for jobs. We were really enjoying the last few months of college. (Maybe too much.)
We looked at our four years of school, at all the highs and lows. The almosts. The maybes. We looked at it all, and then we looked at senior year, as everything seemed to be coming together. We envisioned it all merging together in one glorious semester, our final semester, and eventually building into this one spectacular climax — the moment in which we would have it all.
The crescendo, we called it.
It didn’t work out quite like we’d hoped. Our basketball team came up one win short of the Final Four. Graduation didn’t greet us with the employment prospects we’d hoped for. The economy turned three shades south of sour.
But still, the hope for the crescendo lived on: One perfect year, of work, of effort, of hope, culminating in that singular point when we could look out and say, Yes, right here, we have it all.
Dare I say, though: Right now, I think I may be upon the rise of a new crescendo. The work I’m putting in with Stry, the work I’m putting into my personal life, my side projects — it’s coming together in a beautiful way.
Except that I’ve changed one thing about the crescendo. Back in college, I couldn’t envision anything beyond that climax. It would happen, and then…. well, I don’t know what I thought would happen. But the crescendo was the end.
Now I see things beyond that crescendo. And it’s not just a singular point. Everything I’m doing now is building towards dual goals — one professional, one personal — but they’re just a start. Once I get there, the cycle begins anew. New goals, new hopes. New crescendos to build towards.
I feel myself on the verge of something amazing, something I am building for the future. It is just the start.