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Sunday's 'Set for Life' Installment: Long, and Not Local

By Andy Alexander

The financial challenges facing The Post mean that space is tight in the newspaper. And its strategic plan calls for producing a product that is “for and about Washington.”

With that as a backdrop, several readers wondered about a Sunday Sports section profile by reporter Dave Sheinin that was long and had nothing to do with Washington. It was about how former professional basketball player Ed O’Bannon made the transition from star athlete to working in an auto dealership outside Las Vegas. O’Bannon, now 36, had been the college basketball player of the year in 1995 when he led UCLA to a national championship. He played in the NBA for the New Jersey Nets, the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic before drifting out of the spotlight. In his latter years, with a knee injury, he found himself playing for a succession of pro teams overseas before ending his career in 2004.

Sheinin did a wonderful job of capturing O’Bannon’s gradual -- and, at times, emotionally difficult -- shift from celebrated star to assistant promotions manager at a Toyota dealership.

But several readers called or e-mailed the ombudsman with the same question: If he's not local, who cares?

All liked the story. But in the words of reader Creg Smith of Oak Hill: “Why, when the Post says newsprint is so costly (or even if it isn’t) would the paper commit parts of two pages, including photos and graphics to a story about a hoops player from the West Coast with no apparent ties to the DC area?”

Smith posed the question directly during Sheining's on-line chat today, asking "if you do a story of this length, why not focus on a local player or, at least one with local ties?"

Sheinin's response: "Fair question. Basically, we just didn't want to to be limited to that segment of the sporting landscape."

Sports editor Matt Vita observed that the O’Bannon story is part of a yearlong series that Sheining is producing called “Set for Life.” Readers of Sunday’s O’Bannon story will note that it carried this “About The Series” explanatory note: “A generation of professional athletes who were beneficiaries of the initial wave of multimillion-dollar free agent contracts has now retired. This series will examine how they are coping with life after the games ended, and whether money has bought them happiness.”

The series’ first installment was May 24 on former NFL defensive player Peter Boulware, who spent eight years with the Baltimore Ravens. Now retired, he lives in Tallahassee where he is part owner of a Toyota dealership and has tried to enter politics. Next up in the series: Second baseman Bret Boone, who played for six Major league Baseball teams before edging into retirement starting in 2006.

Sports fans are forever ever asking: “Whatever happened to...” The series also looks at a frequent secondary question: “I wonder what he did with all that money?”

Vita explained that the series is examining how athletes adjust to suddenly earning seven-figure salaries, and how they adjust when the money stops flowing. "Some have transitioned into retirement well," he said. "Others haven’t.”

“You only have to read our section every day to know that we cover the heck out of our local teams. They are our first priority,” Vita said. “But ambitious, interesting, unique reporting and writing on issues and people that illuminate our lives remains a central part of what defines not just the Sports section but this newspaper. And as this series shows, we are doing it not just in the paper, but on-line with video, photo galleries and post-publication chats with readers by Sheinin.”

By Andy Alexander  | June 15, 2009; 4:46 PM ET
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