By Jordan Latimore | OBSERVER Staff Writer
While producing his new talk show in New York City, Marc J. Spears got the call he always thought was possible.
On the set of “The Conversations Project,” debuting Monday, Aug. 28, on Hulu, the legendary ESPN and Andscape reporter had to take a brief break to answer his buzzing phone. Spears was informed of some unofficial yet compelling news: he was the newest recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Award in print for outstanding contributions to basketball, earning a spot in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“I couldn’t really tell anybody because it wasn’t going to be official until NBA All-Star weekend, a week or two later, so it was like a secret. I told my wife, nobody else,” said Spears, 51. “It was just like this amazing secret that only, like, a handful of people knew.”
Once the news did become official, Spears finally felt the weight of his accomplishment.
“I got a little emotional, that’s when it truly hit … until they, like, say it publicly, you don’t believe it,” he said.
Spears didn’t always know where his love for basketball would take him. At first, he hoped it would be to the Hall of Fame as a player. Thousands of stories and more than two decades of covering the NBA later, Spears now knows his journey brought him to the right place: everywhere.
Denver; Boston; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Lexington, Kentucky; east San Jose, where his love for hoops was discovered — the power of the game has taken Spears all over the map.
Nearly Becoming A Hornet
Spears nearly made his mark in Sacramento, just 120 miles northeast of his hometown of San Jose, as a potential member of the Sacramento State basketball team. Spears received an offer from then-Hornet Coach Don Newman and his staff as a transfer from the University of the District of Columbia, an HBCU, and was fully prepared to take it.
Newman, however, wasn’t able to connect with Spears in person during his visit. Spears was disappointed.
After Newman failed to meet with the 6-foot-7 wing with a load of potential, Spears returned home the next day and met with San Jose State Coach Stan Morrison in his office. Spears then received an opportunity to be a preferred walk-on to the Spartans.
Still, Spears to this day reflects on the chance he had to play for and attend Sac State.
“Years later as a writer I developed a friendship with coach Newman (before his passing in 2018) when he was an assistant coach with the Spurs,” Spears said. “I told him that if I had met him during my visit to Sac State, I would have definitely played there.”
After suffering a major knee injury, Spears never got to play for San Jose State, however, he is at peace knowing his journalism career firmly took charge when he began covering sports for the campus’ Spartan Daily.
Telling Black Stories
Spears is just the fourth Black reporter to receive the Curt Gowdy award for print specifically, a fact he is well aware of. The three Blacks who preceded Spears are David Dupree, David Aldridge and Michael Wilbon. The award was started in 1990, and reads like a who’s who of sports journalism.
“It’s extremely humbling and I hope that it’s also inspirational to Black journalists,” said Spears, who is also a leader within the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). “Hopefully there’s going to be a Black female hopefully who gets the award in the near future as well.”
As a hall-of-famer, Spears now finds himself among the cohort to which many of the greats he has covered throughout his career were honored after their careers ended. The longtime ESPN and Andscape senior writer’s story is far from over though. If anything, it has only begun its newest chapter.
On Monday, Aug. 28, Andscape – an ESPN subsidiary platform that aims to tell authentic Black and pop culture stories – debuts “The Conversations Project” on Hulu. The series borrows inspiration from the Harlem Renaissance salons and showcases captivating stories from Black talents, celebrities, and personalities.
The show, executive produced by Spears, looks to inject a new flavor of socratic dialogue among a pool of today’s most successful and innovative Black athletes and entrepreneurs, all while guests enjoy a full-course dinner.
“‘The Conversations Project’ is kind of like a ‘Black iron sharpens iron’ dinner show,” Spears said. “It includes Black folks from the entertainment world, the business world – we even have an astronaut who calls himself an ‘Afronaut.’”
Spears, chef David Lawrence and former Teen Vogue Editor Elaine Welteroth — who graduated from Sac State — host the episodes as alternating dinner groups join them to converse on various topics.
“We talk about everything that affects the Black community; each course we have a different topic,” Spears said. “It’s a lot of thought-provoking courses like racial justice and mental health, social justice, entrepreneurship, travel, spirituality, social media. When you start watching it, you’re going to be like, yo, this is cool, this is interesting, I want to be at that dinner.”
Spears said the series will emphasize highlighting Black businesses, with each episode featuring a Black-owned winery.
Though producing a TV show is something he never thought he would do, “The Conversations Project” serves as a reminder to Spears to continue to challenge himself, something he has done his entire career.
“I always just kind of do things to challenge myself and try to differentiate myself,” Spears said.
Though Monday’s premiere will be a special moment for Andscape and Spears, “The Conversations Project” reflects what Spears has aimed to do his entire career: tell Black stories and create change.
“It means a significant amount to me to write stories that can make an impact, can make change,” Spears said.
“I hope that my work has been able to influence those kind of changes to make it easier for the next coach, easier for the next GM, easier for the next woman, and easier for the next person from Africa trying to come from the continent to figure out a way in basketball, the next person from the LGBTQ+ community trying to break away and make history in this league. I take a lot of pride in telling those stories.”