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Whitlock: On final day of my writing binge, I celebrate Bill Simmons, Mike Wilbon, Ralph Wiley, David Simon, and Mike Royko

Op-ed
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When I first experienced success as a newspaper columnist, I told people that if there was a more effective form of communication than writing, God would have released the Bible on VHS and you could rent it at Blockbuster.

That was back in the early 1990s. As technology advanced, I updated my quip to refer to DVDs. I now say God would have released the Bible on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

He didn't do any of that because He knows the written word is (and always will be) the world's most powerful communication tool. It powers the popularity of our smartphones and social media apps. TikTok will never be more influential than Twitter.

I mention all of this because it explains my loyalty to and passion for writing. Writing is my first love. It is the foundation for everything I do in the media. On June 22, I pledged on Twitter to write a column for 60 straight days, the longest writing streak of my career. My previous standard was probably achieved when covering the Olympics as a sports writer for the Kansas City Star or Fox Sports. I probably wrote 14 straight days.

Well, today is day 60. I made it. I take great satisfaction in the accomplishment. I wanted to introduce myself to the Blaze audience in the most impactful and positive way possible. My best foot forward is always seated at a keyboard. I hope you have enjoyed my words and work. I hope they have given you a detailed explanation of what I believe and why I believe it.

Yesterday, via Twitter, a former colleague at the Kansas City Star included me on a list of writers who influenced their work. I was flattered. And then it made me think of all the writers who shaped me and my career. I love perusing lists of best movies, best songs, best singers, and whatnot.

Here's a list of the writers who had the greatest impact on my career:

14+) Jesse Washington: Jesse is a writer at ESPN's "The Undefeated." Twenty-three years ago, Jesse was one of the top editors at Vibe magazine. He edited a long-form profile story I wrote on Allen Iverson. The edit was amazing. It opened my mind to what I could accomplish as a writer. The story and edit gave me the confidence to occasionally seek out longer stories.

13) Bryan Burwell: Bryan was a dear friend. He passed away seven years ago at the age of 59 from cancer. I met Bryan in 1992 when he was a sports columnist for the Detroit News and then transitioned to being the top sports columnist at USA Today. He finished his career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Bryan's influence on me was his businesslike approach to journalism. Bryan had a vision for how he wanted to be seen and presented in the media. Bryan epitomized dignity.

12) Wright Thompson: Wright works for ESPN. Years ago, we were colleagues at the Kansas City Star. Wright is arguably the most talented sports writer working today. His long-form pieces often read like great literature. One year, Wright and I shared a home — with Dan Wetzel and Steve Politi — in Augusta, Georgia, during the Masters golf championship. One evening, I sat at the dinner table alongside Wright as he worked and queried him about his organizational and writing process for longer stories. Wright's work always amazes me. In 2015, when I edited Jesse Washington's phenomenal profile story on Charles Barkley, our goal was to produce a story at Wright Thompson's level.

11) Dan Wetzel: Dan is the James Brown of sports writing. Hardest-working man in the business. When I said I wanted to write columns for 60 straight days, I immediately thought of Wetzel. I want to work as hard as Wetzel. Football coaches say "availability is the most important ability." Wetzel, a sports columnist at Yahoo, is always available. He's 7/11.

10) Bob Wojnowski: The original Wojo has been a columnist at the Detroit News for nearly 30 years. I met Bob when I worked at the Ann Arbor News and covered the University of Michigan "Fab Five" basketball team. Bob cleverly uses alliteration in his writing. I stole that from him years ago. Bob also is hilarious. He used to write a college football picks column filled with fat jokes about former Michigan State coach George Perles. I stole the concept and wrote an NFL picks column for the Kansas City Star in the 1990s. This was before newspapers outlawed humor and fun.

9) Mike Wilbon: Mike is a giant in my industry. Every black sports writer I know wanted to grow up to be the next Mike Wilbon. Mike, of course, is one of the hosts of ESPN's "PTI" show. Mike was a force of nature as a sports writer. He specialized in bold, straightforward opinions. Mike and Tony Kornheiser have been my champions for decades. Mike opened doors for me and every other black sports writer.

8) Dan Le Batard: Dan is the only guy I know with as much writing talent as Wright Thompson. Dan is now a wildly popular podcaster and radio host. He used to be as good a sports columnist as there was in the country. He delivered his opinions beautifully, with writing I envied. As a columnist, I aspired to write at Dan's level.

7) Andy Graham: Andy is a retired sports writer for the Bloomington Herald-Times, the first newspaper I ever worked at after graduating college. Andy was the first sports writer to invest his time in my success. When I joined the Herald-Times in the fall of 1990 as a part-time, $5-an-hour employee, I was extremely raw as a writer. Andy took on the task of teaching me how to write at a semi-professional level. It was tough work. Andy did it with joy and patience. He also did it in his spare time. He wasn't an editor. He was a friend and a liberal do-gooder. I love Andy and his wife. His investment in me changed my life.

6) Bob Hammel: Bob was the longtime sports editor and prolific writer at the Bloomington Herald-Times. Bob is best known as former Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight's best friend. I know him as the man who edited my first professional piece of writing. He marked it up with so much red ink that there was far more red than black ink. Bob sat me down and told me how much work I needed to do to make it as a sports writer. He admitted he was skeptical whether I could make up the necessary ground. He told me to read James Kilpatrick's syndicated column about writing. I went to the newspaper's library and stayed there reading Kilpatrick until 3 or 4 am that night. Hammel asked Andy Graham to work with me. Bob and Andy changed the course of my life.

5) Bill Simmons: Simmons is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Ringer. The success of his podcast has made him one of the most important people in sports media. He's my all-time favorite sports columnist. I absolutely loved his work at ESPN Page 2 back in the early 2000s. His column "The Atrocious GM Summit" should've been a skit on the Chappelle Show. Simmons' ability to blend pop culture references with sports narratives made him the most popular sports writer of my era. He made me laugh. He made me think. I devoured his enormous "Book of Basketball" in one 20-hour bite. I wish Simmons still wrote columns!

4) Michelle Alexander: Michelle is an author, theologian, and professor. She wrote the book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." In 2010, her book explained my point of view on America's drug war. I gifted the book to several members of my family. America's drug crisis ravaged a wing of my extended family, the cousins I grew up with like brothers and sisters. Michelle's book helped me make peace with and be more sympathetic toward family members lost to drugs and drug trafficking. I don't agree with all the conclusions Michelle reached in her book. But I'm so glad she wrote it because of the healing it provided me and the necessary resistance it gave the drug war.

3) David Simon: David is a former crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. He's best known as the creator of "The Wire," the greatest TV show of all time. "The Wire" is a televised novel about the city of Baltimore and how cops, politicians, drug dealers, and drug users influence a community. The show explains my worldview on America. There are few evil people. There are flawed people making compromised decisions that make momentary sense to them. "The Wire" is the last piece of significant journalism executed on television. Everything since has been clickbait and lies. Simon is a hard-core leftist. But he will always be my hero because of "The Wire." The show influences virtually everything I write.

2) Ralph Wiley: Ralph passed away 17 years ago at age 52. He had a heart attack. He was a former writer for Sports Illustrated and ESPN. He was a dear friend and mentor. As a boy in college, I saw Ralph on an episode of the "Phil Donahue Show." He told a member of the KKK that he had no regard for his opinion because he found his ignorance unworthy of serious response. Ralph became my hero. His confident demeanor inspired me to believe that I could one day become a high-impact sports writer. Ralph is the main reason I read James Kilpatrick's work late into the night when Bob Hammel advised me to. I knew I could make it in this business because Ralph made it. Later in life, I met Ralph. We became close friends. He was my adviser. Days before he died, he stayed at my home as he and his son, Cole, drove cross-country to Los Angeles. Ralph was an awesome human being.

1) Mike Royko: Mike is the GOAT of newspaper columnists. He passed away 24 years ago. Mike finished his career at the Chicago Tribune. As a child, I discovered Mike's nationally syndicated column in my hometown newspaper, the Indianapolis News. I instantly fell in love with his work. I only agreed with his opinions about half the time. I respected the honesty and common sense of his perspective. Powerful people in Chicago feared Royko. He regularly blasted Chicago's mayors, Richard J. Daley and Harold Washington. Mike won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. When I changed my college major to journalism in 1986, my first thought was "I wanna be like Mike." Every aspect of my writing career has been influenced by Royko's work. Mike created a fictional character — Slats Grobnik — with whom he had conversations in his columns. Slats was Mike's alter ego. In my Kansas City Star columns, I used to have regular conversations with Dr. Brian Anthony Homer, aka B.A. Homer. Dr. Homer criticized me for being critical of the home teams. He wanted me to be more of a cheerleader for the home teams. I still wanna be like Mike.
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