The principles of a good basketball game story have remained the same, even as the method of consumption has shifted from print to computers to mobile devices. Newspaper reporters adhered to the "inverted pyramid" model of putting the most important information at the top of the story and then working down with concise construction and wording. That approach allowed layout editors to simply cut from the bottom of stories to make them fit on the page. It also got the most important information on the front page, before the story jumped inside. This structure still works in today's digital world where consumers skim stories on their computer and mobile devices.
Determine Your Story Focus
The classic "who, what, when, where, why" journalism still works for basketball game stories. Answer all of those questions quickly, but focus on why the winning team prevailed. Narrow that down to the most important factor. That could be one player's great performance, one aspect of the game such as team shooting or rebounding, one sequence of the game or one play of the game. Focus on that most important factor in your "lede" atop your story.
Gather Your Information
The work starts before the game. Research the teams and players to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Anticipate possible story angles, but don't lock into one before the game plays out. Take copious notes once the game starts, adding as much detail as possible to your running play-by-play summary. Note all the big plays, critical game junctures and momentum shifts. Interview the coaches and relevant players after the game to gain more insight and gather quotes to use in the story.
Write a Strong Lede
Get the readers' attention immediately and tell them why the game was won or lost before they drift on. Consider how much ground Washington Post sportswriter Liz Clarke covered with her story lede from the 2014 NCAA Tournament title game: "Led by one of a dying breed in college basketball, a NBA-worthy point guard who stayed in school for his senior year, Connecticut toppled a Kentucky team that had cornered the market on teenage talent to claim the school’s fourth NCAA championship on Monday." That set the theme. This was her following paragraph: "Senior Shabazz Napier did nearly everything for his Huskies at AT&T Stadium, scoring a game-high 22 points, directing the offense and controlling the tempo in Connecticut's 60-54 victory before a NCAA championship-record crowd of 79,238 that included past presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton looking on as giddy seatmates from a luxury box." She covered all the W's, captured the game's essence and added some color as well.
Support Your Lede
Keep your story focused by expounding on the lede's theme. Mix in concise game description, compelling statistics, interesting coach and player comments and key background material. In the third paragraph of her story, Clarke wrote: "It was Connecticut’s fourth national title in the last 15 years and its least probable. The Huskies became the lowest seed, at No. 7, to win the national championship since Villanova in 1985. And their triumph followed a one-year ban from the postseason because it had fallen short of the NCAA’s minimal academic standards." In her fourth and fifth paragraphs, Clarke offered good quotes, scene description and more facts: “ 'This is what happens when you ban us!' a jubilant Napier said into a TV camera as confetti rained around him, explaining later that the Huskies hadn’t been driven by revenge so much as hunger. 'We came out here to play,' said Napier, who was voted most outstanding player of the Final Four. 'We didn’t listen to any doubters.' "
Write Tight and Bright
Stay on point and keep your story flowing. Provide analysis, not just a recitation of facts. Use only the best player and coach comments. Don't bog down your story with empty, repetitious or run-on quotes. Don't overwhelm the reader with statistics that don't add insight or support your theme. Limit your play-by-play description to the key junctures and decisive plays of the game. Otherwise, offer a brief overview of how the game played out. This is especially true at the major college and NBA levels, where readers can easily access full play-by-plays, detailed statistical breakdowns and video replays on the Internet.