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Q&A With Alex Wong

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Alex Wong, whom you may know from Twitter as @steven_lebron, or from his blog stevenlebron.com, has written a book (titled Steven LeBron – Vol. 1, purchase here!) about a wide range of topics, including but not limited to basketball. We recently traded emails with Alex to discuss the project, how he named his blog, and a whole bunch more. Oh, and we included some of the book’s incredible artwork above and below, too. Enjoy. – Ed.

HP: How did the idea for this project come about?

Alex Wong: I think it was around late 2012, after I had been writing pretty regularly online for about a year, when I decided I wanted to publish a book. I had worked with a lot of the artists that ended up contributing to the project already, and I wanted to create something that would highlight both my writing and the talents of these illustrators, to take the two mediums and create something that was visually appealing and also worth reading. Again, this is not some new idea I dreamt up, I mean, I think whether we realize it or not, we’re influenced by a lot of things that came before us, namely Free Darko, and a bunch of other sites (including this one).

HP: How long has the project been in the works?

Wong: I’ve been working on it since the start of 2013, so about a year. The whole thing has been a learning experience for me. At first, I thought I would just write these pieces, collect the art, have something lay them out, go to the printers, and have this thing finished in three months.

But once the project started, I realized it needed time. The writing need to be something better than say a post that goes up on my blog. There were some pieces that I plucked from my own archives that I needed to rewrite. And then there were brand new pieces that I wanted to write, some of which ended up getting re-written multiple times. For example, there’s a piece in there about Jeremy Lin, and when I wrote about him at the start of 2013, Linsanity will still fresh and I had one set of thoughts about it. By the time the project finish date kept getting pushed back into 2014, I revisited the piece and basically rewrote the whole thing, then edited it like three times. It ended up being less about Linsanity directly (I mean, some guys wrote the definitive book on that era, so I had to change up) (Ed. Note – Hey! I was one of those guys!) and became a more personal piece.

That’s the one thing that I realized from this whole thing, is that things you write down a year ago, a month ago or a week ago, when you go back and read it, often times you might have a completely different opinion or another approach you want to take with the content. It was interesting to see that unfold.

HP: How is the writing different in the book than it is on your blog?

Wong: I would say there’s no significant difference between what is in the book and what’s on the blog. It’s still me, the same voice, same approaches to things I want to write about, but just a more meticulous process to making sure the articles in the book read well, and of course, are void of any obvious errors.

Put it this way, a blog post can be something very immediate and reactionary and exist for just that specific period of time. Whereas something that is printed on a publication definitely requires more care. Just a credibility thing, really, and taking ownership of the work.

That’s the one paranoid thing about the whole project, is reading, re-reading and catching all the errors and making sure that final copy is good. I’m not sure I’m not the only one who goes back to old blog posts and sees all the obvious errors and cringe.

In the end, I want to preserve the casual style that I wrote and not get really bogged down into rules. As long as the writing is in my voice, I am happy.

HP: How did you decide to go the independent publishing route?

Wong: Short answer: I had no choice.

Long answer: I have very little experience with publishing, little as in none. The writing thing just spawned out of a desire to get my voice out there and have a creative outlet since I work in a field that involves no creativity and very long line-ups at lunch for the rights to the microwave. I honestly just decided I’m going to publish this book, and just figured out what needed to be done from a logistic standpoint in terms of pricing the product and such on my own. I come from a business background so that wasn’t a concern.

HP: How has that experience been?

Wong: A lot less difficult that I thought it would be. I think a lot of times, when you set out to do something for the first time without prior experience, it’s hard to see the end game. But with this, it was a very natural process. It was really towards the end, where I’m at now, where the book is going through final touch-ups, and set to hit the printers in a few weeks, that I had to make certain decisions in terms of how to get the book out there.

At first, I wanted to go via the Kickstarter route, but as I looked into it more, it made no sense because I wasn’t really looking for funding, in the sense that I was going to print this book anyways, it was just a matter of how many copies. So knowing that, I just started promoting the project via Twitter and on my blog, and also sending a lot of emails to a lot of folks that I knew. I mean, maybe two out of ten people will reply, and maybe one out of twenty will actually be interested in buying a copy, but you do what you have to do to get that out there.

HP: Which independent publishing house did you use? Was it one of those online e-publishers?

Wong: Publishing wise, I met with various print and design companies in Toronto, whom I had heard good things from via various local publishers. I used a few style guides as reference in terms of the size of the book, and different types of fonts to use, and then used those specifications to get price quotes from the print companies.

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HP: Who are the other contributors? How did you decide who would contribute? How did you get them to come aboard?

Wong: 

So, all the layouts that you’ll see in the book (if you buy it, please buy it) are by Mark Malazarte, much props to him for taking a lot of his time to make this as much his project as it was mine.

The artists include J.O. Applegate aka @Bouncex3, HP-regular Maddison Bond, Mike McGrath, Nathan McKee, Tessa Chong (who has this awesome George Carlin illustration she did in homage to his “Baseball and Football” skit that I am going to include in volume 2), Jeffrey Dowdy and Leon Jimenez.

Also, David Roth of SB Nation is a contributing editor since I did include two pieces I wrote at The Classical in the book. And also, friends of the blog Andrew Forbes helped edit some of the pieces and Andrew Ungvari contributed a foreword to the Kobe piece, because he’s the biggest and most rational Lakers fan I know that I’ve actually met in real life.

HP: How did you decide what topics to cover, and that you’d cover things other than basketball?

Wong: At the very, very start of the project, I actually meant for this to be a very autobiographical book, to cover my whole life from immigrating to Canada from Hong Kong in 1993 to now, and to intersect all these personal anecdotes with sports. But that idea sounded better on paper than in actuality.

I had started the project that way, the first piece I wrote was about my high school basketball career (it did end up in the final cut), and when I finished it, I realized I had nothing really much else interesting to write about from a personal standpoint, maybe besides the fact that my parents made me take up figure skating in third grade when I first came to the country (saving this one for a special rainy day when I run out of things to write about).

As the project went on, I think the table of contents just came about organically, in that I viewed the project as an anthology instead of some running narrative tied to myself. So in that way, there are basketball pieces, there’s a piece about Barry Bonds, there’s a cool piece about Arthur Ashe, and so forth. The majority of the book did become very basketball heavy but in the end, I decided on the topics that I felt strongly about and wanted to write about.

I do think a lot of people online know me via the NBA side of things or as they would call it basketball twitter, but I’d like to think of myself as someone who will just inject my opinions, thoughts, or stupid jokes to any sport, and I think this book reflects some of that.

HP: There’s been a pretty incredible response from the basketball Twitter community to the project. I know you’ve been working the emails and the Twitters to make connections, but has anyone from outside that insulated circle reached out to discuss the project?

Wong: Yes, I’ve been very proactive (or: overbearing) in emailing and contacting folks on Twitter directly. If you haven’t received an e-mail or Twitter DM from me, you should let me know so I send you one. It’s a long list of people.

The feedback has been great, it’s been so fun. Outside of the basketball Twitter community, the coolest orders I’ve seen placed for my book have been from David Grann, writer at the New Yorker and Jonathan Hock, who has done a bunch of great 30 for 30 documentaries and other features..

HP: How did you come up with the name Steven Lebron, and to eponymously title the book?

Wong: When I decided to open up a blog (for like the 20th time) in 2011, I wanted an interesting name. Because come on, my real name is Alex Wong, that’s not very cool (the origin of how I got the name Alex is though: I was playing a video game called Alex Kidd in Miracle World in Hong Kong when my dad told me he was filling out forms to get us into a school in Canada. He said I needed an English name, so I just picked the name off the video game box).

On the same day I went searching for a cool domain, a headline came out that read “Cleveland’s LeBron suspended 50 games for steroids use.” Of course, everyone immediately thought it was King James, but it turned out to be a Cleveland Indians minor leaguer named Steven Lebron.

So I just decided to go with that. About a day later, it became apparent to me that this would be a pretty dated name over time. I’d like to think though, that over time, Steven Lebron’s become more of a brand and something you associate with a particular voice of sports writing and most definitely a lot of overreaches on Twitter in terms of jokes. So it doesn’t feel so dated now, it feels like something at least.

HP: Did Steven Lebron ever make it to the majors?

Wong: No! In fact, there’s been no news on him the last few years, I’m not sure if he’s still in baseball but I hope he is well. One of my goals since starting the blog was to get in touch with him and either do a profile on him or get him on the podcast just because it would be cool to say I did a steven lebron x steven lebron collaboration. That is on my top-ten things I want to write about list, which also includes a one-on-one with Lisa Ann (not in the way you think) and a definitive profile on the basketball career of Cam’ron.

Everyone who orders the book will also receive a random vintage sports trading card as their bookmark for the volume. Some people might even receive a pack of MTV YO! Raps cards. Here, I took a really grainy photo of it just so people know it’s real. There will also be other randomly selected folks who will receive extras like a copy of Raekwon’s purple tape (I hope they appreciate it) or Damian Lillard postcards from Nathan McKee, a Hideo Nomo Starting Lineup figure, an unironed Clarence Weatherspoon 76ers jersey, a Linsanity cover Sports Illustrated issue and more.

As more orders come in, I can afford to put more costs into shipping bulkier items like this, so this is my small little way of paying back to those who have supported me. 

Jared Dubin

Jared Dubin works for Bloomberg Sports, writes and edits for Hardwood Paroxysm and HoopChalk, freelances for Grantland, and is coauthor of We'll Always Have Linsanity: Strange Takes on the Strangest Season in Knicks History.