From Ryerson to the War Room

(By: Tasala Tahir)

On the fourth floor of a building in downtown Toronto is a room – just about the size of a master bedroom – with one glass wall clear enough to make you think twice about doing anything embarrassing because people outside can see your every move. In here, sit three men and one woman at their computer desks with their eyes glued to the six television screens on the front wall showing multiple live NBA games. It’s 11:14 p.m. when it becomes loud in the War Room as the writers react to the painful and awkward scene that just unfolded. Victoria Nguyen saw it first.

“Woah!” she exclaims. “One of the Morris twins just kicked one of the Plumlee brothers in the ‘Hibberts!’ It looks like Markieff and …”

“It was Mason Plumlee,” says the man to her left, senior editor William Lou.

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Nguyen looks at one of her favourite articles, a pre-season feature in which she predicted correctly that Kemba Walker would become an All-Star this year. (Photo by: Tasala Tahir)

Immediately, Nguyen begins typing furiously, needing mere minutes to produce a “more to come” post on theScore website. She also sends out a push notification to subscribers of the app: “Watch: Markieff Morris ejected for kicking Mason Plumlee in the groin.” It’s a bare-bones version of the story at this point, but enough to let readers know what happened as close to “instantly” as possible.

This is the seventh article Nguyen has written tonight. You could say she’s a die-hard hoops fan. The charming 23-year-old, with her dark wavy hair and a contagious smile, lives and breathes basketball. She graduated from Ryerson’s School of Journalism last summer, and now sits in the War Room sporting light ripped jeans and a Raptors T-shirt from her impressive collection of NBA shirts and jerseys. Her bedroom is filled from top to bottom with NBA memorabilia, including photos, posters, action figures, phone cases, blankets, slippers, bags, basketballs, hats, and bobbleheads. This is the room she always wanted as a child, but couldn’t have because her mother prefers “something boring, like from an Ikea catalogue.”

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Nguyen’s room is filled top to bottom with jerseys, framed posters and banners. The posters on her wall of Michael Jordan (left), Vince Carter (centre) and Aaron Gordon (right) are from past All-Star weekend dunk contests. (Photo by: Tasala Tahir)

Nguyen’s most prized possessions are her four signed Jonas Valanciunas jerseys – the old home white, the old red one, the black-and-gold OVO version, and the new blue Huskies jersey. She recalls skipping a third-year TV production class to get her second “Big Val” jersey signed at an afternoon meet-and-greet. “I had never cut a class my entire life, but I had to do it this time because he’s my favourite Raptor.”

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This is just a tiny glimpse of Nguyen’s amazing collection of NBA merchandise. T-shirts, bobbleheads, caps, action figures and so much more. You name it, she’s got it. (Photo by: Tasala Tahir)

Her Raptors stuff isn’t limited to inanimate objects either. She has a one-year-old cat named Kyle Meowry, after Toronto’s All-Star point guard, Kyle Lowry. Nguyen, a lover of NBA puns, conducted a poll with friends and co-workers to help decide the orange tabby’s name. Steph Purry came in second, while Meownu Ginobili and Andrea Bargmeowni tied for third. The journalist believes Kyle Meowry won by a landslide because of the Toronto connection.

You wouldn’t believe it if you met her today, but there was a time when Nguyen was not a basketball fan. In seventh grade, she recalls seeing a flyer in the halls of her middle school for a contest to draw a Raptors poster. In perhaps an act of fate, the gifted artist had a rare night with no homework, so she decided to spend it designing a poster. She ended up winning the contest, which meant she would attend an event and ask P.J. Tucker, Pape Sow, Chris Bosh, and T.J. Ford – the last two being some of the most memorable Raptors of all time – questions on stage. Today, she refers to that as the first of several interviews she’s conducted. From that day on, her love for the game grew.

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Kyle Meowry, an orange tabby named after Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, lays on the Raptors blanket he tugs at often. (Photo by: Tasala Tahir)

***

The guys begin to get louder and louder in the War Room as the conversation shifts over to the final minutes of the Toronto Raptors and New Orleans Pelicans game. Everyone in the room grew up rooting for the Raptors. Loud screams of excitement, sighs of relief and some over-the-top reactions to plays don’t distract Nguyen. She’s used to it by now. Having worked with the NBA team at theScore since last off-season, she’s figured out how to block everything out and get locked into a story – in this case, the Morris-Plumlee incident. Now that the alert is out, she can take her time to flesh out the story. She adds context about Morris’ ejection, his stat line, and the final score. Simultaneously, she watches Twitter for reactions.

If Nguyen and the NBA team are in the War Room, there’s a good chance there are more games on in the NBA than any other professional sports league, which means there’s plenty to cover. Earlier this evening, they had to narrow down which three contests they wanted to watch from the 11-game slate. Nguyen jumped for the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat game while a fellow NBA news editor asked for another game. After a minor debate, the southeast division matchup appeared on two of the TVs. While Nguyen got her wish to watch the Hornets, she still ended up disappointed because they lost. When the final buzzer sounded, she turned around to face her colleague, Joe Wolfond, and quipped, “You can have your precious Wizards game now.”

He laughed and replied, “It’s not my Wizards game, but it has playoff implications for the Raps.”

Nguyen completed her university internship placement with the Hornets. She lived in Charlotte, N.C. for six months paying for everything – including a $3000 student visa – herself and had the time of her life as the club’s video production intern. Although she didn’t expect to become a fan of the Hornets – an eastern conference rival of the Raptors – she certainly is now, and lovingly refers to them as the “1B” team in her heart.

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Nguyen is also a North Carolina Tar Heels fan and is hoping they will win it all at this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament. (Photo by: Tasala Tahir)

***

It’s 11:20 p.m. now, six minutes since the Morris-Plumlee “more to come” went out. Nguyen raises her head over her computer monitor to make sure she doesn’t miss any action from the game. Her eyes move back and forth from the TV to her computer screen, where she actively monitors Twitter to see if more information about Morris’ ejection has come out. She’s totally locked in.

This is a man’s world. Nguyen is the only female news editor on her team, and the only one in the newsroom right now. She admits that before she made the jump from the copy editing team (which includes a few other women), she was slightly nervous about the possibility of being treated differently on an all-male squad. Thankfully, she isn’t, and in hindsight she feels silly for ever being concerned about that. She loves working with “the guys.”

As a woman in the industry, Nguyen has been put down before. She’ll never forget the moment in high school when her co-operative education teacher said women very rarely find success in sports media unless they sleep with their bosses or do other demeaning things. Holding back tears, a 17-year-old Nguyen told her teacher she was going to prove him wrong. She has, and is committed to continuing to do so. Her advice to other women trying to break into the male-dominated field is to keep doing what they love, develop thick skin and channel negative perceptions of their roles in the industry into motivation to do an even better job. She puts an emphasis on arming oneself with as much knowledge as possible. “Some people used to assume I don’t know anything about sports and wore Raptors jerseys for, I guess, the aesthetic. That’s one instance where knowing your stuff comes in handy.”

About 10 minutes since sending the push notification, the story is complete. “Story on Plumlee’s groin is up,” she says. “What’s next, guys?”

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