Basketball means the world to sports journalist and U of T Scarborough alum Alex Wong. Here’s why

Portrait of Alex Wong
Photo by Brent Gooden

Perry King

Alex Wong’s life in basketball has deep roots – from the courts and playgrounds of Hong Kong to the blacktops and chain-linked parks in the Toronto area.

Basketball provided Wong (BBA 2007 UTSC) a springboard to jump from hobby blogger to successful journalist and author. He is a former co-host and producer of The Raptors Show on Sportsnet and recently published the book Prehistoric: The Audacious and Improbable Origin Story of the Toronto Raptors.

How did you get into sports journalism?
Growing up, I always loved sports. I came to Toronto with my family when I was eight. Sport, and especially basketball, was the first thing that connected me with people here. I made the Grade 8 basketball team and then played in high school, braving snowstorms to go to practice and games. Those were some of the best years of my life. As a kid I remember reading every issue of SLAM magazine. Basketball has always been my favorite sport. 

Cover of book by author Alex Wong

At U of T Scarborough, I specialized in accounting, got my CPA, and then worked in that field for about eight years. But I was miserable, and made excuses to skip work. I got laid off, moved to New York City and gave myself a year to see if I could become a writer.

You have blogged for big U.S. publications. Has basketball helped you become a better writer?
It helped me find my voice. I decided early on that I wasn’t interested in telling stories in analytical ways. I wanted to write about people, in a way that I found interesting. Because I loved basketball, I put all of myself into writing about it.

What do you love about basketball?
Basketball is such an accessible and social sport. You can make friends playing pick-up ball at your neighborhood court or on a more structured level, like on a high school team. Even today, I’m part of pick-up runs around the city, including at Hart House, and it has continued to help me make friends. I truly believe basketball breaks down barriers and helps communities come together. It gives them a common bond. It’s also a global sport that draws a diverse audience. I’ve met people from around the world while covering and watching basketball. And I’ve learned so much about what basketball means to other cultures.

For me, the appeal of the game itself lies in the players’ individuality of the players; rarely are two players the same. You can appreciate the beauty and grace of a point guard weaving through the defence, and marvel at the physicality of a low-post battle.

You participated in an episode of U of T’s popular podcast, Joe’s Basketball Diaries. How did that add to your understanding of basketball’s ability to connect people from different walks of life?
It really resonated with me to hear everyone’s stories of how basketball helped them find and learn about other communities.  It also made me realize I have so much more to explore: I understand now that my mission of building community around basketball is continuous. There won’t be an endpoint where I think, ‘the work is finished.’

In your book you look at how the Raptors were able to build a distinct community in ways other professional teams in the city weren’t able to. How were the Raptors able to do it?
I think a lot of the credit should go to the fans. There was already a community in Toronto that loved basketball. When the Raptors arrived in 1995, they put the sport in the spotlight and helped accelerate a process that was already underway. They brought professional players into communities through sports camps and school visits, and helped to refurbish courts. They poured money, resources and time into developing the sport locally.

One thing we should talk more about is the community here – by that, I mean anyone in the Toronto area who loved basketball that was just waiting to be recognized and to join something bigger. Basketball had already became part of their life. With the Raptors, they now had something in common to root for.

Greatest Raptor ever?
Kawhi Leonard 

Most underrated basketball skill?

Favourite spot to shoot hoops?
Hart House

Best basketball book
Loose Balls, by Terry Pluto

Best place to watch a game outside Toronto?
Madison Square Garden