Eric Koreen has a job most sports fans would only dream of: covering the Toronto Raptors for a living. For the past decade, Koreen’s columns for the National Post, VICE Sports, and The Athletic have earned him a loyal following amongst basketball fans — both for his insight and his occasionally irreverent approach.
From his pioneering of the #DrakeOrNoDrake hashtag at Raptors homegames to the smiling Nenê picture that has become a near-fixture of his Twitter presence, Koreen’s approach to sportswriting evokes a constant reminder: at the end of the day, it’s basketball — it should be fun.
It’s a perspective the Toronto-based writer has gained over years of practice, ever since landing at the National Post at just 21 years old.
“I think then, I was a bit naive. I basically went into journalism because my brother had gone into it, and I didn’t have a better idea of what to do, except that I didn’t want to be in school for eight years,” says Koreen.
A graduate of the journalism program at Ryerson University, Koreen landed at the paper after cutting his teeth at the Canadian Press, filling the box scores and standings that would make up the back page of most newspapers’ sports sections.
“The hours were basically 6:00pm-1:00am or 5:00pm to midnight, and I was still on a school schedule,” says Koreen. “I was in the same newsroom as Lori Ewing, and Donna Spencer, and Dan Ralph, and Chris Johnson, and Shi Davidi, and many others. And I was fortunate to get to know them as a 19 and 20-year-old.”
It wasn’t long after that the National Post was looking to expand its sports section, and the editor, Jim Bray, took a chance on Koreen. After missing out on landing the Raptors assignment on his first try, the position came open a few months later, and Koreen ended up getting it.
“It was scary. I think it definitely took a few years before I felt like I was writing like myself — whatever that can be defined as — instead of being a pale imitation of [other writers],” he says. “Chris Bosh needed to leave and they needed to get really bad before I could find my voice.”
Thrust into the NBA in his early twenties and face-to-face with athletes he’d grown up watching as a teenager, there were a few hiccups along the way.
“I remember telling [Caron Butler] that I had just traded for him in fantasy for Jason Kidd,” Koreen laughs. “In hindsight, that was unprofessional and I wish I didn’t do that.”
The run at the National Post lasted until 2016, when Postmedia, the paper’s parent company, made a reported 90 editorial cuts in newsrooms across the country. The chain was merging the sports departments of the Post and the Toronto Sun, and after a decade at the paper, Koreen found himself on the outside looking in.
The changes came as the Raptors were in the midst of a franchise-best season and three weeks away from hosting the NBA All-Star Weekend. After months of freelancing, Koreen found a new home with The Athletic — a subscription-based sports media startup that launched in Chicago and has since spread to 15 professional sports cities across the United States and Canada.
“Had The Athletic not come along, I don’t know what I would have ended up doing. I knew freelancing wasn’t sustainable for my personality type,” he says.
These days, Koreen finds himself in the midst of another historic Raptors season, covering a team with a genuine shot at an NBA Finals appearance. Led by a duo of all-stars in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and backed by a supporting cast of fan favourites, excitement in Toronto is at an all-time high. The self-described introvert has no shortage of stories to tell.
“Despite not loving talking to people, we’re interesting creatures, sometimes,” he says. “I wish Masai Ujiri would still swear and curse, though.”