The gym was empty. Every Friday afternoon it was silent. It still smelt of sweaty boys. The good thing was that when the girls came in to play it changed the dank odour to something a little more pleasant. I jogged the length of the hall, just hearing my feet bouncing on the floor then I jump…
You may have seen Habeeba Husain’s byline at SLAM Online. I talked to her recently about loving basketball, landing a dream writing gig while still in college, and interviewing strangers. Let’s get to know Habeeba.
Storming the Floor: So, what made you fall in love with basketball?
Habeeba Husain: I have an older brother who’s super into basketball, and I started to take notice. The first game that I watched intentionally was an All-Star game. 2006 in Houston. I really liked it.
My brother is a Knicks fan, so I’ve always leaned toward that team. That was a horrible season, probably the worst one for them.
STF: Oh, give it time, I’m sure there will be a worse one.
HH: Yeah, knowing the Knicks. Probably so.
STF: Growing up, what did you read that inspired you to want to write?
HH: SLAM magazine. When I was in eighth grade, I’d need help with my math homework, and I’d go in my brother’s room and he’d show me how to work the problems. In his room were big stacks of SLAM magazines on his dresser. I’d look through them and read the articles. For someone just getting into the sport, it was so cool.
STF: Now you get to work for SLAM. How did that opportunity come about?
HH: Last year, I sent a letter to SLAM saying “I’m really interested in an internship if you have an opening.” I wrote up a really nice letter with my resume. And a few days later, I saw that they started to follow me on Twitter, and I freaked out. Then a few minutes after that, I got an email from the editor in chief.
STF: That’s an amazing thing about the internet age. You can just email someone you never would have been able to speak to in the past.
HH: Yeah. My first interactions with SLAM were through Trash Talk via email. A couple of those got published, and I’d comment on the site, and get lots of replies from the editors online. So when I snail mailed them, I mentioned “you already know me” So that helped me get their attention, too.
STF: Are you still in college?
HH: Yes, I’m going to graduate in May.
STF: Have you been studying writing, or was this a sideline that took off?
HH: I’m a journalism major at Rutgers.
STF: What’s on your bucket list of people or events you’d like to cover?
HH: This may sound strange, but I’d really like to do a story about Mike Breen. Some people aren’t huge fans of his, but ever since I started watching MSG, he and Clyde (Frazier) have called all of the Knicks games. I think he’s really interesting, and has a lot of insight.
In terms of players, LeBron James. It would be amazing to interview him. I really like Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. I think the Timberwolves have an interesting dynamic. I’d love to find a story that hasn’t been tapped into before. Writing about up-and-coming players would be cool.
STF: You tweeted (via @HabeebaHusain) a while back that you never thought you’d enjoy interviewing people, which is a feeling I’ve had before. Is there something about interviewing strangers that you find challenging?
HH: I had just interviewed somebody for SLAM when I tweeted that. When I first got into my major and started doing assignments for school, interviews would throw me off. I’d get intimidated by people. It’s not that I don’t like talking to people, but I was stopping myself from approaching people sometimes. My professors forced me to do it at first, and I found that once the conversation starts, you find things you have in common with the people you’re interviewing. I never expected that.
The person I interviewed when I tweeted that was the director of a documentary. I never thought we’d have something in common, but we did. It’s been the same when I talk to college players, or former NBA players. Even aside from basketball, we had things in common.
STF: Players get so many rote questions that they’ve heard before. I think they really light up when they can tell you’re really interested, and not just trying to fill up your 1000th column.
What are some of your favorite things about game day? Things a fan can only experience by attending a game in person?
HH: I mostly go to Knicks games. I like that you meet people that you would ordinarily never stop and talk to, but when you’re at the game, you have that one thing in common. We were there last season when they clinched the Atlantic division, and we were in an elevator going down to street level and it was really quiet. Finally someone said out loud “Wow, why are we not more excited? The Knicks just clinched the division for the first time in more than a decade!” and everyone in the elevator started laughing. The commonality you have with other fans makes them feel like friends. When you see other people in the gear for your favorite team, you know they understand.
STF: You recently wrote about going to see the Black Fives exhibit. Did the display change how you look at the game?
HH: Yeah, definitely. Today most of the NBA athletes are African-American, and it’s easy to forget that it was a struggle to get that opportunity. It really made me appreciate that. It was nice to see that and learn some forgotten history.
STF: There are some young, basketball-loving muslimahs who follow my blog. Do you have any words of wisdom for them about achieving their aspirations?
HH: That’s really nice to hear. I would just say “Go for it.” I never thought I’d be a reporter, or that anyone would think I could do something like this. I went to one of my professors a while ago and he leaned back in his chair and said “You’re an anomaly, as a religious woman doing this.” And I thought about it after I left his office and realized he’s right. I’m cool with that. It shows that I’m not super different, I’m into the things that your average person is into.
I’d just say to those girls that if they’re into something, be it basketball or whatever, they shouldn’t let anything stop them. If it’s your passion you should go for it. When I started my personal blog (H2 Hoops) I chose the tagline “My Future is at My Fingertips” because it felt like the first step. You can’t be scared to try.
[Habeeba Husain is on Twitter @HabeebaHusain. Her personal blog is H2 Hoops.]