It took one call from ESPN.com to turn blogger Royce Young's online hobby into a full-time commitment.
Young describes what led to the creation of Daily Thunder as a "crazy series of events" that all began when the NBA landed in Oklahoma City. Before graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 2008, he wrote for the student newspaper as a sports columnist. To him, it was a form of sports therapy " a chance to give his friends a break from his rants about the big game.
Young knew working for a newspaper wasn't something he wanted to do right out of college, but he still needed an outlet to talk about sports. When the team picked the name Thunder for its franchise, he decided to start Daily Thunder at www.dailythunder.com.
"I knew a lot of pro teams have blogs and websites, so I thought, 'Why can't I do that?'" he said. "No one had the market cornered, because the team was new, so I fired up a Blogspot and started writing. And, of course, my first post was about how I didn't love the new name, which, for the record, it's really grown on me."
One month after that first post, "The name doesn't totally Thundersuck," ESPN.com's Henry Abbott contacted Young with an opportunity to join the TrueHoop Network, a community of bloggers writing about NBA basketball. Abbott said the purpose of the network is to give writers like Young an opportunity to see more traffic driven to their self-published blog. This not only helps them find a niche in journalism, but allows them to continue publishing content.
"There were not a lot of jobs in newspapers; nevertheless, there were talented writers," Abbott said. "Their only option was to self-publish. Royce (Young) is a perfect example. He was going to be the next great sportswriter. ... We put him in the network and drove traffic to him. It's his blog; he owns it."
Now with more than 1,200 followers on Twitter and T-shirts printed by Tree & Leaf Clothing, Daily Thunder has grown into the "go-to, must-read" Thunder blog, as Abbott calls it. Young's online journal has given him credibility among the writing community, which has opened a few doors. He has covered Thunder games from the press box and also made a trip to Dallas during All-Star Weekend, where he met fellow writers and saw NBA President David Stern.
"At All-Star Weekend, when Henry (Abbott) introduced me to a number of writers, I was shocked at how many knew who I was and told me they enjoyed my work," he said. "That absolutely blew me away and was extremely humbling. It's still hard to wrap my mind around the fact people other than my mom and wife are reading what I have to say."
Speaking of national attention, Young also has read posts by those who don't enjoy his work. Mike Seely, a blogger for Seattle Weekly, wrote about Young's post about the encounter with Stern: "What doesn't, however, pass the giggle test are awestruck press confessionals like the following, courtesy of Daily Thunder blogger Royce Young, who bumped into Stern over NBA All-Star weekend in Dallas."
Young said it bothered him at first, but he learned to live with it as a part of the job.
In addition to the national recognition and the Thunder's success this season, Young said he has to work harder to satisfy the readers.
"The way the site has grown with lots of readers " I'm not trying to brag " but it's become a source of information along with The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com," he said. "People want a reason to come back six or more times a day. I try to update three of four times a day, and it's tough. I also find that I have a voice in the fan base, so I feel like I have to consider my opinion a little more. If you say something mean about (Russell) Westbrook, he can read it. You have to write like everyone is reading."
Apart from the excitement he feels when a Daily Thunder shirt is spotted in the Ford Center, the blog has also given back his aspiration to pursue a career in sports writing.
"(Daily Thunder) has restored my desire, first of all, to continue to want a career in sportswriting," he said. "I thought I would give it up and forget about it when I decided newspapers weren't the way for me. But I've found a voice I like to write in and a subject I'm passionate about. Now, if I could only make real money doing it."
photo Daily Thunder blogger Royce Young works on his laptop in Norman. photo/Marianne Pickens