George Dohrmann, the Pulitizer Prize-winning writer and Inner Sunset resident, is the author of the new book “Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine,” which will be released Oct. 5.
Who had the biggest influence on you in your life?
My parents, of course, were very supportive. I am the son of an insurance salesman, and my grandfather was an insurance salesman, but my father and mother always encouraged me to pursue whatever career I wanted and then did whatever they could to help me. My writing career was influenced most by two people: Kerry Temple, a professor I had at Notre Dame, and Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, an editor of mine at the Los Angeles Times and then at the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Where do you find inspiration?
On deadline. It is amazing how much better I write the closer it gets to a story being due.
To whom do you turn in tough times?
My wife, Sharon, who is the perfect sounding board and who always knows the right thing to say. Crazy as it may sound, I turn to my dog, Maddie, as well. When things are rough I take her to the beach or we go for a run and it clears my mind and helps me remember how lucky I am.
How did you come to be a sportswriter?
I loved sports and I loved writing, and so by high school I knew that I wanted to do something that married those two. I have been a sportswriter since I was 15, from high school to college to newspapers and then to Sports Illustrated. It is really the only job I have ever known.
What was the impetus for your new book?
I had reported on the world of youth basketball while with the Los Angeles Times from 1995-1997, and I knew it was rich ground. When I moved to Sports Illustrated in 2000, it presented an opportunity to jump back into that world. I met a coach, Joe Keller, who had just started a team of 10-year-olds, and I realized it presented me with the opportunity to follow a team from the start of their grassroots basketball experience to their finish when they were 18. Following a team for that long was the only way to really getting inside that world and expose all that goes on.
What was it like to win the Pulitzer Prize?
As a sportswriter, a Pulitzer was never something I considered obtainable. Sportswriters just never win, and so it wasn’t on my radar. It stunned me when I won, but over time it was emboldening. I felt like I could be more ambitious, try stories and larger projects like my book that were risky. It is a cliché, but after winning I felt like I could accomplish anything.
What’s one of the most memorable stories you have covered?
I wrote many stories on Michael Vick and his dog-fighting ring. I enjoyed writing them because I learned a lot about the subculture of animal fighting and because it was a subject people were passionate about.