Photograhs: FanDuel, Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte
For those in the business of breaking news, there is no rush quite like the big scoop, and few people know that feeling more intimately than Shams Charania. Still just 29 years old, Charania has become a household name for hoops fans thanks to over a decade of writing, reporting, and building his two-million-strong Twitter following. In an industry of people who are always on, the industrious journalist—he’s the senior lead NBA insider for The Athletic and Stadium, and also co-hosts Run It Back on the cable network FanDuel TV—is arguably the most on.
By his own admission, he’s still figuring out the whole work-life balance thing. An absurd amount of screen time is an occupational hazard, especially at this time of year, when he becomes one of the main arbiters of basketball news. With the NBA trade deadline looming on February 8, GQ caught up with Charania just in time before he goes into his transaction cave.
What is the trade deadline like for you? Is there a big ramp-up from normal Shams to trade deadline Shams?
The build-up goes on well before trade deadline week. If you’re just waking up during trade deadline week and hoping for things to get hectic, it’s not going to work for you. That’s just not reality. Obviously, teams usually tend to make moves closer to the deadline. But all the prep and the leg work is done in the weeks and months before that. Understanding that helps me prepare going into it, and then during that week, there will probably be a little more screen time.
Everyone’s got a little bit more punctuality to them at that point, because everyone knows time is of the essence. Deadlines always spur activity. So, trade deadline week is definitely a busy week. Any given moment before February 8 at 3 pm eastern, you’re ready.
Is the trade deadline kind of your NBA Finals? Do you feel like you have a little more juice?
I think that’s fair! Deadline, draft, free agency: those are the major tentpole moments of the NBA calendar.
Are you one of those guys who drinks six cups of coffee a day? How do you keep the energy up?
I wouldn’t say six cups. I have my standard one in the morning, usually one in the afternoon. But deadline time? That’s usually three or four. Never energy drinks. Mocha, cappuccino, something like that. But a lot of this is just adrenaline.
I don’t want to speak for the whole world here, but I think for people who know who you are and what you do, the most fascinating thing is your workload. As someone who’s always on, constantly talking to people and frequently breaking news, is the workload still crazy to you? Or have you gotten numb to it now?
For me, it’s always kind of been what it is. When I started in this industry—when I first set my mind to this in high school—I knew it would take a level of sacrifice, time commitment, dedication, discipline. I knew all of that going in. So, I don’t think it was ever like, Wow, this is too much. I was a writer when I started, trying to network, develop sources, and find my lane. If I wanted to interview a player or track down a story, I had to figure out how to get to that point.
Whereas now, it’s a lot of time management. Between video work and doing what I love—which is talking on the phone, communicating, talking to people, and writing—I’m still balancing everything out. In that way, it definitely feels different. But that’s also the normal, natural progression for me. The screen time thing gets a lot of attention, but to me that’s not crazy.
One time, one of the FanDuel TV social people asked me about my screen time. If you ask me a question, I’m going to give you an honest answer. It was 17, 18 hours—whatever I said. That became a thing, and ever since then it’s been interesting to see the reactions. Obviously, it’s not normal for everyone.
When did this become your dream? Because it’s pretty specific! Wanting to be the guy who breaks all the big NBA news is a lot different than wanting to be shooting guard for the Bulls or whatever.
Once I started at my school newspaper—sophomore year at New Trier High School—that’s when my passion for writing, basketball, and sports all intertwined. From there it was about what I was going to make out of it. I knew the NBA was my passion and what I wanted to cover. So, it was about getting my foot in, doing interviews, covering games, and going to events. My first NBA Finals was in 2013. I was 19 years old! That experience might still be my most favorite. It will definitely go down as my most memorable Finals, and not just for Ray Allen’s jump shot from the corner in Game 6, but also because it was my first one.
Thinking about that ten years later, I was a deer in the headlights. I still like to feel like I have an ounce of naivete. That feeling [back then] of not knowing what I was doing, I feel like that benefitted me! I didn’t carry myself with any agenda. I didn’t even know what my agenda was! I was a blank canvas.
So, when I was covering those games, there was self doubt more than anything. I’d be driving home at 3 or 4 in the morning thinking about how I could have been at a party. But I’m doing this, and I love this, and this is what I want to do. You don’t just get into this and immediately start breaking news. That’s impossible. It’s been a minute. But I just knew that this is what I wanted to do.
What does your life look like outside of work?
First of all, the phone is always, always, always open for business. All times. It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of a movie, the middle of family time, the middle of anything. I’m always going to answer the phone. Family time is definitely something that [I’m big on], whether it’s going to dinner, going to TopGolf or bowling or whatever, if I’m not doing something for work I’m usually doing some sort of activity with my family. I try to make the best use of little trips here and there too with my family. Over the summer we went to Portugal, which was nice. I usually let my mom and sister decide what to do. I’m just along for the ride. I’m a passenger in their vision.
I do spend time working out and playing basketball. I try to play as much as I possibly can, but it’s not as much as it used to be. I love the game, that’s what drew me to this in the first place. I love basketball. I just wasn’t good enough to make it to the NBA.
How’s your game? Who is your NBA player comp?
If I say Steph Curry that will sound way too arrogant. But I did just put that out there. I would say Patty Mills or Jannero Pargo. I’m throwing it back to Jannero Pargo! Sparkplug, shooter, can do a little bit off the dribble but mostly figures out ways to make shots by creating space and getting open. I just can’t jump, you know? I think I have a pretty good jumper, quick trigger. I’m definitely very confident in my ability.
I’m hearing sixth or seventh man, instant offense off the bench—Aaron Brooks vibes.
Aaron Brooks had some bounce! His handle was nice, too. I think my handles are decent, but he was zooming! Patty Mills does exactly what’s necessary. He drains his open shots. His pull-up jumper game—especially in San Antonio—was on point. Those are the things that I think I can do in a pickup game.
When there’s big news out there to be had, are you driven by the fear that you’re not going to be the one to break it? I guess the other way to put it is, are you driven more by the fear of not getting it, or the desire to get it?
Definitely the desire. You for sure want to be first, but you also want to be timely, you want to be accurate, informative, and well-sourced. There’s so much that goes into it from the perspective of responsible reporting. But I’m always driven to get it first. At the end of the day, I’m a servant for the audience. I think about that every day.
You’ve said that you consider your biggest scoop to be when Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID, which for a lot of people marked the beginning of the pandemic. I’m wondering if you have a scoop that you didn’t get that haunts you the most?
It’s whatever the next one is that I don’t get. The biggest story is always the next one. You have to keep pushing. In high school and college I had [news] about ten-day contracts and minimums, then it went to multi-year deals and trades. With every single one, at 18, 19, 20 years old, it would have been easy to rest on my laurels. We can all, as human beings, have a level of complacency. But for me, it’s always been about the next thing. I don’t think I dwell.
What’s it like when you meet someone and they have no idea what you do for work? Are they taken aback when they see just how hard you’re going?
Part of me kind of likes that. I would like to consider myself a pretty laid back, normal person. I take what I do very seriously, so I can’t say that I’m not what I am, because I live and breathe it. On the other side, you want to find that balance and find other parts of yourself. I’ve been so consumed by this for my whole life that it’s like, what other interests do I have? Life is just about figuring more and more stuff out every single day.
You also seem to have taken more of an interest in fashion and beard care recently.
I think that’s definitely come with being on TV more. I started getting into bombers a few years ago. That’s a revolutionary moment in mankind, when a man first puts on a bomber. I like sleek jackets and shoes. I do like dressing sharply, but I’ve always gradually taken an interest in [things], nothing clicks immediately. I’ve never been the type of person to wake up and change everything that I do. It’s a natural progression.
Early in high school I had a buzzcut and an earring. People would look at me now and think there’s no way I did that! From there, I started to grow out my hair a little more but it was never [styled]. It’s just taking care of yourself, I guess. I enjoy coming up with different fits and things that look good.
People love unearthing your old high school tweets about lunch. You clearly loved lunch. Are you still finding sufficient time to be a lunch enjoyer?
Listen, I don’t discriminate against any meal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I try to hit all three meals. I feel like it keeps me powered throughout the day. You asked me the coffee question. If I didn’t take lunch seriously, I might be indulging in more coffee. Lunch? Very, very important meal of the day. It might even be the most important. That’s the only hot take I’ve got for you.
Growing up, I had a lot of fast food. But now—it might sound mundane to some people—but I love Panera and Corner Bakery. I like those lunch spots. I’m usually on the go, so I’d eat there every day if I have to.
Are you familiar with Defector’s Shams Awards?
Every year they bestow people in the media with awards for Excellence in Divulging Of Information Through Syntax Comprehended By Many. It’s an homage to the very specific way that you word your tweets, which often feature phrases like “strongly looking into” or “heavily considering.” I’m wondering if that language has seeped into your daily life? Shams is strongly looking into having a sandwich for lunch, but is also heavily considering the potential value of a burrito.
I mean, yeah. I’ve definitely caught myself doing that. Thinking about it now, I’m sure I’ve responded to stuff saying “looking into it” or “discussing internally.”
Originally Appeared on GQ