SALT LAKE CITY — When new Deseret News Jazz beat writer Eric Woodyard was ready to chronicle former University of Utah great and NBA rookie Kyle Kuzma's return to Salt Lake City as a Laker to play the Jazz, he had a ready greeting for Kyle's family.
"I'm from Flint."
It's a simple phrase that Flint native Kuzma understands and Jazz fans will come to appreciate as they get to know Eric through his reporting on the Jazz and the NBA now that he's relocated from the Michigan city to Salt Lake City to join the Deseret News.
Flint is where the water is poisoned with lead and residents are still waiting for long-term resolution to what became a catastrophic, deadly problem.
Flint is where Southwest Airlines announced this week that it would discontinue service after five years flying in and out of Bishop International Airport; just not enough demand from the troubled city.
Flint is where General Motors closed its plant, making a middle class lifestyle harder to come by these days and striking a blow to a community that was always in the shadow of Detroit.
And Flint is where per capita crime has topped the nation some years and this year again remains one of the nation's top 10 most violent cities, according to FBI crime statistics.
“It was tough. We had to fight for everything," Eric told me this week as he began getting acquainted with Utah. "When you’re born the odds are stacked against you in Flint, Michigan, because of the crime.”
Yet Flint is home, and it's the place friends and family came together to celebrate Eric earning the coveted job as an NBA beat writer, fulfilling a personal dream he carried from high school at Flint Southwestern Academy and on to Western Michigan University where he focused on journalism and creative writing, graduating from the communications school. He's been working as a sports writer in Michigan ever since.
He recalls attending his first pro basketball game at The Palace of Auburn Hills when he was about 6 or 7 years old and Kevin Garnett came to town with the Minnesota Timberwolves to face the Detroit Pistons. A lifelong love of the game followed, including his own high school playing days as a point guard, and a growing affection for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
He says Jazz fans need not worry about those early allegiances; he's here to cover the Jazz and work hard.
"I feel like God really delivered. I’m definitely close with God and thank him for this opportunity," said our new writer when I asked him how he felt about the job. Like any position, one has to earn the trust and respect of those he writes about, as well as those he is writing for. Eric's committed to doing that.
The Kuzma piece was a natural starting point when the Lakers rolled into town.
As Eric wrote about Kuzma:
"The Flint, Michigan, native spent three seasons at the University of Utah, where he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after averaging a team-high 16.4 points and 9.3 boards per game for the Utes.
“'We just want to wish him good luck on Saturday and we want to give a shout-out to the University of Utah and all of his fans there,' said Karri, Kyle’s mother."2 comments on this story
We have the same wish for Eric. One week on the job and he's already shown a work ethic and basketball acumen that we know will pay big dividends and be a boon to readers. They're already proud of him back home.
"I have a strong family group. They threw a big going away party for me and it felt good to bring something positive to the city of Flint," he said. "I don’t put too much pressure on me but it did show us that dreams do come true."
He has confidence but no hubris, and talent born from education and hard work. Or as Eric himself puts it, "I just see myself as a regular kid from Flint."
Welcome to the family, Eric.