‘Before I write a word, I need to know clearly what I want to say’ (a Q&A with John Eisenberg)

John Eisenberg (Photo by Gene Sweeney, Jr.)

John Eisenberg (Photo by Gene Sweeney, Jr.)

Eisenberg_John

 

 

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Oct. 17, 2014) — Chronicling the big games, the big moments, and the cast of sporting characters who have captured the public attention have given John Eisenberg countless opportunities to tell these tales.

As a longtime columnist for The Baltimore Sun, Eisenberg focused on Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Ravens coverage, Triple Crown horse racing season and Maryland Terrapins athletics, among other topics. In his books, he’s tackled some ambitious subjects (oral history of the Orioles, Vince Lombardi’s first season with the Green Bay Packers, racehorse Native Dancer, aka The Grey Ghost) and been recognized on numerous times for his work, including in Associated Press Sports Editors contests.

I recently caught up with the 58-year-old Eisenberg, who now writes columns for the Baltimore Ravens’ website, to essentially find this out: What does all of the above mean to him?

***

When did you realize you wanted to be a sportswriter? Was it a particular team or athlete that enchanted you as a kid and led to you pursuing a career in this business? Or was it more your love of reading that carried over to writing and sports?

I trace my interest in the job to reading the sports pages of both newspapers in my hometown of Dallas, Texas, when I was little. My parents read both The Dallas Morning News and The Dallas Times Herald (where I later worked) and I picked up their habit. My favorite team, of course, was the Dallas Cowboys, and I found that after attending games on Sundays at the Cotton Bowl, reading the coverage of those games on Monday was like experiencing it all over again. Like a lot of young kids, I played imaginary games in my backyard and driveway. But unlike a lot of young kids (I think), I would come inside once my game was over and type up a game story. So I think the job was buried deep in my DNA.

What do you miss most about your longtime work as a Baltimore Sun columnist? And what do you miss least?

I miss getting to write about sports other than pro football, especially baseball and horse racing. Half of the reason I left The Baltimore Sun in 2007 (after 19 years as a columnist, 23 years overall) was I was tired of shouting about how bad the Orioles were. Now that they’re good again, it would be fun to write about them. And I love horse racing’s Triple Crown season. There’s always great storytelling coming out of it. As for what I miss the least, I think I exhausted my deductible on work travel and being away from my family for long stretches. It’s nice to be closer to home a lot more regularly.

The Baltimore Ravens have had special seasons and reached the pinnacle of the sport, but they are not the Colts. Have the Ravens reached the point where they are as embraced or beloved by the community as the Colts once were?

Baltimore definitely embraces the Ravens as much as it did the Colts. There’s a long string of sellouts here and tremendous interest in the team. In fact, after the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012, I wrote that the Ravens were bigger now than the Colts ever were in Baltimore, partially because sports in general have become a larger presence in our lives due to social media, slick marketing, cable/satellite TV, and the Internet. A quarter-million people attended the Ravens’ victory parade two days after the game. The Colts were beloved and a lot of romance is attached to their time here, but they never generated hysteria on that scale.

How would you compare Dallas and Baltimore as sports markets?

Dallas and Baltimore share some qualities as sports towns. Neither is a particularly harsh place. Unlike, say, in Philadelphia, where I went to college in the 1970s, fans in Dallas and Baltimore think the best of their teams and players and don’t boo too much when they’re losing. (I don’t mean to criticize Philly’s fans, who are amazingly passionate.) Dallas, of course, is a much larger market these days, with teams in all four major sports plus soccer. So it’s a much busier place than Baltimore. And it’s a front-running town, no question. As Roger Staubach once said, “Cowboy fans love you, win or tie.” Baltimore has just two teams, the Ravens and Orioles, and it supports both well, regardless of how they’re faring. Yes, the baseball attendance went down when the Orioles were bad for so long, but the fans still cared because there’s so much history. In Baltimore, there’s a big emphasis on the past. In some respects, the city lives in the past as a sports town, certainly more than Dallas.

The pundits have for years said America needs a Triple Crown winner for horse racing to matter, to rebound, to reach a level of popularity it needs to become relevant to the masses. That said, what are some other things that the industry should do to spark interest in the sport at the local, regional and national levels?

I don’t really buy into the notion that a Triple Crown winner would make racing relevant again. Racing is never going to reclaim a major place on the American sports landscape. It’s a nice niche sport with pockets of loyal fans in places like Kentucky, but there are too many other ways to gamble now, and not nearly enough continuity. Racing suffers from the fact that the breeding end of the horse business has become so lucrative that any horse that accomplishes anything is almost immediately retired to stud and just vanishes from the scene. The sport is always starting from scratch in terms of superstar recognition. If the sport’s powers could somehow convince owners to give their horses longer careers, that would help. I’m not optimistic. As for what could spark a renewal of interest in various locales, new tracks would help. Sports fans like to hang out in nice stadiums/parks/places these days. The “new” Churchill Downs is booming in Louisville. A”new” Pimlico at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore would be a smash hit, in my opinion. But again, I’m not optimistic.

In my view, the late Vic Ziegel’s horse racing columns were filled with humor, keen insight and a genuine love for the sport and its history that made them an enjoyable read every time. Similarly, are there a few turf scribes today whose wit and ability to combine historic knowledge and a passion for the sport make them a consistently quality read? 

I agree with you about Vic Ziegel. We spent a lot of time together in the Triple Crown press boxes. His enthusiasm was infectious. Sadly, a lot of newspapers and magazines don’t even staff the horse racing beat anymore, so there aren’t many young turf writers coming up. The ones I admire who combine passion and knowledge of the sport include Jennie Rees in Louisville and Steve Haskin of the Daily Racing Form.

Have you ever been misidentified as Jerry Izenberg, the longtime Newark Star-Ledger columnist  while arranging an interview or on assignment?

I have occasionally been misidentified as Jerry. Usually it is with older athletes who think I have interviewed them because Jerry did years ago. It hasn’t happened in awhile.

In your current work for baltimoreravens.com as columnist, who are a handful of must-read writers for you as you stay on top of things on the NFL beat? And in the last few years, have you noticed that two or three newer authors have crept up among your top 10 or so that you read on a regular basis?

I’ll read anything about pro football written by Don Banks. Tim Layden, Scott Price and Michael Rosenberg at Sports Illustrated. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle is interesting and on top of things around the league. Daniel Jeremiah at NFL.com always makes me re-think things. As for authors, I always read whatever my friend and former colleague Jim Dent is writing. He’s not a new author but he’s cranking them out and I enjoy them.

Can you describe your basic approach to crafting a column? What are the essential elements it must have to meet your standards?

My approach to writing a column begins with focusing on the idea. Before I write a word, I need to know clearly what I want to say, and how I’m going to say it. Once I have all that in mind, the writing flows fairly easily. My short list of column fundamentals includes writing in a conversational tone and making sure you don’t take detours along the way. Don’t try to say too much, in other words. Say what you want to say and get out. I pay a lot of attention to language. My favorite columns are ones that don’t follow an obvious path, i.e., ones that offer an original or counterintuitive take on a subject. For example, one year the U.S. basketball team lost in the Olympics, and I wrote that the NBA was thrilled because it’s so focused on growing the game globally and this was a step in that direction. I heard from a lot of readers who had not considered that.

Which of your columns, if you can recall, has generated the most positive feedback? The most negative?

After my father died, I wrote a column saying that although I would miss him terribly, I was comforted by the fact that I would continue to hear his voice in my head. We were very close, and I knew how he would feel about certain sports developments. That column received an enormous amount of positive feedback. To this day, I hear from readers who were touched by it and took the sentiment to heart. The most negative response was to a column I wrote before the Ravens won their first Super Bowl. It was a year after Ray Lewis’ murder trial, and I criticized his demeanor and approach on Super Bowl Media Day, basically saying he could have been more humble. The fans were furious! I received a thousand comments, emails, letters, etc. Ray and I have not spoken 1-on-1 since.

You have witnessed and written about a number of a major moments in pro and big-time sports in the past few decades. Are there a few off-the-beaten path assignments or somewhat obscure features or column subjects that were in their own way thrilling to you, too?

I have indeed seen a lot of big moments, but I love the little ones. In 1997 I covered a 15-2 seed upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Coppin State over South Carolina. I loved Coppin’s charismatic coach, Fang Mitchell. Coppin is a little school in Baltimore without a ton of resources, and it took Fang years to build a decent program from scratch. When they won, someone asked him how it felt to be an overnight sensation. He laughed and laughed. That was terrific. Back in 1980 I was on the high school beat at the Dallas Times Herald and came across a 5-foot-4 kid dunking a basketball in a varsity game. My story about him caused a local sensation and made the young man a star. It was Spud Webb.

What compliment(s) you received during your career gave you the biggest satisfaction, joy and/or inspiration? Can you think of an example or two?

The biggest compliment I ever received was after I published my fan memoir, “Cotton Bowl Days,” about growing up in Dallas as a Cowboy fan. About a month after it was out, my phone rang while my wife and I were eating takeout Chinese. Don Meredith was on the line. I had not interviewed him for the book, and in fact, had written in the book about how he wanted to be left alone. But someone had put the book in his hands. Somehow he got my number. “I’m just calling to say you got it right. You got it exactly right,” he said of my take on those days. I took that as the highest possible praise. Also, a long time ago Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald told me that he and some of his cronies were sitting around drafting young writing talent to fill out their dream staffs (after a few libations, I imagine) and Blackie Sherrod picked me. I grew up reading Blackie in Dallas and he was pretty much my hero, so that meant a lot.

It may be a list that constantly changes over time, but as of today, Sept. 18, can you reveal five columns that you would cite as among your best-ever work?

My best-ever list would include the column I referenced about my father (1999), the column I wrote when Baltimore was passed over for an NFL expansion team in favorite of Charlotte and Jacksonville (1993), a tribute to John Steadman when he died (2001), my column on the Orioles’ last game at Memorial Stadium (1991) and the column I wrote on the best Preakness I ever covered, when Sunday Silence defeated Easy Goer (1989).

What’s least publicized about Earl Weaver’s persona off the baseball diamond? To the general public, what was most misunderstood about him away from his office?

The least publicized part of Earl’s persona is that most of his own players found him totally obnoxious. While researching my oral history of the Orioles, I discovered that he ranted at everyone during every game – not just the umpires but his players, the other team, everyone. His players respected him and knew he helped them win, but they detested him. And what was most misunderstood about Earl was how uncannily smart and savvy he was about everything. He barely finished high school and never went to college, but he loved to sit around and argue with you about just about everything — politics, movies, etc.

Among the current Ravens roster and coaching staff, who are a half-dozen or so guys who always come through as good interview subjects? Is there a clear-cut No.1 on the team?

Among the current Ravens, Terrell Suggs is always an entertaining interview. Although he wants to win, he doesn’t take this football stuff too seriously, and his humor and whimsy lighten the work week. He is a must-talk-to after every game, as he will say the honest things no one else wants to admit — a future pundit, for sure. Torrey Smith is a first-rate young man. Joe Flacco gets called dull, but he has gotten a lot more interesting over the years. I respect him a lot. He accepts the heat when it is deserved, and never criticized a teammate. I am enjoying having Steve Smith around. He is honest, passionate and very funny at times.

What’s your view of the way the Ravens and the NFL have handled the Ray Rice case? What have been the biggest missteps in your opinion?

No one is covered in glory here. The Ravens have admitted they erred badly in letting their fondness for Rice cloud their judgment as they first reacted to this awful incident. “We heard what we wanted to hear,” team owner Steve Bisciotti said. In my opinion, backing him in the first place was their core mistake, and that decision was based – sadly – on what, until then, was the common reaction to domestic violence cases in the NFL: that you could basically make it go away via the legal system. With that in mind, I’m not sure many NFL teams, if any, would have handled it any differently. The best thing to come out of this sad situation is there’s going to be a new common reaction to domestic violence cases from now on, one far more attuned to the searing societal problem it is.

***
Follow John Eisenberg at http://www.johneisenberg.com

Advertisements

An indispensable figure in NBA history and league operations in North America and around the world … (The definitive interview with Terry Lyons)

David Stern become NBA commissioner in February 1984, and Terry Lyons (second from left) attends the ceremony.

Witnessing history: David Stern became NBA commissioner in February 1984, and Terry Lyons (second from left) attends an “office humor” ceremony a few days after the real one.

Terry Lyons photo

Terry Lyons photo

Terry Lyons was in charge of all NBA communications, public relations and media activities outside the United States from 1992 through 2007. PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBA PHOTOS

Terry Lyons was in charge of all NBA communications, public relations and media activities outside the United States from 1992 through 2007. PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBA PHOTOS

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (Oct. 2, 2014) — Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and David Stern are all names synonymous with the NBA’s rise in popularity during the 1980s. But there were, of course, key personnel in the league office building the foundation for success in the decades to come.

Terry Lyons was one of those individuals. In fact, he filled some of the most important roles behind the scenes.

“Terry Lyons’ enormous contributions to our media relations efforts for almost three decades have been a key driver to our growth, domestically and internationally,” Stern was quoted as saying in a statement posted on Lyons’ website. ” He has grown up with the NBA and the NBA has grown up with him. Terry has traveled the world on behalf of the NBA and Team USA, spreading the basketball gospel. He has worked arduously to enhance international media coverage of our teams and our games and he has made the NBA office a welcoming center for the global basketball community and international media. We will miss him greatly, and wish him continued professional success and much personal happiness.”

So how does a man summarize his life’s work? That was a task Terry Lyons handled with precision this week, writing in the third person.

“Terry Lyons was best known to the NBA basketball fans of Japan when he ran the NBA’s international communications department and frequently worked with the many Japanese reporters who covered the league,” he wrote. “Lyons made over a dozen trips to Japan, many to help organize and stage the NBA Japan Games, the series of regular season games the league staged in Tokyo, Yokohama and Saitama. Lyons also work with USA Basketball for the men’s and women’s Olympic teams and that included the 2006 FIBA World Championship when the USA played its games in Sapporo and Saitama.

“Lyons’ career with the NBA spanned from 1981 to 2008. He worked at a record 135 consecutive NBA Finals games dating from 1983 until 2007. Since stepping down from his executive post, Lyons relocated to New England with his family and is enjoying his entrepreneurial projects of launching a sports news site – http://www.DigitalSportsDesk.com – voted by the WGBH “Boston A-List” as a Top 5 sports site. Lyons spends the majority of his time working as Chief Marketing Officer for a technology-based Fantasy Sports company, Hotbox Sports Ventures (http://www,hotboxsports.com). Lyons is also an investor in a popular, casual restaurant and lounge, West End Johnnie’s which is located a block from the TD Garden in Boston.”

The following interview was conducted by email.

***

Can you give a general overview of your current work projects at Hotbox Sports, Terry Lyons Sports Marketing LLC, Digital Sports Desk and other ventures you are involved in and some short-term and long-term goals? And what’s a typical week for you like – can you provide a basic rundown?

One of the things I enjoy most about my work and the way I can live now, is that there is no such thing as a typical week. I dedicate a significant amount of time as we continue to build Hotbox Sports Ventures, which is a very interesting company that is coming of age in front of my eyes after years of hard work. Hotbox Sports is more of a Business-to-Business technology company than a “typical” Fantasy sports company. We work with sports teams, sports leagues, State and Govt. lotteries, media companies and others to build custom sports fantasy games. We’re doing a lot with the international fubol space and, of course, have great offerings for basketball, baseball and ice hockey – more so that the space everyone else seems to be working in and that being NFL American football. Aside from Hotbox Sports, where I’ve been overseeing Business Development and now some Marketing efforts, I work with some select and very highly regarded clients with Communications plans and projects. In the past few years, I’ve enjoyed working with the AND1 Basketball company, Runner’s World – mainly surrounding the Boston Marathon – the Basketball Hall of Fame (for Michael Jordan’s induction and that of the USA Basketball Dream Team). And, when I can find some time, I love to write and create content for my sports site, DigitalSportsDesk – which is a one-man creation with the help from video provider, CineSport, sports images from Getty Images and my good friends at SportsDirect Inc to keep all the scores and stats up-to-the-minute. It keeps me busy seven days a week which is good, but I can keep pretty flexible hours and can work from anywhere. And, I get to see my kids continue to grow and learn. I see them so much more than when I was at the NBA.

Who are in your view, a few unsung heroes at the NBA league office(s), who have been an integral part of the league’s rise in popularity and global prominence? Can you sum up how they’ve been instrumental in key ways that don’t grab the headlines on a regular basis?

That’s a great question and one I’ve never been asked before. I could name 20 or 30 people for sure, but I’ll pick two. Ski Austin, the head of the NBA Events & Attractions department is retiring this week and he might be one of the league’s all-time most unsung heroes. Like me, he sort of “grew up” at the NBA over the past 25 years or so. He is in charge of every event the NBA conducts, and that includes organizing the NBA All-Star Game, the many preseason international events around the world, the International series of regular season games, this year in Mexico and Britain, all WNBA events, D-League, USA Basketball and the many league functions, like Board of Governors meetings. You name it, Ski’s done it. His staff are all a bunch of hard-working miracle workers with an amazing scope of talent and an equally amazing ability to pay attention to details. He is very well liked and very, very well respected by everyone he’s ever come in contact with via the NBA. The league will miss him a lot.

The other is Matt Winick, the NBA’s Senior VP for Basketball Operations who oversees both the NBA schedule and the scheduling of the officials. Talk about a thankless job. But Matt gets it done, largely by himself. He needs a ton of input from the teams, of course and the team people, while they might like to complain about their game schedules, it’s usually Matt that saves them from themselves when they book other non-NBA events and then fall into the trap of placing their own tenant/team in a bad situation, especially at playoff time and when the building is booked with both NBA and NHL teams. Then, the refs’ schedule is equally important and just as hard to deal with, especially when a handful (or even 1 or 2) refs are injured. Matt is a wonderful colleague, as honest and sincere and hard working as they come. And, full disclosure — he gave me my start at the NBA when I interned for him when he was the Media Relations and Information director in 1980-81. I owe a lot to Matt and he’s now a dear friend and a true unsung hero at the NBA.

Looking back on your 25 years of work at the NBA, and related duties for USA Basketball, what do you consider a handful of top achievements you had an active role in successfully implementing? (Examples: media policies that increased public consumption of the sport, working with the teams’ PR guys in better, smarter ways, etc.)

That’s a tough one. In the 25+ years, we really worked hard to create the entire PR/Press/Media/TV operation at the NBA, from working with the teams and players on policies that guide game-related access and media operations to the digital stat system, to the modern-day analytics that are so prominent now. We were in the pioneering role for that. It really doesn’t seem all that long ago when they were doing it all by hand, hand writing the final boxscore and faxing the paper back to the news papers and to Elias to compile league stats. It was a very steadfast, gradual climb to get it all together as the technology changed for the better. One of the things I’m most proud of was the creation of NBA Photos. I pushed for it, framed it, planned it, staffed it and really enjoyed launching NBA Photos in about 1986. It was all on color slides back then, and the digital world was about to explode, making the vast infrastructure of the league’s images a vital cog for the league. After it launched and grew rapidly – from just two photographers (Andrew D. Bernstein in L.A. and Nat Butler in N.Y./N.J.) – we slid it to NBA Entertainment where the function was much better suited. I’m also proud of NBA.com and the fact the “Global Game” sections still play a vital role for the NBA today. That was my baby! It was great. Now, NBA Photos is part of Getty Images and its a million-dollar business. Sometimes, I think back and just say, “Another brick in the Wall!”

You cite the 1984 Finals, Game 7, Celtics-Lakers showdown on your website as a favorite game? Why did you chose that one?

That was just a very memorable night at the old Boston Garden and the decisive game in an amazing seven-game series. As much as I appreciated every game and what every team brought to the table, and that includes Michael Jordan’s run with the Chicago Bulls, of course. But, those LA Lakers vs Boston Celtics series were the best. Magic was the best player I’d ever, ever seen in person. James Worthy was a SUPERSTAR. Big Game JAMES. Kareem? Cooper. And, the Celtics – with Larry Bird-Robert Parish-Kevin McHale, then DJ, Walton (in ’86) – they were just a team for the ages. Those memories go very deep, the hot nights in the Garden, some 12:30 p.m. L.A. starts, the crowds packed in. Two great, great teams. I could go on and on!

What are the best nicknames bestowed upon NBA players? Teams? Coaches?

Wow. It’s fun to think about some of these and again, I’ve never been asked that question! I have to say the best nickname of all-time is bestowed upon Julius “Dr. J” Erving, also known as “The Doctor,” or my favorite was to just call him “Doc.” Think about it? Is there a better name in sports? Dr. J! He was a guy that was so media friendly and was held in such high esteem, but, forget all that – When he was on the court, he just dominated. His “In-Game” dunks were the best ever. He changed the game but he was always so courteous and gave the props to Elgin Baylor and Connie Hawkins and some others. I had the great fortune to watch Dr. J play in the old ABA when I was growing up, not far from where he grew up. I never saw him in high school, but I did see him play when he was at UMass and then with the Virginia Squires and NY Nets, before he went to the 76ers. — My No. 2 might go the the great Seattle Sonics guard “Slick Watts.”

Based on what you observed and heard about, which writer(s) and/or broadcasters asked the toughest questions and best questions after games to players and coaches?

The best questions always came from the crew of team beat writers who traveled with the clubs and saw all 82 games. They knew the teams they covered and had to be critical when needed. For the most part, the NBA had a legion of very good reporters and broadcasters covering the sport in those key years – call it 1970-2000 or so. Then, the budgets crushed the newspapers, so many folded, fewer were assigned to travel the beat and it all went downhill fast.It is too hard to name just a few, but, I’ll try: Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated comes right to mind. Peter Vecsey of the NY Post really created a niche as the NBA league-wide notes columnist and he wrote massive columns three or for times per week. All good stuff, unless he ripped you! David Aldridge did (and still does) a great job, Ron Thomas, Greg Boeck and David Dupree at Washington, then the USA Today paper, Ian Thomsen of the Boston Globe, then the International Herald Tribune, then SI.com was brilliant. Philly’s Phil Jasner, Dallas Ed Sefko, Denver/SA reporter Mike Monroe, Boston’s Bob Ryan, Jackie MacMullen and Leigh Montville all deserve mention. Montville is the best writer in the land. Nowadays it’s so different and harder, as everything is condensed and it’s a 24/7 news cycle. Adrian Woj (Wojnarowski) of Yahoo just kicks ass now. He’s alone as the top guy.

People saw David Stern on TV for years, doing the NBA Draft presentation with the lottery picks, for instance. What’s similar, and different, about his personality in the big boardroom with the league’s head honchos compared to, say, when he’s at a local diner at 9:30 a.m. on a weekday in Anytown USA?

David’s persona and ever-lasting image and legacy of being the hard-charging Commissioner/CEO of the NBA will live on forever. I think he’s the same in the board room as he is if he’s ordering breakfast. He expects and demands competency. Period. That’s all. He prefers perfection, but simply demands getting the best from a person, whether they be an NBA employee who was cashing a check with his name at the bottom, or from anyone. He has tremendous compassion and he’ll – LITERALLY – drop everything to help someone in need. That’s the stuff no one ever hears about, but that’s the way he wants it, and I respect that. I was able to, errr, SURVIVE, or make it THRIVE, really, because of that high expectation. And, what do I say to my kids? We have one golden rule… “Try your very best.” – Thankfully, they abide by that rule. And, it works. On everything.

If you were stranded on a deserted island with only three books about the NBA (such as biographies, history, etc.), which three would you want to have close by?

I’ve been asked the Desert Island Albums/Discs but never NBA books! You’d have to have the NBA Encyclopedia, although its getting a little dated. It’s a great resource. I’d cheat and get an official NBA Guide and Register delivered every year! That’s three. For fun? “Breaks of the Game” by (David) Halberstam.

What do you miss most about the demanding workload of the NBA? What do you miss least about the job?

I think I miss the work with USA Basketball the most. It was an amazing ride. I worked on the NBA’s interaction with the ’84 and ’88 teams when the NBA threw together some summer-time all-star teams to scrimmage the Olympic team as they prepped for L.A. and Seoul. Then, of course, I was intimately involved in the ’89-92 formation of the Dream Team, then every event from ’92 to the 2008 Olympics. Wow, it was an amazing ride. Best memory? Antonio McDyess’ put-back at Sydney 2000 when we were in that tough game against Lithuania. That locker room celebration was unreal. What passion. Vince Carter was the man! KG (Kevin Garnett), Ray Allen might’ve been one of the best USA international players ever, together with Jason Kidd and David Robinson. Of course the 1956 team had Bill Russell who was THE BEST player ever, NBA and Globally.

Miss least? The travel and the LONG travel, not in distance but the sheer number of days away from home. Sometimes 30+ days away from the wife and kids. In Sydney 2000, that was tough, as my youngest was 1 or so … But then we did it again to Brisbane for the Goodwill Games in 2001. Then, you’d barely get home and head out for another month on the NBA’s busy October preseason tilt. It was just too much and it was magnified when I had the kids at home. I think the USA and NBA PR guys were gone for about 45-50 days this summer.

Can you cite five players and five coaches who would immediately come to mind as top candidates for the NBA’s all-time all-interview team? And what makes each of them a worthy part of the list?

Players:
1-through-5 – All Charles Barkley! He’s the best – All time.

Seriously, I’ll list them.

PLAYERS
1. Charles
2. Julius Erving
3. David Robinson
4. Magic Johnson
5. Yao Ming (he was unreal and I name him to represent another 50-75 international greats)

COACHES:
1. Jerry Sloan
2. Rudy Tomjanovich
3. Pat Riley
4. Hubie Brown
5. Jack Ramsay

The late Dr. Jack Ramsay had an infectious love for the game and a gift for sharing it with others in so many ways — through broadcasts, through books, through clinics, through conversations, for instance. The same could be said for Sixers stat man and info guru Harvey Pollack, who in his own right is an institution within the NBA. In a nutshell, what have guys like these two done to put their stamp on the sport within the larger framework of American society?

Funny, as I named Dr Jack and then saw the next question right as I did it! Let me say this, In all of the years at all of the events, the NBA Finals were always the best, the most competitive, the best basketball in the world. After a Finals game, even though the game ended at Midnight and we worked until 2 a.m. or later, there was NOTHING better than to go back to the hotel to unwind a bit, and sit and listen to Jack Ramsay holding court at a small table, usually with his ESPN crew or the NBA/ESPN Radio guys and gals. It was heaven. Jack and Hubie taught me a lot about the game and I was a sponge for that insight. Thankfully, I grew up in a “basketball family” so I had a pretty good foundation and a real appreciation of the game.

Harvey is one of a kind. Super Stats. I always enjoyed his company in Philly and he is a good friend. He belongs in the Hall, right where he is as a Bunn Award honoree, just like my old boss, Brian McIntyre.

Based on your experiences, what’s the most important advice you could dish out to any pro team’s or pro league’s PR department to build a foundation for success?

Build relationships. Period. Honor those relationships with credibility. Do what you say you are going to do. Be reliable. Case closed.

To the PRs, all of the above, but to add advice to not be afraid to say, I don’t know but I can try to find out for you.

Return calls and messages promptly. Pick up the phone and don’t rely on email.

From your point of view, are players too media savvy these days, what with the ability to deliver their own message in so many ways via Facebook, Twiter, YouTube, Instagram, social media and other means? Does that take away from some of the spontaneity of interviews that help generate good stories?

No. I think the players are evolving alongside of the media. That’s fine. And face it, the leagues, teams and players can take an unfiltered message right to the masses. That’s the way it is. The “traditional” media have to “get over it” and move on, build a new model, It’s a whole new world and it starts tomorrow.

Similarly, what are the biggest changes and job demands that team and league PR staff face nowadays compared to when you joined the league office in the early 1980s?

The massive changes in technology are a blessing and a curse. We were typing the news on IBM selectric typewriters with broken ribbons. The amount of time saved by better tech is mind-boggling. The Internet changed EVERYTHING for PR, especially when you think that I had to budget and spend a fortune to fax stuff around on long distance phone lines to put a piece of paper in a broadcasters or newspaper reporters hands. The challenges are all still time management, managing up and down and sideways, when it comes to your bosses, staffs, players, coaches, fans, media, wanna-be-media, so on and so on. 24 hours a day is simply not enough for a good PR guy, but you’ve got to manage the time and your life, too.

Of your favorite league stories – quirky, funny, candid tales — beyond the headlines and/or games, which ones bring you the most amusement when something reminds you of them?

Walking the Barcelona Ramblas with Charles and somehow, finding a quiet place to enjoy a few cold refreshments stands out as a pretty good story. And, I always say, when the game was done, the last writer finished and the game was in the books, so to say, Brian McIntyre would ALWAYS hand me a cold beer and say, “T, We Fooled Them Again! – Good job” – Til this day, just typing that phrase brings tears to my eyes – Laughter, and joy!

Can you pinpoint a childhood memory or influential figure that sparked your desire to pursue a career in sports and specifically NBA PR? Can it be narrowed down to one thing or a confluence of events and mentors?

From childhood, I can vividly remember watching the NBA on ABC and the parquet floor of the Boston Garden – on a BLACK and WHITE TV.  When I saw it in color when we finally got a color TV, it was amazing. Then, in ’81 to be working there and being ALLOWED to actually step on that floor pregame? To be in RED AUERBACH’s office? It was a dream come true.

An influential person was certainly Matt Winick, noted above. But, thinking back, I’d also add Lou Carnesecca of St. John’s and his longtime asst coach John Kresse – who went on to a fantastic career at College of Charleston – they named the building after him! Coach Kresse gave me a tour of St. John’s and told me about a “new” major “Sports/Athletic Administration” – a business in sports degree. That was a key moment! Another, was Bob McKillop of Davidson. He was the coach at Trinity and he helped me a lot and we’ve kept in touch all of these years, ’77 on. He is the best coach in the NCAAs. No doubt.

Which compliments you received from your time at the NBA bring you the most satisfaction? (And if you recall who said or wrote them, that’s good info.)

It’s a funny question, when the game was done and you were monitoring the post game and the writers were all tapping/typing away. That clatter was like fine music to my ears. They had enough info, good service, accurate stats, working electricity, decent light, access, access to the players and coaches.I think I was my toughest judge and critic, so, I looked for those moments. And yes, when I decided to step down, the compliments were plenty. The best? All the writers chipped in and bought me every single Rolling Stones CD ever made. All of them. I was speechless. Seriously, I opened that present and was in a daze for about 10-15 minutes.

Is the NBA effectively using its Hall of Famers, top 50 players and past icons enough to promote the game, in the U.S. and abroad, and share its rich history with younger generations?

Yes. very effectively and ever-growing. Since the NBA at 50, the league has done a GREAT job on that.
Ask guys like Clyde Drexler, Darryl Dawkins, Doc, Dikembe (Mutombo), Bob Lanier to mention a few.

The NBA’s global growth is a fascinating thing to learn about. During your travels for Team USA exhibitions, Olympic games, promotional events, etc., which locales outside the U.S. made the biggest impression on you for the fans’ enthusiasm and love for the game?

In no particular order …

Japan, for sure. 34-35,000 in the Tokyo Dome was a pretty serious statement. And, we had great games there.
Mexico – Great, passionate NBA fans.
Lithuania – Small country – GREAT players. Medals to prove it.
Australia – A country where SPORTS matter.
Brazil – They gave us OSCAR!
Spain and Italy and France – The cornerstone of the NBA’s international footprint in 1980. Look how it’s grown.

For you, what was most memorable, most special, about the Atlanta Hawks’ 1988 journey to the Soviet Union? (And since I’m writing these questions … what’s most memorable and special about NBA games and events over the years in Japan and Asia?)

Yes, the trip to the (former) USSR was one for the books. (Recommended reading: http://www.nba.com/global/games2013/opening-the-curtain-hawks-1988-soviet-tour.html)

On Japan, I did a small variation of the story I mentioned about me and Brian sharing a beer. Most of the time, Brian was not on site for the NBA international games. I was running them, and Brian was dealing with the ring ceremony or whatever. I took it upon myself to take a first-time Japan Games staffer and to walk them back out to the empty court when the game was long over. I’d remind them that a few hours ago, there were 34,000 people in those seats and they all enjoyed their experience. Chances are they would tell the story about that game for the rest of their lives. I would remind each NBA employee that they had played a HUGE part in that experience. They made some fans in Japan happy that day and they probably helped create a ton of new fans. That was a pretty powerful message and it was never lost on anyone.

Yao Ming’s time in the NBA and the impact it had on building China’s fan base and Chinese media coverage of the game cannot be overstated. So would a breakout NBA star from India have the same impact there?

The Yao Ming story was unimaginable. I always admired the way he dealt with it all, and let me tell ya, we put him through the old NBA PR machine! His grace, humor, professionalism was second to none and he did it bi-lingual style! A great page in the NBA’s history and a sure Hall-of-Famer.

On India, I have to simply state – “I don’t know.” – I would love to assume the impact would be as big, but I’m just not sure if it is possible. The player would have to be as good as MJ or Yao or Dirk (Nowitzki) or Pau (Gasol) or Manu (Ginobili) or Tony Parker or Steve Nash! (many others could be added!)

From a PR standpoint and the public’s perception that goes with it, how have the NFL and Roger Goodell handled the Ray Rice case? Would David Stern have managed the situation in a much different way? And how would you have suggested the NFL respond to press inquiries and public scrutiny of the case in recent weeks?

Out of respect to my colleagues at the NFL, I’ll take a pass on this one. It’s a mess and we all know it. Let’s just leave it and hope something good comes in the future.

What are your regular must-read and must-listen sources of NBA news and commentary these days?

I like the NBA on TNT coverage the best. Ernie, Kenny (Smith) and Charles. Everyone else does a very good job, but Ernie Johnson is the MAN. Mike Breen does a great job on play-by-play for the big NBA games. I like him alot, as a broadcaster and as a person. He’s the real deal. Doug Collins does a great job, too. On ESPN, their best guy, Jay Bilas, does the NCAA games. The all-time best, Marv Albert, is just that – THE BEST! Up here in Boston, Mike Gorman does a very good job on the local Comcast SportsNet and his longtime sidekick, Tommy Heinsohn makes me laugh every night. If every single call went the Celtics’ way, Heinsohn would still be claiming the refs were against the Celtics. He sort of mocks the game but it’s pretty funny. The problem is the fans actually believe him and they don;t realize he’s a cartoon. I enjoy Tommy’s banter and he always has a smile and a story for us, and I admire him greatly. Same with Satch Sanders – who frequently does analysis and functions for the Celtics. Talk about class. That is Satch. He is what the NBA is all about.

***
Follow Terry Lyons online: http://terrylyons.com/

“I love finding folks other people say can’t be found” (an interview with Jeff Pearlman)

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Sept. 18, 2014) — Jeff Pearlman’s six books provide a small sample of insight into what interests the accomplished author and journalist.

Indeed, reading a stack of Pearlman’s long, varied features — an SB Nation piece in February 2014 (“84 USA Hockey Team … A Miracle Put on Ice: Four years after the ‘Miracle on Ice,’ the 1984 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team never had a chance.”), a December 1999 feature for Sports Illustrated (“At Full Blast: Shooting outrageously from the lip, Braves closer John Rocker bangs away at his favorite targets: the Mets, their fans, their city and just about everyone in it”), an ESPN.com article from September 2008 (“Fifth and Jackson: Thirty years ago at an intersection in Gary, Ind., budding major league star Lyman Bostock got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.”) — helps paint a broader picture of what makes Pearlman, a New York native, tick.

But it’s only a start.

In short, the former Sports Illustrated reporter likes finding compelling stories.

His latest book is “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and The Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s” He’s also written “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton,” “The Rocket That Fell To The Ground” about Roger Clemens, “Love Me, Hate Me” about Barry Bonds, “Boys Will Be Boys” about the 1990s Dallas Cowboys dynasty and “The Bad Guys Won” about the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets.

He has also had a prolific online presence on his own website, featuring the popular Quaz interview, which as of today features 174 individuals, including a splendid Q&A with former Sports Illustrated executive editor Peter Cary (http://www.jeffpearlman.com/peter-carry/)

An email interview with Pearlman follows.

***

What’s your next on-deadline assignment if one’s in the works?

That, I can’t say. It’s a book and I’m crazy paranoid about book leakage.

Are you pleased with the overall response from the public to your latest book, “Showtime,” about the 1980s Lakers?

I am. I guess I am. I mean, what does that really mean? Hard to say. You want your book to sell well, you also want people to enjoy it. But, most important, you have to feel good about the finished product. And I pretty much do. I guess I just really love writing books. So being able to do it for a living still blows me away.

What did you enjoy most about putting that book together? What was most challenging?

Well, I always love the digging. Tracking people down, going through yellowed newspapers and uncovering little details that ultimately matter. I love finding folks others say can’t be found. Stuff like that. With this book, there are many snapshots of joy. Sitting with Mike Smrek on his farm in Canada. Eating with Wes Matthews at a coffee shop in Bridgeport. Locating Earl Jones, long lost center.

What was your reaction to Mike Ditka saying he wanted to spit on you because of the Walter Payton book?

I was initially surprised. Then irked. Then really annoyed. Mike Ditka hadn’t read the book. Hadn’t read a single page. The same went for Steve McMichael, who ripped me. And Mike Wilbon, the writer. They all slaughtered Sweetness without having read a page; all presumed I was a greedy Kitty Kelly wanna-be looking for … something. It hurt. It stung. The Wilbon stuff stung the most, because I respect him. Ditka’s just a dumb man clinging to a tough-guy image.

Who are a few of your favorite sports columnists and writers today, and what sets their work apart from the masses? Are there a few you’d consider unheralded or unknown for folks who consume sports articles in large quantities?

I feel a real kinships with a small number of fellow sports biographers — women and men who feel the same way I do about research and detail. People like Jonathan Eig, Mark Kriegel, Jane Leavy, Jon Wertheim, Leigh Montville and Seth Davis. Those are my peeps. As for unheralded … two come to mind. I’m pretty sure Yaron Weitzman is going to be a superstar. And there’s a writer named Michael J. Lewis — not to be confused with Moneyball’s Michael Lewis, whose blog is must-read for me. http://michaeljlewis.wordpress.com/

What’s been Bud Selig’s biggest misstep as commissioner? His biggest accomplishment?

Misstep was clearly PED-related, and the general indifference toward cheating for too long of a time.

Biggest accomplishment? I’ve always thought his ties were nice.

Tom Verducci’s 2002 Sports Illustrated report on baseball’s drug epidemic, featuring Ken Caminiti’s comments, is one of the most important pieces of sports journalism in the past 20 years. That said, From a societal standpoint, what are three or four other subjects that transcend sports that have been written or showcased in a broadcast in that time?

Well, I’ll start with Michael Sam, Jason Collins and gays in sports. Then I’d say the Duke lacrosse scandal and the role of money, status in sports. Certainly what we’re seeing now with Ray Rice and domestic violence among athletes.

Do you agree that your skills as a listener and observer are as important and as strong as your ability to research compelling topics?

I don’t know. It’d be pretty self-indulgent to agree with that. Truth is, I like listening to people tell stories much more than I enjoy talking. So I don’t know if they even count as skills. I simply like listening. I had a college roommate named Paul Duer who used to say, “It’s all about the stories.” Meaning, if we went out and got wasted, for example, the experiences were important, but the stories of those experiences are sort of eternal. I love that thinking, and have tried to use it.

I think what has attracted readers to your article and books is that you don’t shy away from difficult questions or subjects that aren’t highlighted by omnipresent sunshine or glowing cheerfulness. For instance, a random mix of Quaz subjects, including Paul Ercolino (“His brother was shot and killed by a deranged former co-worker outside the Empire State Building. Don’t tell this man that gun control doesn’t matter.”), Jim Fischer (“My former cross country coach at the University of Delaware gave nearly three decades to the college. Then he was ruthlessly dumped. A story of love and greed.”) provide compelling conversations that resonate with people. How would you respond to that general assessment?

It’s nice to hear. I think one thing I have going for me is editorial independence. Namely, I don’t have a job, so ESPN, for example, can’t limit my Tweets or suspend me for making a statement the company doesn’t agree with. I don’t mind stating my mind, and I also don’t mind apologizing, admitting I’m wrong. Honestly, I’m truly just a guy who loves writing and is lucky enough to have a platform to a certain degree. It’s cool.

Do you usually have 5-10 of these interviews in the works? And which of the suggested Quaz interview subjects surprised you the most?

Yeah, I try and have at least five in the hopper so I don’t run short or miss a week. Surprising — Oh, I know. Rocky Suhayda, chairman of the American Nazi Party. I actually sorta liked the guy, and I’m a liberal Jew from New York.

You’ve featured some of the biggest names in sports media — Verducci, Ross Newhan, Peter Vecsey, Chuck Culpepper, Seth Davis, Jack McCallum and Adam Schefter — on your Quaz feature at jeffpearlman.com, which began three years ago. Can you pinpoint a few others who you’d really like to have as Q&A guests, who you’d consider must-reads?

The first Quaz (featured) an actress named Wendy Hagen, who played Kevin’s girlfriend on the “Wonder Years.” I started the whole series because I wanted to track down old Wonder Year girlfriends—not sure why, except I love that show. As for Quazes I’d love in the future, No. 1 is Michelle Branch, the singer. Then Chuck D. Then Ken O’Brien, the former Jets quarterback. Oh, and Emmanuel Lewis. He’s a must.

Time for a hypothetical… If you were hired as an editor of a newly created 2014 version of The National and given no limit for payroll or budget, who would be five journalists you’d immediately reach out to and offer them jobs?

Jon Wertheim, Elizabeth Newman, Steve Rushin, William Nack, Howard Bryant.

And one more: If he were alive and on the air today, how do you think Howard Cosell would opine on the current Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Washington Redskins stories that are defining issues for the NFL?

Um … I truly have no idea. But he’d be entertaining.

In your own words, how would you sum up your writing style; are there a few descriptive words or phrases that immediately come to mind?

I don’t really have a style, per se. I guess I sorta write how I speak. Choppy, short sentences, blah blah and meh and um and eh and stuff like that. The greatest compliment is when people say, “I hear your voice when you write.”

***
Follow Jeff Pearlman online at http://www.jeffpearlman.com/