David Steele edited transcript
[00:00:01.810] - Todd
David. Welcome to Press Box access. I'm so happy that you've come into this tavern. I appreciate your time.
[00:00:09.350] - David
Yeah, it's my pleasure. I'm really looking forward to this. I really enjoy everything that you guys have done so far. Bar socks. I'm glad to join that club.
[00:00:18.800] - Todd
Oh, thanks. It's quite a club. I don't know if the law should be informed about some of the rascals that are running around in this club, but hey, that's all good. I always had a lot of respect for you, David, professionally and personally. So it's great to have you here.
[00:05:58.730] - Todd
nearly 40 years in sports media, you're at the New York Post News Day, san Francisco Chronicle, the Baltimore Sun, as you mentioned, Sporting News, the National Sports Daily. You've written for the undefeated? It is on, on and and on. And I think what that shows is a, how volatile the business has been over the years, but also it's a real testament to your talent and your tenacity that you're still at it. You're still writing great stuff, you're still breaking news and you're writing books and you've got a new book that's out. It was Always a Choice picking up the baton of athlete activism.
[00:08:24.570] - Todd
It takes a look at the long tradition of activism by athletes and sports, and we're going to talk a lot about that in the show. But I wanted to start early in your career Let's just go back to actually your days as a student journalist at the University of Maryland in the mid 80s. You were there when Len Bias was playing basketball, and for young people today, he might be sort of a name they remember, but Len Bias was the number one pick of the Boston Celtics in 1986 and then tragically died of cocaine intoxication. When you think about your days at Maryland, what do you remember about Len Bias covering him as a student journalist?
[00:09:43.830] - David
one he was a local guy. He was from literally ten minutes from campus, one of the area legends in high school, but still one of those players that you knew what he could possibly be once he got there, but he really had kind of only scratched the surface. And once he got there, you can see the flashes of it as a freshman and then sophomore year was the year that they won the ACC tournament for the first time. And I think it was like 27 years, something like that. And he was the MVP and he just completely blew up in the tournament.
[00:10:53.970] - David
We're crazy in the championship game against Duke. And that's really when he kind of put his feet on the path toward becoming just a legend. And your kid at the time as well. I was a year ahead of them scholastically, but you knew how great he could possibly be and he just became just this magnetic presence all over campus. And you just knew that with all the great players that were at that I played for that school, that he was on path to maybe be the best of all time and better than the John Lucas's and Len Elmore's and all those players. And he just kept getting better and better, because we'd seen him competing against the Michael Jordan and all those kind of players. He beat Duke. He beat North Carolina. He was the greatest player we had ever seen. And he just felt like he was one of us.
[00:12:27.450] - Todd
You mentioned magnetic on campus. What was he like personally?
[00:12:34.050] - David
Everybody felt like they could approach him. He was really friendly to everybody. He felt like he was sort of involved in what everybody is. He never really shied away or hesitated from talking to you. And again, you forget how young these guys are. So he's like 1819 years old, but still felt perfectly fine. Talking after games, in between games, going practice. You'd see him somewhere in one of the dining halls or in the student union or something like that. People could talk to him. He didn't sort of detach himself from everybody else, although that's sort of the nature of college athletes. They're going to be removed from a certain extent. They got their own dorm and their own training table and all those things. But it felt like he was still in the mix. It never felt at any point like it all went to his head that he was this phenomenal player that was going to just take over when he got to the NBA.
[00:13:30.210] - Todd
And then he gets drafted number one overall.
[00:13:33.060] - David
Yeah, me and my friends had like a little draft party at one of our friends apartment the day of the draft because we couldn't wait to see him picked [00:13:43.130] - Todd
Yeah, because you grew up in College Park.
[00:13:45.780] - David
I grew up in the DC. Area. Exactly.
[00:14:55.930] - Todd
June 19, where were you? And what's your memory of hearing the news?
[00:15:03.910] - David
My mom is still living in an apartment in Tacoma Park, just, again, right near not that far from College Park. I was home for the summer because I graduated and I started working at what at the time was the St. Petersburg Independent, which is the evening paper. I'd come home to visit. My brother was taking summer school classes with a friend of ours, and I was literally just waking up that morning. I think it was like a Thursday morning. I was just waking up. So we're talking about, like, 08:00 in the morning, something like that. My brother and I and his friend come busted into the apartment and said, did you hear about Len Bias? And what we knew at the time was, oh, he went up to Boston the day before to negotiate his rebot contract and go meet with the organization and all these things. And so we're thinking, oh, did he get his big contract already? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And they said he's dead. And we're like, what? I mean, even to put myself back in that moment now, all these years later, it's hard to believe it's been almost 40 years.
[00:16:20.590] - David
It just sounded so insane and so incongruous. It's like, what do you mean dead? Like, what happened? What, car accident? Plane crash hit by meteor? What are you talking about? Dead? And so, of course, we turn on the TV, and not only the local news was, like, all over at the hospital and stuff, but all the national stations, they broke into regular programming to report this, and that just blew us away. And we're like, we're just freaking out, going on. And they were showing the shots at the hospital, which I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with, of them carrying his body out of the emergency room, covered by a sheep, this huge six eight, this Olympian, herculean body under a sheet, and it's hard to even think about it now. Let's talk about it. But seeing his teammates in the waiting room at the hospital, just falling apart, just in tears. Keith Gatlin those two were just this incredible tandem, point guard and forward, throwing up the lobs to him, and he was just bawling and just had his hands up to his head, and the players were just in shock. And we just kept watching and watching, trying to figure what happened, what happened?
[00:17:43.320] - David
What happened? And they said heart attack. And that didn't make any sense either, because how could this guy heart fail him? And we didn't know what to do. I mean, a bunch of us ended up going up to campus and just sort of wandering around, and there was a billion students wandering around just numb. And again, this is the middle of the summer, so there are still a lot of students up there for classes and stuff. Some of us went over to Cold Fieldhouse, which is still open, that was still a basketball facility at the time, and we just sat there staring at the court lefty. Joseph did a little press conference in the lobby. He was in tears. He kept talking about old Leonard, I'll see you in heaven one day. And it was just unbelievable. And of course, there were TV cameras all over the place. There were TV trucks just circling all over the place non stop, trying to pull people, trying to do talks and things like that. So we finally we run out of things to think about and we go home and we're watching all the non stop coverage again.
[00:18:43.130] - David
And I'll never forget on Channel Nine, the CBS affiliate here in DC, and it was Gordon Pearson was the anchor. They come on with another special report, and all of a sudden the word cocaine comes out of his mouth. Cocaine was found in his room or found it on the premises, and that his dorm room. And that just put us all away. We were just done after that because that just talk about things making absolutely no sense. We're like, how? What does that mean? And from then on, I mean, literally, almost from that moment until today, it's just been this he was pretty much, from that moment on, just going to be anchored into history, just cemented into this entire narrative about loss and wasted opportunity and the perils of drugs. It became a cautionary tale. A lot of people no longer found it tragic. They started mocking them. And of course, just the fact that you said that you were a graduate or a student at University of Maryland, that became a black mark against you. It tainted you for years and years and years after that, because that was the school that got Len Bias coked up and killed after this credible career and cut his life and his career in the future.
[00:20:04.930] - David
Sure. What kind of university you guys have down there?
[00:20:09.230] - Todd
You went to the funeral, right?
[00:20:12.830] - David
Yeah. There was a big memorial service there right hour back. Was there? They held up the jersey that he would have won, I never remember because he would have won. Number 30. Jesse Jackson spoke. Let's goself. Spoke. Their teammates there and his mom spoke, Lenny Spies. And a lot of us, even though we'd been around the team and cover them and stuff, we didn't really know the families that well. I'm sure that the people at the Post and the TV stations probably got to know the family, but we're students, so we knew him. Basically. This is the first time we'd seen his mother. And she just gave this absolutely riveting speech about how he was going to continue to live on and the lessons that we were going to learn from him and that he was going to speak to the youth. And she was never going to let down and never let people forget who he was and what he meant and what he died for. And it was just still to this day, one of the most riveting speeches I've ever seen.
[00:21:14.550] - Todd
Well, 20 years later, you met up with his mother, and you were a columnist at the Baltimore Sun, and you wrote a beautiful piece about it. When you reflect back on that meeting with his mother 20 years after her son's death, what do you recall?
[00:21:31.050] - David
I think what's always going to stick out to me is that I sat down with her in person. She was doing some stuff with some federal anti drug organizations and things like that. But just to be able to sit and meet her face to face and talk to her about everything that she had done for 20 years and also just talk about what that moment was like for her. How she was still driven to try to change people's lives and to put them back on the right path and to learn a lesson from what happened. And one of the things that we really have to remember as well as part of this story is that a few years after Lenny died, her younger son Jay was shot to death in this crazy some guy came up to him jealous about something. It was about some woman and shot him in a mall nearby. And he was just on the cusp of moving on in his basketball career, getting scholarship offers, things like that. Again, really young, and that just sort of broke everybody with just like, why would you do this to this family a second time like this?
[00:22:49.530] - David
So we talked a lot about that as well. And I think what stuck out for me most is at the end of the conversation, after we've done all the interviews, I turned off my recorder, I was getting ready to leave, and I told her, I've never had a chance to tell you how sorry I am for losing your two sons, especially when because I know him. And she said thank you. Thank you so much. And I hugged her, and that's when I lost it. I just started bowling like crazy because to this day, I don't know how she continues to give these speeches and meet these people and get involved personally with so many people's lives and not break down constantly yourself. But I totally broke down on that day and in that moment because one of those really couldn't hold back your feelings and just understand the humanity of what you're talking about. For me, they're always more than just a story and a buy line and a clip and things like that. This had become an intimate part of my life from a really young age. And here I am, 20 years later, grown man.
[00:24:04.700] - David
I went to my career covering sports full time, but living in a world that lost land bias in that way and being involved with the family and speaking to them face to face. And that was a lot for me to work. That hit me really hard at that moment and I'm glad I got a chance to sort of express that to her. And I've had a chance to see her a few times since then and speak to her. She's still a great speaker. She still is very moved to do all these things. She's still motivated, she's still driven, and she still has the same goal.
[00:24:41.090] - Todd
Does live on in that way. I mean, it's so horrible that he has to live on in that fashion to be an example of the dangers, but that's how he lives on.
[00:25:28.970] - David
Certainly in this particular case, not just me, but I think everybody who was involved in engaged at that time and in that moment has really kind of felt a responsibility to sort of carry on his story, tell the story to the next generations and make people understand his legacy. You said it right. I mean, a lot of people just sort of know him as a name and they don't know the background of it. And more the years go by, the more the anniversaries get bigger and bigger, the more you feel compelled to say, this is what it was like. Again, he wasn't just a name. He wasn't just a cautionary tale. He wasn't just somebody who you've heard about and you've connected them with drugs and time to move on and let's stop talking about him, stop dragging us around like that's a knots. His life and what happened to it is a defining moment for the entire generation of people and of students and people in the metro area and of journalists who grew up at that time. If you ask any of those who are in that class, they will tell you the same thing.
[00:26:47.830] - Todd
Yeah, well, basketball put you in that situation and gave you an outlet to tell a very important story throughout the years. Basketball also puts you in joyful situations too. And you've had the fortune of covering many Final Fours and NBA Finals. I think you covered the NBA as a Beat for maybe a decade.
[00:27:33.760] - David
So the first NBA beat I had with the Nets when they were still in New Jersey and they were in one of their down periods, they've had ups and they've had downs. This was really in one of the down periods, but they had coach was Willis Reid. And it felt, again, pretty strange. And I'm guessing that probably most people who are in sports writing have a moment like that where they're meeting somebody who they grew up idolizing.
[00:28:55.590] - David
Here you are covering them. Do you tell them? Do you sort of keep up that so called objective detached veneer, or do you tell them? I told him. I said, man, look, I was crazy. And of course he laughed at all of that. And then you sort of go about your business, and he was just burdened with just a horrible team and horrible management, things like that. So he was pretty terrible for the couple of years that I covered them. When I later started covering the Knicks, I see Wal Frasier all the time. And again, this sort of tells you how long Walt Fraser has been doing the dipping and slipping and gliding and sliding thing he was doing this decades ago back in the so he was their main radio guy then. So he literally saw him every day. And every once in a while, I had to kind of remind myself like, this is really good job to have. I'm covering India.
[00:30:05.330] - David
I'm covering a team that's sort of in the spotlight. It's in a major market and all, but also I see Clyde Fraser all the time, get to talk to him all the time about his life, About his career, about his views.
[00:30:32.090] - Todd
David, did it help you as a reporter? Did it help ground you to see the team that you're covering as a journalist and not as a child who grew up rooting for that jersey?
[00:30:54.950] - David
Yeah, and that's what the distinction is. It puts everything into perspective. Every once in a while, you think about how you viewed sports and you viewed athletes and you viewed your heroes when you were young, when you see them on TV or you see them at the ballpark or in the arena or the stadium, and they just seem bigger than life. But then when you're around them all the time, in every circumstance, including the high moments when they're winning and doing and things are going great for them, you understand that they are people who are just accepting optional at a particular thing. But they also have the same problems, the same stresses and the same challenges and the same doubts and things like that that you or your family or loved ones or friends would have as well. They just sort of sort of in literally a different arena than you are. And this isn't just a TV show, this isn't just entertainment. They're a part of the world, not just the entertainment world or the sports world or the hero world. Again, they're not characters on the TV show. They're people. So it does come into focus sometimes. You have to remember and you have to remind yourself that, yeah, this is who they are, and you have to treat them that way. You have to talk to them that way.
[00:33:22.480] - David
You have to interact with them that way.
[00:33:24.990] - Todd
You were there every day as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News covering the Nicks from 92 to 95. And those are patrick Ewing mason john Starks, pat Riley's, the coach. What was it like being around that team every day? What made that team interesting to cover?
[00:33:45.570] - David
Well, they were really different from pretty much every other team. One team that cover, but also any other team that was in the league at the time just because the way they chose to play. A lot of that was who the personalities of the team were. But of course, the team was constructed by Pat Riley. They check it and all those guys, but again, Pat Riley is somebody who you sort of saw from afar for a long, long time. You saw them around the Lakers. Every once in a while, you cross paths with them. If you're covering Finals or if the Lakers come to town or something like that, you see the Magic and Creams and Worlds and people like that. You sort of have it in your mind. You sort of fall for what was sort of portrayed as a Hollywood guy his hair or his clothes, where he carried himself, the fact that they were in Hollywood, the fact that they were around a player like Magic and things like that. And that's sort of the image that you have of him. Then he comes to New York and he coaches the Knicks, and you start to get to know him a little better, although he wasn't one to let people know him all that well.
[00:34:54.770] - David
But you sort of understood his story and his background and his path and his rise and where he came from and what he did and who influenced them and what he was really like and what drove him as a coach. And he poured all those things into making the Knicks again a very unique team because there was no Magic Johnson and James Worthy there. There was Patrick Ewing. And he found out a way to put Patrick in the situation like he had never been in previously in his next years, where it was going to maximize what he did well and build around him and his skills to become the champion that he was at Georgetown. And it's funny when you sort of look at it, the Georgetown teams and the Nick's teams that won were constructed pretty much the same way a lot of ways. And you saw the Pad rally put a finger on that and understood that. And so he emphasized the things that Charles Oakley did. He emphasize the things that Anthony Mason did. He emphasize the things that John Starks did. I don't know if there was another coach who would have identified somebody like John Starks and said, you're going to be one of the core players of a team that I think is going to win a championship.
[00:36:15.390] - David
John Starks are just this guy who kind of bounced around the league. He bounced around a bunch of different colleges. He'd been in and out of places. He was really rough around the edges, and Mesa was the same way that he was that kind of player. And yet these guys are centerpieces for a team that's contending for championships, who are hanging with the Bulls year after year. And we're basically setting a tone that was different from what everybody else had said around the league for a long time. So you sort of see how all those pieces fit together. Obviously they bumped and clashed with each other constantly, so you got to see that close.
[00:36:53.620] - Todd
All right, well, give us a good Bump and Clash story.
[00:37:02.990] - David
I think the funniest one was at one point, and I wish I remember exactly what the circumstances were, but I think the term that was used all the time was Insubordination. Pat suspended Anthony Mason just because they were butting heads all the time and practice during games. Riley would want him to do one thing and Mace would want to do something else. They should always come to us telling us about it, tell us about the days they do it in practice. So I could hear Mason's voice, he's trying to do this, he don't understand this, he don't understand that. I missed so much. I literally wish I could talk to just so I catch up with it right now. But they have finally had it with them suspended for a few games. And so of course, he talked to all the B rides at one point, just complaining like crazy about what are they making him do? And it's like he doesn't really want to pay, matching me and everything. So they had a home game next night and we're all at courtside. The Beat rise off as the case a lot of times had gotten really close.
[00:38:29.200] - David
It's Cliff Brown and Curtis Bun and we were all together, their court side and word gets out, west sides going up and down press Road said, Mace is at the game. Mace is at the game. He suspended. What are you talking about? Mason was sitting in the upper deck with the fans.
[00:38:55.650] - Todd
[00:38:56.100] - David
Yeah. And the cab caught him at one point up there on the broadcast and it showed on the screen inside the garden.
[00:39:03.550] - Todd
But was he having a beer and some beach?
[00:39:05.500] - David
He just sit around there just chicken back, leave back like the fence yacht back and forth. The Fed fans love it. They pose it with me, do it, all the poses and everything.
[00:39:16.880] - Todd
He's up there in the Insubordination section.
[00:39:22.550] - David
We were all just dying. This is just crazy. And they immediately cracked out of that. It's like, no, you cannot come to the game and sit in the stand while you're suspended. You cannot come into this. It's not for me at all. Okay? So, of course, after suspension, edge, he comes back and he's still talking. Those two probably, just probably buddy Hood more than any of them. And now the other funny thing about that team was that just because of the personality and how volatile they were, I mean, they would snap and bite at each other all the time, but they obviously take their real rage out against the other team. So maybe once every couple of weeks, the old runway in Master Square Garden, which both teams exited the floor through the same path and then turned in a different direction to go to their locker rooms. Every once in a while, teams would be leaving the court for whatever halftime, end of the game, end of warm ups or whatever, and a fight would break out.
[00:40:32.750] - Todd
More in support.
[00:40:33.440] - David
The body would pick a fight with somebody. It would either be among teammates or somebody with the other team. The two teams slugging it out or some imagined thing that went on or something. So this happened at halftime of a game at one point, and one of the writers said, man, we're going to have to have a pool reporter in the runway.
[00:41:01.950] - Todd
Don Dunphy is on the PA calling it.
[00:41:07.930] - David
It was every night. What's? Upon the time the Nick came up with a promotion where every other arena says over 100 points. You get a free taco, you get a free soda, you get a free beer, you get a free chicken sandwich or something like that. The Nicks came up with a brochure. If they hold the other team under 85 points, that's when you get the pizza or the sandwich or something like that. So you get to the end of the game, and then the teams around. The 11th team is around 80. The dicks are comfortably ahead. The fans are going nuts. Don't let them score again. So Nick's just out there mugging people, throwing them around, clubbing them, tripping. It was just a mad house. And after a couple of weeks, they had to stop the promotion.
[00:41:59.330] - Todd
The city police department put it, we need you to quit promoting defense.
[00:42:09.150] - David
They were like no other team. Italy, they really kind of took the whole piston stay, which is crazy in itself, the whole bad boy thing, and they really took it to another level. And there were people who are legitimately enraged as, like, they're destroying the league. But it was unique. There was nobody else that was like that.
[00:42:30.330] - Todd
Well, speaking of taking it to another level, I'm going to take you a few years later and you're around the Golden State Warriors in December of 97 when Latrell springwell takes it to another level and chokes his coach, PJ. Carlisamo. First of all, were you there that day? At present?
[00:42:56.650] - David
I was. Yeah, I was. We did not witness the actual choking, but now just to give you a little background of it, there was PJ's first year as coach, and he came in with the sort of mandate from the organization that he was going to toughen these guys up and that there was going to be no more softness. Now it's really interesting. Rick Adelman was the coach before that. It's like literally the only blight on Rick Adelman's coaching career was having coach the warriors, where there was this idea that he's a player's coach, he lets guys get away with everything, there's no discipline, blah, blah, blah. When it was just like, again, a weird mix of players. It was like post Chris Webber and Tim Hardway and Spring Well hated each other, and Chris Mullen was there and was like, what am I doing in this zoo? They had already traded Miss Richmond, so they'd broken up Run TMC, and again, the whole Weber message, chris Weber trade had gone down already, so it was pretty chaotic. And they fired Rick Adam and hired PJ. Carlos Most.
[00:44:11.390] - David
It was right after he left the trailblazers where he had sort of the same reputation of he's the tough guy, he's the guy who's going to keep people online, he's going to be the disciplinarian. So he and Spreewell didn't get along from day one, and after a while, Sprinwell stopped talking publicly. Now he would talk off the record every once in a while, very often to me. I don't know if we sort of establish this report and he would sort of tell me, this is what's going on, and this is why I can't put up with this guy, I can't deal with them, blah, blah, blah. But anyway, this particular afternoon in practice, we get there and we're sort of standing out in the hallway for a particularly long time. And when they finally open the doors, we usually get to see the last few minutes of practice, but this time practice is completely over. They're just shooting free throws like, okay, all right, it'll be one of those days. And we of course, do the quick head count. We don't see Spreewell at all. Sort of thinking, I wonder why Spring Well is not there.
[00:45:07.220] - David
And then they call everybody over to talk to PJ. Post practice, and he has the most obvious, noticeable red welts around his neck and everybody's ever seen on either side, just swallow up scars. Red right below that beard of his. Literally what he said, come on, he joked and said, I didn't shave it. And we all just rolled our eyes.
[00:45:44.650] - Todd
With a long.
[00:45:48.830] - David
Use of machete next time. Okay. But we're all just like, alright, there's something going on. Then we're sort of walking the hallways. We see the owner and his chief counsel in the hallways upstairs near the team office. We've never seen them at the facility, and we're like, all right, something's going on. So push comes in. Eventually we figure it out. It's like, oh, okay, there was like a serious incident, and they threw Spring well out of here. And something went something crazy went on with him in the TJ. And so late that night, remember late night California time, they call a press conference to announce that Spreewell has been suspended. And they said, Why? They said physical attack on the head coach were like, well, obviously he choked them from everything we understood at the time is that they were just going to do some sort of conduct detrimental to the team. Sort of announcement in subordinates. Exactly. Except that our old friend, your name you're familiar with, Peter Vessel, was about to write a huge story back in New York about it. And we all pretty much had it because we're on West Coast town, so we weren't going to be in a position to really do anything with it for several hours because he was getting ready to put it out there.
[00:47:18.220] - David
So they hastily pull this together, and they bring PJ and the owner and the general manager, and they all sit together in this table and talk about how they're going to stand and make sure that they just stand up for the team, for the franchise, for discipline and for order and all these other things. And basically for the next year, of course, I think it was maybe two days later was when David Stern suspended him for a year, and then the warriors voided his contract and freeWell filed agreements with the team. And then there were a bunch of hearings, including hearings in which Springwell and PJ were sitting across the table from each other with an arbitrator, with teammates there, with team lawyers there, with other executives there. And of course, we're down in the lobby of this hotel waiting for us to happen. We're seeing all these people walking in and out of the building. Are they really all going to be in the same room? They were all in the same room. It was really crazy. Now, of course, in the middle of all this, springwell reaches out to me and says, let's talk.
[00:48:30.940] - David
I want to tell you my side of the story. And I ended up getting the first print interview with him, and one of the local stations for the name Cheryl Herd got the first on air broadcast one on one with him, and both ended up sort of coming out at the same time. And I ended up on a one of the Chronicle, my first a one story ever, which was pretty cool. And it also happened on the same day that the warriors voted his contract. And then later in the afternoon or later that day was when Stern suspended him. So it was pretty crazy. And one of the things that really kind of stood out for me and this will be my little car. So I tell you, like, kids, don't try this at home. Because I still can't believe I did this at one point ever in my life. Because they say, hey, don't talk on the phone, don't text while driving. I was driving to the arena for the game knowing that all this had happened, that the suspension had happened and things like that. And I'm telling Springs agent called me back while I was in the car.
[00:49:38.510] - David
I was speeding down 880 and hundred in Oakland on the way to the arena. And I'm like it's. Traffic. I don't want to get to the arena late, but I got to talk to him. So I pulled out my pad in my pen and I clasped the phone to my ear and my shoulder, and I had my left hand on the steering wheel and I interviewed them and took notes with my right hand on the passenger seat. I was doing an interview and writing notes while driving down 80 on Interstate Highway at 05:00 California State Patrol Drive. Retroactive license suspension.
[00:50:30.230] - Todd
But that's the kind of dedication that I'll go with.
[00:50:33.240] - David
That dedication, craziness, insanity, total recklessness, lack of respect for human life, one of those things. They actually did that. And once it was over and I sort of threw everything off, I was like, Let me regain control of the car. I said, I will never, ever do that again. But I'm sure glad I got to talk to him for my story.
[00:50:56.730] - Todd
No, in all seriousness, David, that's the dedication that has made you one of the top journalists of your era and has carried you through all these different stops in your career. You covered so many different things besides basketball. You were there for the helmet catch. You were there for various superbowls 2000 Olympics, on and on. But there was one more basketball story I wanted to ask you about because you mentioned it once as a career highlight, and that is game six of the NBA Finals in 1998 in Salt Lake City, Chicago Bulls, Utah Jazz, and Michael Jordan's. Last game with the Bulls.
[00:52:45.690] - Todd
Why is that a career highlight? That particular game?
[00:52:53.890] - David
I think all of us knew that this could be his last game. This could be the end of an era. This could be a 6th championship. It could be another three peak. I think the enormity of the moment was what sort of swallowed everybody up and of course, just the circumstances of the game, the way that it built to the climax that it did. No matter how many times you watch it, you're still sort of awestruck by it because one, Michael said, end up scoring 45 points second, the final minute or so of that game, he just was above and beyond everything he had ever done at any other point in his career. He goes in for the basket, the layup, he strips Carl alone, and then he brings it up, and everyone in the building, from writers to the players to this really rapid Salt Lake Jazz crowd, they were carried along in the moment like that, so it was impossible not to carry along with it as well. And every time I watch the replay of it and you hear Bob Costa talking about it, okay, that's what it looked like on TV, and it was really dramatic, but it's nothing compared to what it felt like in the arena in that moment.
[00:54:14.250] - David
And so you're all thinking, okay, wow, Michael is going to take the final shot. Imagine if he hits it. What's he going to do? How is he going to do it? What's he setting it up for? So he's driven, driven. He does his little move. He pushes Brian Russell. He doesn't get called for.
[00:54:28.380] - Todd
It pushes. Okay?
[00:54:32.040] - David
He did, in fact, push. And then he pulls up and hits the shot, and the place goes dead silent. It is hanging in the air. And I know that for me, I was like, I don't know if I'll ever, ever see anything this dramatic, this meaningful, this poetic ever again in my life. And talking to people afterwards. And I remember when I was walking back to the hotel from the arena with Mark Heiseler, and you know how great Mark Heiseler is and what a name he is in basketball. It was such an honor to know him and an honor to have been sitting next to him during that entire during that game and during that entire sequence. And he said, did you feel a little choked up by watching that? I was like, yeah, me too. Yeah, I did. I'm glad it wasn't just me. You really kind of got caught in your throat as you watched all of that. And afterwards, when Michael Jordan at the podium, I think everybody sort of felt everybody had that sense of, yes, this was the end. That was it. That was the capper, that was the exclamation point.
[00:55:42.080] - David
And he felt that way, too. Jerry Sloan kind of hinted at it as well. And prying something like that out of Jerry Sloan, as people know who've ever been around him and covered him was no small thing. And he just volunteered to everybody because Jerry Sloane is maybe the most competitive person I've ever come across outside of maybe Michael. But everyone sort of understood that he had sort of orchestrated something truly special in a moment that most people can't ride through the occasion for. And he did it. It's really the sort of thing that the reason he fell in love with sports in the first place. It's because you don't see moments like that very often, but you crave them every single time you watch a game. And this time he actually did it. And you were witnessed to it, and somebody actually trusted you to describe it to your audience. And you somehow managed to trust yourself to describe it to the audience. And I literally can't remember what I wrote. I'd probably have to dig it up and find it. But you feel the challenge to describe it in a way that elevates it to a proper place.
[00:56:55.880] - David
Also knowing that the entire world watches as well. And again, everybody was watching. And that's where Michael was and that's where the NBA was at that time. Yeah, nothing I mean, I've seen a lot of dramatic things. Like you mentioned helmet catch was something that you'll never forget the moment you've seen at the Olympics. And I've had a few months that have been really exciting and interesting and fun and dramatic, and they've been upset. And teams that have reached the peak when they've sort of dealt with all the pressure and all still to this day, that's still number one for me as a spectator, as a professional, and just as a person who loves watching basketball.
[00:57:42.570] - Todd
Well, those are the moments that make Michael Jordan special. Those are the moments that make any athlete at that level special. So when you're a journalist, you remember those moments. But those moments also give athletes a platform to use their platform to speak out for issues about issues civil rights, oppression. I wanted to ask you about your new book. It was always a choice. Picking up the baton of athlete activism. And it really seems to be an outgrowth of a previous book that you wrote with Tommy Smith. He wrote his autobiography Silent Gesture, and Tommy Smith was again with John Carlos on the podium at the 68 summer Olympics in Mexico City, 200 meters winter. And they raised their fists, their glove fist in protest. That's probably the most famous protest in sports history. And then now this book kind of looks at the history of athlete activism going back to like, Paul Robinson, Ali, Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell and so forth. Why is that topic been so interesting to you over the years?
[00:59:12.630] - David
I feel like I've just always cared about that kind of history. I was too young to actually remember the 1068 Olympics. I was like, I think I was three years old when that happened. But that was always an image that I've lived with forever. It's one of the first ones that you sort of remember as you growing up, seeing the photo everywhere and hearing people talk about it and understanding why it's a big deal, your family, your friends, and just sort of as you watch sports and you sort of understand what's happening. And again, going beyond just being a fan of one place or another or one team or another or one player or another. I don't know if it's particularly growing up black in the 70s because I think it's probably that way for everybody. Everybody black growing up, watching sports and even if they can't put words to it, seeing the inequities and seeing the imbalances and seeing the injustices that even, again, that your favorite athletes, favorite players and people like that are experiencing and feeling that you can relate to them at a really basic level. I mean, growing up, I picked up on it really fast that all the quarterbacks were white.
[01:00:38.450] - David
I picked up on it really fast that all the coaches and every sport were white. When a single black coach got hired somewhere, I understood what a big deal it was and why everybody I knew was celebrating it. I grew up watching Hank Aaron chase Babe Ruth and the hate mail he got. And the resistance that he got was always a part of the story, was never just a baseball story, a fan story, a while he's chasing a legend's record kind of story. And so that was sort of my understanding with the Olympics as well. It's like the Olympics isn't just who runs the fastest and who jumps the highest and things like that. It's a place where people are excelling in a society where they're not allowed to excel anywhere else. So you knew about JC. Owens. You knew about Wilma Rudolph. And you knew about Tommy Smith and John Carlos. So those have always been intrinsic parts of who I was and how I watched sports. And one of the things that just felt natural once I started doing it professionally, writing about these things, that this was going to be a part of what I.
[01:01:52.000] - David
Was going to follow and what I was going to write about. So even when I was just writing a basketball game or covering a basketball or football or baseball beat or something like that, I was always going to be keenly aware of those things. And again, because you're talking to people and because you're connecting with them on a human level, you understand those things as well. And they talk to you about those things and they express those to you. So it really ended up being kind of a natural outgrowth of that. As you sort of get to understand the world and everything, you reach out to those people who are making that sort of an impact. That's what led to me talking to Tommy Smith and eventually co writing his book and the reason I maintain the connection with them afterwards, constantly talking to him and all. And when the 50th anniversary of that protest came along, I did a big story for Sporting News and tie that in with what was at that time the biggest protest movement in sports since then, and that was Colin Kaepernick. So when the protests in sports sort of surfaced again a couple of years ago, after the George Floyd thing in Minneapolis and players began to protest again, they began to boycott games.
[01:03:14.190] - David
They began to be part of the demonstrations, lead demonstrations and make demands of leadership and things like that. I said I think there's a way to put this all together and sort of draw a timeline and sort of create an understanding of the continuum that goes back to the very beginning of protests through all these stories that we've been talking about all these years. And tie them into what's going on here and understand where they came from. How they evolved. What they developed. Where they're going next. And also the people who have had those opportunities, like Tommy Smith and Jackie Robinson and Paul Robertson, those guys. And Colin Kaepernick chose not to do anything with them. Which is why part of the book is about Michael Jordan and OJ. Simpson and Tiger Woods and people like that.
[01:04:07.490] - Todd
Tiger woods, yes, because some guys weren't willing to use their platform. It's a personal choice. Others had the courage to go out there. And I say courage because so many of them have paid a price.
[01:04:19.990] - David
[01:04:21.150] - Todd
Look at Kaepernick. Look at Ollie. Obviously he's the most famous one for that. But Tommy Smith and John Carlos, two days after winning the gold medal, they were sent home from the Olympics, kicked out of the Olympic Village and sent home. And now they have a statue about them, rightfully so. At San Jose State and later in life, Ali was embraced by general society. But at the time when they made their state stands, that wasn't easy. They were putting a lot of on the line there you're around Kaepernick in 2016 when that started, what was it like to be around Kaepernick on a daily basis.
[01:05:18.240] - David
When that was going on?
[01:05:20.190] - Todd
Because I think people forget that at first he just didn't stand.
[01:05:24.310] - David
Yeah, he just refused to stand for it. And again, that has a long history as well and that doesn't just restricted to sports. There are a lot of people in the country, in this society who have this relationship with the national anthem. Again, it sort of ties in with the Tommy Smith stuff as well. But there are so many threads that sort of tied through this, the way people are so conflicted about Kaepernick even before he decided to make this choice, that there are people who saw his exploits on the field as a runner, as a passer, as somebody who again played the position really, in most people's view, unconventionally. He doesn't have the traditional way of playing quarterback. And again, that rubs people the wrong way in a lot of cases. And so there's a lot of resentment toward him in that case and a lot of people who did not want to give him credit for the things that he did for the 49s during the years that they were winning. That's, again, almost like a daily thing that we have to go through as recovering sports. But when he decided to do that and when he was very clear about why he was doing it, just that, again, the resistance to wanting to hear that message at all was compounded by we don't want to hear that from an athlete because you're just supposed to be there to play.
[01:06:58.360] - David
You're supposed to be there just to.
[01:07:00.050] - Todd
Shut up and play, right?
[01:07:01.080] - David
You're there to entertain us. You're there to be our escape from quote unquote, society as if there's just no recognition of them being members of society and of sports reflecting society not being some sort of separate entity from it. And there are people who just could not navigate that. They just refuse to deal with that. So yeah. I was writing about that constantly because I was at Sporting News at that time and there was just this besides the constant backlash from the outside. There was a credible backlash from within the NFL and within the rest of sort of the world of sports where they either didn't feel like it was anybody's place to speak out as an athlete about these things. Or they were just told to. Again, like you said, to shut up and play or to not bite the hand that feeds you, to be more grateful that you were allowed to play the sports that you excel in so much. It's still like some sort of a gift that you're being allowed to play these sports on this stage. This was like a constant topic during that time, and it was something that players constantly grappled with.
[01:08:28.080] - David
It was like locker room after locker room after lock room. Players were constantly either debating with themselves or having an incredible internal conflict about it. And one of the reasons that I was really interested in writing the book was that this was something that really needed to be captured because otherwise it was just sort of a lot of thoughts that were sort of fragmented and sprayed all over the place and not really captured in one place and put into any sort of either societal or historical context.
[01:08:59.830] - Todd
Right. Well, I think it's very important, not just because of the history and putting it together, but I think it's important that a black journalist has been able to do this for us because your life experiences are much different than mine as a white man. And not that I can't try to understand or learn, but you have lived it and you understand where those athletes or coaches are coming from, from a much different point of view than my own. And so I'm so thankful that you have written this. I recommend that everybody give it a read. Give it a read and it'll make you think. There was always a choice picking up the baton of athlete activism. And these aren't just games. This isn't just entertainment. This is huge financial industry, huge impact on culture. And I think it's fun. And we've had some good laughs talking about some of the fun stuff, but there's also a seriousness that needs to be taken into account.
[01:10:18.070] - Todd
And I really appreciate you doing that, David, not just with these books that you've written, but also throughout your work, throughout your career.
[01:10:26.700] - David
I really appreciate it, and it really has been an honor and a privilege one to talk to you about this and being get this out because it's rare. And I really, you know, there's a reason I write and don't go on TV. This is not a natural thing for me, but I do feel really fortunate that I have had an opportunity to do this for a long time.
[01:11:01.390] - Todd
One thing I read once when you said that as a journalist, there's only three things you can count on your standards, your integrity, your own credibility. And that's been what you've been all about throughout your career. And I really enjoyed the stories. The seriousness, the emotion, the history, and some of the laughter, too. We've had a good time recounting some of those tales from your career, David. It's been so nice to have you on.
[01:11:28.640] - David
Thank you very, very much for having me on.