Roland Lazenby, who has written more than five dozen nonfiction books, mainly about basketball and American football appeared on a recent episode of the Scoop B Radio Podcast and broke it down.
For those keeping score at home: Lazenby wrote Bull Run! The Story of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, The Long Strange Ride of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, The NBA Education of Kobe Bryant, Mindgames: Phil Jackson’s Long Strange Journey, The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers in the Words of Those Who Lived It, Michael Jordan: The Life and Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant.
He’s also contributed articles to magazines and newspapers.
Check out our Q&A below:
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: What’s going on sir?
Roland Lazenby: A whole lot you know, Everything’s good, it’s warm in my house here in the cold weather, my dogs are asleep here by the fire, so it is extremely good!
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: That’s a good thing man; Basketball here is on the horizon… you caught my eye when we followed each other on Twitter a couple years ago. You wrote a book – I think you like tweeted in an article or interview or something I did because you caught my eye because you were the author of Michael Jordan: The Life. Tell me like, what was your muse for actually putting that to the paper in that book?
Roland Lazenby: Well I had the good fortune, I started doing books in the NBA in the late 80’s. About ’88. And I’d done a fair amount of college basketball work. I’d written two or three books with Billy Packer at that time, and I’d written about Ralph Sampson, so I started doing NBA work and been traveling a lot. The books I did weren’t big budget, weren’t paying me millions, they – you know I had a Chevette Diesel [laughs], which got 50 miles to the gallon but I had press credentials which were worth gold. And you know the Boston Garden with the Pistons you know, all kinds of different stuff, and then I added the Lakers and from there it just sort of built and then I was covering NBA games, and I was just there at a wonderful time ya know? The NBA was wide open. Today the NBA is very crowded; you got the All-Star Games, it’s just a crowd man…a huge crowd of reporters. You really don’t get a chance to know people. It’s crazy. But that’s in the 80’s and that was a wonderful time to start learning about the NBA and writing. Then I got into doing the [Chicago] Bulls and I got to spend lots of time watching the Bulls up close writing about them and became real good friends, really good friends with Tex Winters one of my mentors. And with another one of my mentors George Mumford who was the team’s psychologist. So it was good. So with that, I got a chance to do a book about the NBA Finals which meant that I had to go back and interview everybody; all the old players a lot of them since passed…
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Jack Haley…
Roland Lazenby: Man! God rest Jack Haley. But you know George Mikan, Jim Pollard. I mean back in THE day. I mean all through you know, all those teams in the 50’s and 60’s, and 70’s before I got going in the 80’s but just a chance to do it all. And it was really – that really changed my life. There are always things when you’re a journalist you do that changes your life. It changes your ability to be able to talk to people, they change what you understand, and they say that’s what interviews do for you. And I love doing interviews. I love talking to people about their lives and their experiences and love talking to the basketball folks. It’s a lot of fun.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Looking at the biography it kind of stands out, there are three things in the first opening sentence of the description it says, “The Shot, The Flu Game. Michael Jordan is responsible for sublime moments in NBA history.” And as I take look further down, you talk about or rather talks about in the bio you witnessing Jordan’s growth from a skinny rookie to the instantly recognizable global ambassador for basketball and then it talks about the personal relationships with Jordan’s coaches. If I may ask, do you think – did you take it I guess talking to Jordan or talking to people that were around him, did he seem like more of an obsessive compulsive guy or more of an overachiever? What’s your view about him and how was his approach to the game of basketball?
Roland Lazenby: Well you know sometimes there are just extraordinary people. And you know I coached a good bit. I have, I don’t anymore. But I used to always tell my students and ask them what is the most amazing quality that Jordan had – and of course a lot of them would say he jumps high obviously so that’s a tremendous quality, but his ability to listen is like – unreal. It is eerie and you know sometimes when we are in sports we assume that this stuff just happens. It’s just the way we are culturally. The draft is going to come along, there’s going to be some people and someone is going to be amazing, but it’s much more complicated than that. And so many of these people that I do these biographies on, they really drive the agenda. Yeah they have totally tremendous physical gifts and stuff but they drive the agenda in a way that other people just don’t. It just doesn’t occur to other people to push and to be as aggressive and is focused and I mean just the mental acuity to be on like that, and to just rise through everything is – I also have a personal call for all of the physical accomplishments, but sometimes there are a lot of people – I won’t say a lot, because when you’re dealing with NBA level players you’re dealing with freaks of nature in some regards. You can go to the ‘Y’ and play anybody you want but you’ll never see anybody approaching an NBA player. When I used to play pickup, there would be college level players that were good which would change things of course but never something like an NBA player, but there are a lot of them there that have a lot of physical gifts who are not obviously what those certain top figures are, and at the top: the very best, are people who are just totally different animals. Different castes. They are just off the charts. And Jordan with that ability – and that’s why he started at UNC and Dean Smith rarely ever started freshman, he started at small forward I believe, but never started anybody. He was blown away by Jordan’s ability to listen. And of course every time I do a – whether if it’s Jerry West, I’m doing a book on Magic Johnson now, Kobe Bryant that I did three years ago, they all have this mental capacity that goes with everything else they got. And it’s not just book smarts. A lot of it is tremendous emotional intelligence. Frankly, several types of intelligence. It’s a part that I enjoy the most. It’s looking and discovering everything that happened. They like to control their own narratives, they don’t want all the stuff out about them, and I’m not