THE RARITY OF A REAL LETTER
As I look back upon the stories I wrote for The Charlotte Observer in 2011, one in particular stands out – in part because of the odd way it began.
Let me ask you this: How often do you receive a real, live, handwritten letter from a person you actually know?
If you’re like me, hardly ever. Hardly anyone writes letters anymore, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I probably email my parents 50 times for every time I actually write them a letter. Today’s mailboxes are usually stuffed with bills and advertisements. Except for December, when the Christmas cards arrive, I’m stunned when I find anything I actually want in there.
It’s gotten to where I only check my work mailbox every few days at The Charlotte Observer, where I’ve worked since 1994. There’s hardly ever anything good in there. So when I glanced into that mailbox in August and found two letters in a heavy envelope from former Panther placekicker John Kasay, I was shocked.
Kasay had dropped the envelope off personally at The Observer a few days after the Panthers had made a stunning move – firing Kasay, the last Panther remaining from the original 1995 team, and hiring replacement Olindo Mare. I had been out of town most of the week on assignment in Spartanburg, where the Panthers were having training camp without Kasay, and so it was several days before I found it.
The longer letter was to Panther fans. The shorter one was to me. Kasay wanted me to publish the longer one so he could “accurately share how I felt about what happened,” as he wrote.
The longer letter was 257 words, and it was a gracious display of Kasay’s class. We published the letter’s full text in The Observer and online at CharlotteObserver.com, where it became one of our most-read sports stories of 2011.
“I wanted to personally write this letter to every Carolina Panther fan,” Kasay began his letter. “Words cannot express how truly thankful my family and I are for the most wonderful 16 years of our lives. We came to the Panthers as a young family with a 3-month-old baby. We leave with 4 children, 2 of whom are in high school. In between, you have loved and cheered and blessed us way more than we ever deserved.”
Although certainly he would have had a great deal of support had he done so, Kasay showed no bitterness about his abrupt departure from Carolina. Kasay was basically fired because the Panthers thought employing Mare would save a roster spot since he could kickoff and kick field goals, too – Kasay had been limited to kicking field goals and extra points only for the past several years.
Kasay, 42, would end up later joining a better team this season – New Orleans – where he had another very good year. Mare’s inconsistent season was marred by two critical fourth-quarter field goal misses.
But no one knew any of that then. All Kasay knew for sure was that he had been fired. Yet he had nothing but good wishes for the teammates and franchise he left behind.
“It is my hope that the greatest years in Panthers history are still to come,” Kasay wrote in another section of the letter. “A franchise decorated with numerous Lombardi Trophies. Dozens of Hall of Fame players. And a region that swells with pride whenever they speak of their beloved Panthers.
“It has been a tremendous privilege to live in Charlotte, to play for the Carolina Panthers, and to be able to share my lifelong dream of playing in the NFL with all of you.
“I pray that this will be a wonderful season and we will all get to watch the Panthers return to their rightful place as one of the most feared teams in the NFL.”
I was honored that Kasay entrusted me with his letter to the fans. We had had a good working relationship for 17 years, but this was still the rarest of mailbox surprises – a handwritten letter that turned into a memorable story.
As I think back about the story, however, I’m mostly impressed with the way Kasay handled his departure.
All of us get criticized in life. And nearly all of us get fired or cut from something – whether it’s a job or a middle-school basketball team – at some point in our lives.
But how many of us are able to react that gracefully to it?
Scott blogs more regularly about sports in the Carolinas at ScottFowlerObs.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @scott_fowler
|The sudden pain in Deb Guthmann's right hip at the end of a high-school cross country meet gave Jenna Huff (right) a chance to do something that both young women will always remember. (Photo courtesy of Julia DuChateau)
I mentioned the story "The Magic Touch" in the blog entry just before this one -- you can scroll down a little to click on a link to read it if you like. The story of an unusual gesture of sportsmanship touched a number of people, and it recently was fortunate enough to win a first-place national award in sports feature stories in the Associated Press Sports Editors contest for stories published in 2010.
Hope everyone is having a great summer. I should point out once again that my main blog for The Charlotte Observer can be accessed at www.ScottFowlerObs.blogspot.com <http://www.ScottFowlerObs.blogspot.com> -- I update that one far more often if you are curious about what I've been working on recently for the newspaper.
I've been asked a couple of times recently by readers if I'm working on any new books. The answer is no for now -- I have decided not to pursue any more book projects at least until my 4-year-old girl is in school fulltime. I'm a bit time-starved already. I would like to mention that my good friend Charles Chandler (co-author of my first book, "Year of the Cat," published way back in 1997 about the Carolina Panthers) has just helped Michael Vick write his "come-clean" autobiography. I haven't read it yet but knowing Charles' work, I'm sure it's excellent and I bet it will sell like hotcakes. Congrats to Charles!
THE MAGIC TOUCH
Every now and then, a story comes to my attention that turns out to be a real gift to me – one that I feel sort of honored to write. I felt like that about the “Coach Sean” story in 2009 – you can scroll down a little on this blog to read that one. And I felt that way again a couple of weeks ago when one of my sports editors at The Charlotte Observer, Mike Persinger, put a clipping on my desk and said, “I’m going to get someone to do this if you don’t want to.”
I read it and I knew I wanted to. The story was written by a high-school cross country coach named Drew Laucher. It described an act of sportsmanship committed by one of his runners. It was published in a small newspaper in North Carolina in Stanly County, and thank God it was or I never would have seen it.
Laucher’s article concerned a high school cross-country meet and a couple of girls who were in it – Deb Guthmann of Cuthbertson High and Jenna Huff of North Stanly. Both schools are fairly close to Charlotte, but not in Mecklenburg County.
Deb had been leading Jenna for the first three miles of a 3.1-mile race until, suddenly, her right hip basically tore apart only a few yards from the finish line.
Jenna, like most all cross-country runners, had been instructed to always pass a runner in distress (because as all runners know, runners are almost always in distress near the finish of a long race). But Jenna ignored those instructions. She could tell Deb was not just tired, but severely hurt.
She took Deb’s left elbow in her right hand and helped her to the finish line. Then she pushed Deb across first, reasoning that she would have beaten her.
That act of kindness was captured beautifully in photos by a freelance photographer named Julia DuChateau. DuChateau “paid it forward,” so to speak, by allowing the photos to be used in our newspaper, The Charlotte Observer.
I investigated the story at some length – Laucher had done a nice job with his, but had had to write it in a hurry, so he had not had time to interview either Deb or Jenna. We ended up publishing it on Christmas Day, 2010, in The Observer. Here’s the link to the story, which drew a lot of positive feedback for the girls and which I was very glad to be part of.
|This shot from Walter Davis is one of the most famous in UNC history – it completed the Tar Heels’ eight-points-in-17-seconds comeback against Duke in 1974. Davis talks about this shot extensively – including the fact he didn’t mean to bank it in – in Scott Fowler’s new book “What It Means To Be A Tar Heel.” (Photo courtesy UNC Athletics)
If you want to see a 2-minute clip with the highlights of the 8-points-in-17-seconds comeback that HBO put together, check out this YouTube clip here (Scott appears on-camera just before it ends)
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORIES
Every book has a story behind it, and so it is with the one I’ve just published – “What It Means To Be A Tar Heel.” It is my fifth book, and I’m very happy to have it completed.
This book has been quite awhile in the making – the gestation period was 2-3 times longer as my other books. I started work on it sometime in 2005, gathering phone numbers and stories from former North Carolina basketball players with an idea of doing a book about the greatest game each played in their career at Chapel Hill.
I did a number of interviews with that goal in mind, but then the publisher who was going to work with me on that book suddenly went bankrupt.
To the rescue came Triumph Books, an imprint of Random House. I had never published a book with Triumph before, but have been extremely impressed with their dedication and attention to detail. In talks with the Triumph editors, we decided to modify the format slightly to what ultimately became “What It Means To Be A Tar Heel.”
I did a slew of new interviews, refreshed old ones and made the entire book “first-person.” In other words, I’m letting the 42 former players I interviewed (as well as current coach Roy Williams) speak for themselves. My main job in this book was not so much the writing as it was tracking former players down, allowing them to tell their stories and transcribing them. Each chapter also contains a brief biography of what happened to the player following his career in Chapel Hill.
For Tar Heel basketball fans, I believe the book is a treasure trove. The 42 former players tell affectionate, inspiring stories of their time at Carolina that I’m sure you’ve never heard before. Click here to read the book’s introduction.
I hope you will give “What It Means To Be A Tar Heel” a try – it makes a great gift. Unless you’re a Duke fan, that is.
THE CRAZY THINGS KIDS SAY
I never actually saw Art Linkletter on TV. But I respect the man’s work. He died at age 97 earlier this year, and his most lasting TV segment was called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
We’ve certainly found that true in our home, which features four occasional comedians who are now ages 12, 9, 6 and 3. Here’s a just-for-fun summer sampling of a few of our family favorites from over the years.
1) When our son, then 7, was asked if he had washed his hands before supper: “I washed one of them.”
2) When the same boy was asked what he was working on at school: “I’ve done all my smartness training. I’m just working on strength now.”
3) When our little girl (age 3) saw the ocean for the first time she could actually remember this summer, she peered doubtfully at the waves from the safety of the shore. “Daddy,” she said, “which side is the deep end?”
4) When our third child was on a nature walk and staring dreamily up at the skyline, he asked: “Do trees have bones?”
5) When our oldest child turned 12 this year, he told me his three goals for life: “Stop global warming; visit all 50 states and eat every milkshake at Cookout except for those with banana.”
6) When our 3-year-old girl was at an Easter Egg hunt at church this year, she was perturbed that the church leader, named Jenny, would let them find and keep only five eggs apiece to assure that every child had a chance to fill their basket. Seeing the same leader later the same week, our child said: “Is that dumb ol’ five-egg Jenny?”
7) When Child 2 was trying to explain why Child 3’s arm was bleeding after he had clawed him in a scuffle: “It’s not my fault. He has weak skin.”
COACH SEAN'S GIFT
|Coach Sean Schultz
||Sean Schultz had had previous heart problems and knew his time might be short, so he tried to squeeze every minute out of each day -- and to hug his son Ben a lot, too. Photo courtesy of the Schultz family
The story I've written over the past few months that has seemed to resonate with people more than most of the others is one about a coach you've never heard of but should learn a little about.
Sean Schultz died at age 40 on Sept.14, 2009, of a massive heart attack, while pitching batting practice to his team of 9-year-olds in the Myers Park Trinity Little League in Charlotte.
Coach Sean had a wife and a 9-year-old son on that team. I found out about his story in small bits. First, my wife Elise saw Schultz's well-written obituary in our newspaper (it turned out Sean's wife Kaaren had written the obituary).
My wife pointed this obituary out to me. The first thing that struck me -- besides the fact that Schultz was close to my age and that he coached youth sports as I do -- was that his funeral was scheduled for 1:23 p.m.
Why 1:23?? I thought. What a strange time to start a funeral.
Well, there was a story behind that time (1-2-3 had been a code for Sean and his wife that meant "I love you").
And there turned out to be a whole lot more to Sean Schultz, who was the sort of coach in youth sports that all of us want our kids to have. I wrote his wife Kaaren a letter, asking for permission to tell his story. We met at a coffeeshop, I explained what I wanted to do and we went from there. The story took several months to do -- I worked on it parttime, doing interviews with Schultz's family members, as well as parents and kids on the team he coached.
In any case, the story of Sean Schultz's life, death and the gifts that he passed along before he died constitutes quite a tale.
I'm sure I didn't tell it as well as it could have been told, but it was a pleasure to work on. And I thank the Schultz family -- especially Kaaren and Ben Schultz -- for trusting me enough to tell it.
Click here to read the story "Coach Sean's gift"
HOW DOES A WRITER
DEAL WITH REJECTION?
Hello, everyone. I thought for this blog entry I would share some correspondence I exchanged with a talented fifth-grade writer whose name is Erin.
I occasionally speak to student groups or e-mail back and forth with students on a one-on-one basis to try and mentor them a little about their writing. If you’ve ever done any writing yourself – just for school or as a hobby or professionally – you know that rejection is possible at any time. A spouse, an editor, a friend, a teacher – any of them can say: “I don’t like it” or “I don’t get it” or “I hate it.” If you don’t watch out, that can crush you.
Erin – who incidentally is very talented, and I know that because I have seen some of her work -- has a problem like that. Here’s her recent e-mail to me and my response (she and her parents agreed to let me post this in hopes that it would help a few other aspiring writers).
I need some advice. My new teacher doesn't like me or my writing. I don't know what to do. This is the first time I have been rejected so I am not used to it. Have you ever been rejected? What did you do? But the thing is I have to go 180 days with this guy!!!
I am scared I won't be able to reach my lifelong goal of being in the New York Times because on my progress report I got a B. I know I am only in the fifth grade and a B is pretty good but you know. I have stopped writing and I need some help to get back on track. He has really brought me down. Write back soon.
Well, you have just reached one of the barriers that face all writers. Congratulations for recognizing it and starting to think about how to get around it. This is a point where many aspiring writers simply "give up."
I know it is hard to keep this in mind in fifth grade, but if you are in an interview in 15 years with The New York Times trying to get a job as a writer, there's NO WAY they are going to ask you what you made in any fifth-grade class. They won't care a bit. I'm not telling you not to study or not to try and please the teacher -- you should certainly do both those things.
But don't let any one teacher -- or any one person -- determine what you think the worth of your writing is. You get to decide that, not them. You get to define yourself. It is important to still keep writing during this time -- in a journal, or private poetry, or something you just show your family or whatever. That's the way you get better.
There is a true story about the time that Michael Jordan got cut from the high school varsity team as a 10th-grader, and ultimately he was probably a better basketball player for it. He worked harder and came back as an 11th-grader and was the team's best player. (Much later, in his Hall of Fame induction speech, he would mention the player who the coach kept on the varsity squad instead of Michael in 10th grade as one of the things that had motivated him for his entire career).
Have I been rejected as a writer? Absolutely. Even these days. I get told a lot of times by readers they didn't like a particular story. I've been told my various publishers they didn't think a book I wanted to write was "publish-able."
These sorts of things happen to all writers, because writing by nature is subjective. Do you know that word? It means that everyone can have an opinion about it, and it's hard to say what's right and what wrong. Unlike math, where there's only one right answer, somebody can love J.K. Rowling and her "Harry Potter" series and someone else can hate her writing, and who is to say who is right?
It hurts when you get a "B" (which you're right, isn't bad at all). I know that. But you just have to let it hurt for a little while and then forget about it, because you can't do anything about that B anymore. The only thing you can control is your future -- doing your best in school, trying to improve, becoming a better person and a better writer and so on.
But the grade isn't what matters; doing your best is what matters, as well as persevering.
I will tell you one story: In college, I knew I really wanted to write for a living. Newspapers, books, I wasn't sure what I would write -- but writing, definitely.
So I was taking this creative writing class (this was at UNC-Chapel Hill) and this old man with a head full of white hair was the professor. He had written a few books (the books were not that well-known, but he was still a published author and looked very much the part and so all in the class were somewhat in awe of him).
This professor thought I was just sort of an average writer. He liked some other folks in the class and their writing much better than mine. And one day he did this weird thing: He first gave a little speech about who he thought the best writers in the class were, and then he had us vote on this question:
"Who in this class will be writing for a living in 10 years?"
We had to pick our first, second and third choices. And then he read the votes aloud (they were anonymous votes -- you didn't know who had voted for whom).
Anyway, I only got one vote -- a third-place vote. And you know who voted for me? I did.
I picked two other kids ahead of me who I thought were really talented, but I put myself third, because I knew I was determined enough and good enough to make it.
That is my own little version of the Michael-Jordan-got-cut story. When I published my first book about 10 years later, I thought about sending it to the teacher with a mean little note enclosed. But I didn't. I like to think I'm a better person than that, and anyway, writing is subjective. It was that teacher's right not to like my work.
But while he could determine my grade for that brief period of time, he couldn't determine how hard I would try to reach my goal, just as your fifth-grade teacher can't determine how hard you will try to reach yours.
ON THE UNEXPECTED JOY OF FISHING
|This fish above isn’t an angel fish, although it looks like one. It’s actually an Atlantic spadefish. Read on for the story of how it was caught on a “keeper” of a day.
Note from Scott: The following column first was published in The Charlotte Observer. Thanks, as always, to The Observer for allowing me to publish some of my own stories on my personal website.
FRIPP ISLAND, S.C. – Fishing, as a rule, has never floated my boat.
I don’t own a boat, actually, even though I live just a mile from Lake Norman. I don’t even own a rod and reel. Or a cane pole.
Until recently, the only time I ever bought anything from a bait shop was when two of my four children went through a worm-loving phase and asked for some worms so they could play with them.
But then I had an experience last week that changed my mind about this pastime so many people swear by.
My eight-year-old son Salem wanted to go fishing. He had fished at a farm pond with his grandmother a couple of times and liked it. So for our annual family trip to the beach, he said he wanted to fish off an ocean pier.
Now this will sound ridiculous to you if you’re a regular fisherman, but the idea made me nervous. I like teaching my kids how to shoot a free throw or dribble a soccer ball, but fishing? That’s like a beagle trying to teach someone how to cook.
Click here to continue this story
AN INTERVIEW WITH RODNEY ROGERS
March 12, 2009
|Rodney Rogers, the former Wake Forest and NBA basketball star, was paralyzed from the shoulders down in late November in a dirt-bike accident. Rogers is shown here in his room at Atlanta's Shepherd Center, a hospital that specializes in the rehabilitation of people with spinal-cord injuries. Rogers stayed there for three months. He said he prays every day to be able to walk again one day. (Photo by Scott Fowler)
On Saturday, March 7, I had a wrenching but inspiring interview with Rodney Rogers -- the former Wake Forest and NBA star now paralyzed from the shoulders down.
At the time, Rogers was in an Atlanta hospital. He had been hurt in a dirt-bike accident 3 months ago and had declined all previous interview requests. I did not know Rodney, but I pursued the interview through several channels, and ultimately Rodney and his fiancee and primary caregiver Faye Suggs agreed to meet with me on a Saturday morning.
The interview that followed was difficult. I felt so sorry for Rogers, a powerful man who now must have someone feed him every meal. But I found his attitude inspiring. It's a lot better than mine would be in the same situation.
The story also ran simultaneously in The (Raleigh) News and Observer -- one of the benefits of the fact that The Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh paper are now owned by the same company. Oddly, it was on the front page of the entire paper in Raleigh -- 1A, as we call it -- but on the regular sports front in my home Charlotte paper.
Click here to read Scott's exclusive interview with Rodney Rogers
"GREAT SPORTS BOOKS"
Hi, everyone. I’ve been doing some live chats on the CharlotteObserver.com website recently and got an interesting question there about what sports books I would recommend. I’m talking about non-fiction here, not the great sports novels by Dan Jenkins or Frank Deford.
In the non-fiction category, some of my all-time favorites would be: "Friday Night Lights" by Buzz Bissinger; "A Season on the Brink" by John Feinstein and both of Gary Smith's collections (most of those stories were originally published in Sports Illustrated).
In recent years I have also have really enjoyed Gary Pomerantz's excellent "Wilt, 1962" -- about Wilt Chamberlain -- and Dave Kindred's book about Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell and their intertwined lives called "Sound and Fury."
"Game of Shadows," about the steroid controversy, was superb. So was Art Chansky's "Blue Blood," about the UNC-Duke college hoops rivalry. "Seabiscuit" has to be the best book about horse racing ever written. "Into Thin Air" makes you feel like you're stuck in a snowstorm on Mt. Everest.
And there are literally dozens of other wonderful ones out there, written by folks like Sally Jenkins, David Halberstam and Roger Kahn. Having authored or co-authored four sports books myself – and of course you can buy those elsewhere on this website, but they wouldn’t be on any of my “Best of” lists -- I know firsthand how difficult it is to produce a really compelling sports book.
"IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN"
Jan. 11, 2009
The Carolina Panthers’ 14th season ended, suddenly and shockingly, a couple of days ago in a 33-13 playoff loss to Arizona in Charlotte.
What a strange night it was. Carolina scored on the opening drive – and scored easily – and a sellout crowd waved white Growl Towels in euphoria. Surely that was only the beginning, the fans thought.
Instead, it was the end of the good times. Arizona scored the game’s next 33 points, dispatching the Panthers with ease. Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme looked like a lost boy, throwing five interceptions and losing a fumble for a remarkable six turnovers.
So the Panthers ended their 14th season as they had ended the previous 13 – short of the ultimate championship. In the NFL, 31 of 32 teams ultimately go home disappointed every season – or 97 percent.
The Panthers looked like they might have a chance to be in that other 3 percent this season, but it didn’t happen. If they had only won, they would have hosted the NFC championship game against Philadelphia Jan.18. But as former Panther general manager Bill Polian liked to say: “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.”
Or, as the poet John Greenleaf Whittier once put it in a more high-falutin’ way:
For of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these:
‘It might have been.’
So now I’m onto other writing adventures – fortunately as a general sports columnist, I’m not tethered to the Panthers during their endless offseason. I’ll be concentrating much of my time for the next few months on college basketball – particularly trying to find excuses to see the wondrous Stephen Curry play for Davidson as often as I can.
|Panther linebacker Jon Beason poses for a Charlotte Observer photographer in October 2008.
After missing all of the Panthers’ training camp in Spartanburg due to the Olympics, I’ve had to play a little catch-up for the first six weeks of the season. About 50-70 percent of my work as a sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer involves covering the Panthers each year during the fall.
They are by far the biggest thing going in my region – in terms of sports, anyway. You can tell that by the TV ratings they draw and the hits they get on CharlotteObserver.com – stories about the Panthers always far outdraw those about any other sports team.
I took this picture during an Observer photo shoot. Panther linebacker Jon Beason was posing for Observer photographer David Foster in this one. Beason reminds me a lot of Sam Mills. He leads like him. He plays like him. He’s a bit undersized like him (Mills was 5-foot-9, Beason is 6 feet).
BYE BYE BEIJING
|Although I won't be quitting my day job, I am doing a bit of TV here in Beijing because my newspaper is linked up with the local NBC affiliate in Charlotte, WCNC, as a news partner. Behind me in this picture is the "Bird's Nest" -- site of track and field as well as Opening and Closing ceremonies. They only shoot me from the waist up in these spots, so it's OK to wear shorts.
The Olympics are over. And while I had a wonderful adventure there, I’m very glad to be back on U.S. soil. I took the picture above when coming out of the Forbidden City near Tianamen Square, but I thought it really could apply to my entire visit.
Since I’ve been back in the U.S., folks have asked me a number of times what I will remember most about these Summer Games.Well, the best four events I saw in person were two of Michael Phelps’ very close gold-medal wins (one a relay, one the 100-meter butterfly where he came from behind on the last stroke) and Usain Bolt’s world records in the 100 and 200 meters.
Personally, the best thing I saw in my limited sightseeing time was the Great Wall. An amazing place. I also liked the Beijing Zoo, where there were 7 giant pandas in one large cage (one of them is also pictured here). In the tiny American animal display, on the other hand, do you know which animal was most prominently displayed?
I was struck again and again by the friendliness of the Chinese volunteers, many of whom spoke good English. I was also struck by the way there were really two Chinas on display during the Games – the one they wanted you to see, and the one they didn’t. Remember, this was the country where one girl’s voice was dubbed for another girl’s acting in the Opening Ceremonies because the one with the beautiful voice wasn’t deemed pretty enough. That sort of thing happened with some regularity.
But now I’m back to my normal life, which is good. People are asking me less about China and more about what I think of the Carolina Panthers’ chances this season. They like my China stories more than my answers about the Panthers, however. On the eve of their 2008 season, I think they are going to go 8-8.
Wed. Aug. 13, 9 p.m. (China time)
Hello, everyone... Just thought y'all might like a China update:
Well I am about one-third of the way through covering the Olympics now. I know mostly where I'm going in Beijing -- well, at least the 3-4 key areas I'm usually in. It's an enormous city -- reminds me of New York.
I am very busy, but in a good way. I haven't gotten sick yet, which was and is my main fear. At one point I thought I might be getting that way, but then slept about 9 hours that night and felt a lot better.
But I do miss Elise and the children terribly and two weeks more away still seems like a long time. We have been able to do a few Skype calls, so I can see them via a webcam, and that has been nice.
The best thing I saw here athletically so far was the swimming relay race Sunday night your time when the U.S. won by a fingertip over France. That was something.
I also have been able today to sneak over to Olympic tennis after finishing my main work of the day and seen Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play (although not each other). Since I have never seen either of them play in person before, that has been fun.
I am trying to keep a blog for the newspaper and you might find some stuff on that that I have forgotten to mention here -- it is probably 75 percent about the athletes but 25 percent about what I'm doing here. I have put some pictures on it of what I've seen so far.
Lots of track and field coverage to come for me over the next 10 days or so.... I am hopeful of getting to the Beijing zoo one day for a couple of hours -- they have a lot of pandas there -- but not sure I'll make it.
My hotel is not bad -- about the quality of a Motel 6. Clean and quiet and only a 20-minute bus ride away from the Main Press Center, where I start every day. I try to stay out from about 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. each night and only sleep there. The bed comes up lower than my knee and is nearly as hard as plywood, yet I'm sleeping well.
Colleagues of mine have eaten curried goat, grilled turtle (that was alive before they picked it out -- like lobster or something) and (ugh!) dog here. Not me. I am sticking mostly to Chinese food, which as you might guess is widely available (and better -- not fried or breaded as often).
It is very cheap here, mostly. You can ride in a cab for 30 minutes and it costs about $8. You can eat a meal for $5 pretty easily. It cost us $100 apiece, however, for me and a buddy to hire a driver and a tour guide and go about 75 minutes to explore the Great Wall. That was the best $$ I've spent here, though.
A few other things I miss here besides family: Ice in drinks (unheard of, apparently). Salad (can't eat vegetables unless they're cooked, at least that's what people keep warning us). Not going through security every morning to get to work. And also, the SUN! It is depressing to live in a gray haze, as Beijing does most of the time.
But it is quite an adventure, and the people really have tried to bend over backwards to help me out anytime I've needed something. As I always tell people, of all the events I cover, the Olympics is the best overall. Nothing quite like it.
I will leave you with a funny story.
At the security gate there are always 4-6 people around, about half guys and half girls. The Chinese have so many people working here -- they just have so many darn people everywhere -- they are never short of someone to help you. And they do try very hard to help.
Anyway, today a guy was running the metal wand over me, as they do every day even if you get thru the security door without making it beep. You always get wanded no matter what. So he hit my belt. This happens every day, too.
I keep my shirt untucked usually -- it's very casual here, you can wear shorts as a reporter and I do -- so I always have to pull my shirt up to show him it is just a belt. There were a couple of Chinese girls behind him in uniform, too.
This time when I pulled my shirt up to show him the belt, however, I also came to realize that my zipper was undone. At least 4 Chinese people were staring at me when I realized this.
I zipped up quickly and walked out of there, hearing the musical tittering of the Chinese security girls' laughter in the background.
July 28, 2008
I’ve spent most of the past few months preparing for a big assignment: covering the Summer Olympics in Beijing for The Charlotte Observer. I will be in China most of the month of August doing this and have mostly good feelings about it . I will miss my family terribly during this time, of course, but it should be quite an adventure. I don’t think I would make it to China in my lifetime except for this assignment .
The Olympics themselves are one of my very favorite events in the world to write about. The athletes at the Games are as a rule “purer” than the ones that make millions in the NFL or NBA.
My favorite sports to cover there are swimming and track and field – I have a bit of a prejudice toward judged sports like gymnastics, where one crazy judge can have a huge impact and where too often I can’t understand the difference between very good and great.
I prefer a sport where the winner is clearly visible at the finish line. But I’ve also had some great Olympic experiences in the past at odd events like ping pong (although you’re supposed to call it “table tennis” at the Olympics) and team handball.
The Charlotte region has a number of athletes at the Games that I will concentrate some of my coverage on, including three swimmers, a Greco-Roman wrestler, a sprinter and the head coach of the women’s basketball team. But to me, the U.S. is the “home team” for all of America during these three weeks, so I won’t restrict my coverage to folks who grew up or now live within a 50-mile radius of Charlotte.
It’s funny what you remember from previous Olympics, and what people remember about your coverage. This will be my fourth assignment at the Games: I’ve also covered Summer Games in Atlanta (1996) and Greece (2004) for The Observer and one winter Olympics in 2002 in Salt Lake City. I’ve written hundreds of stories about various athletes and games but the one that seems to stick in most people’s minds was a brief I wrote in 2004 on an unsuccessful search for a restroom in Greece. I’ll leave you with that story here and then go read a Beijing tourbook.
I was on a search for a restroom at a subway station in Athens and frustrated that it seemed so hard to find. How could there not be a a restroom in a subway? That’d be like not having one in the Charlotte airport.
So I asked three Greek security guards – two men and one woman – for help. In English.
“Rest-au-room?” one inquired. “Ahhhhh, rest-au-room!!! What kind of food you think you want? Greek food? American food?”
“No, no!!” I said. “Restroom. Bathroom. W.C.” I said the word in a couple of other languages with increasing desperation, a lthough unfortunately I didn’t know it in Greek.
The three security guards pondered it out together.
“Can you give an example, please?” the female guard in the threesome asked.
What do you say to that? I just told them my need for a restroom had magically disappeared, thanked them and jumped onto the subway.
P.S. I heard from many people after that that the magic word is “toilet,” which most people understand no matter where they’re from. Hopefully, that’ll work in Chinese.
A WHITEWATER ADVENTURE
My job as a sports columnist at The Charlotte Observer has allowed me a good deal of latitude as far as my column subjects over the past few years. One thing I love to do is to try something new and write about it in the column. This is certainly an element that can be overdone, so I try not to do “participatory journalism” too often.
But over my Observer career I have had an opportunity to have a few first-person experiences of the sort that George “Paper Lion” Plimpton made famous: I have played tennis against Anna Kournikova and Jim Courier, ridden in the passenger seat of a racecar alongside Wally Dallenbach and played one-on-one hoops against one of the best women’s basketball players in the country, getting schooled in the process. You can find stories about the Kournikova and Dallenbach experiences elsewhere on this web site.
My new favorite first-person experience, however, was the one pictured above. In late April 2008, the U.S. Olympic Trials were coming to Charlotte’s National Whitewater Center in canoeing and kayaking. This is one of those sports where you can basically make no money. You scrape by and oftentimes go in the hole. The best U.S. women’s kayaker at the moment worked at the Whitewater Center in the restaurant for much of the past year just to make ends meet.
So why do these folks do it? Apparently, it’s because of the rush. I didn’t really understand, though. I wanted to experience it, and the whitewater folks were nice enough to let me try it for a column for The Observer. Here’s the story that resulted. Thanks, as always, to The Observer (www.charlotte.com) for letting me reprint some of my work on this web site.
'A BASKETBALL STORY'
March 5, 2008
March Madness is upon us. College basketball played at the highest level is about to dominate the next five weeks of my life. A lot of it will be played in Charlotte, which will be awesome.
But I won't enjoy watching those games any more than the ones I've seen in January and February at one of the lowest levels of the sport -- rec league kids' basketball.
I wrote the following story as a gift to my two oldest kids, both of whom just finished their first season of basketball. I am very proud of both of them. I didn't try to make it "publish-able" for The Charlotte Observer -- I wanted to make it longer than a normal column and also to put in a lot of stuff that was important to my kids in particular but not necessarily to thousands of readers at large.
So here's "A Basketball Story" -- the sort you will rarely see in a newspaper, but that I think any parent who has ever watched their child play sports should appreciate a little.
Click here to read 'A Basketball Story'
A HOMEMADE ACC TOURNAMENT
I’ve been neglecting my blog too long – sorry about that. Life seems to get in the way sometimes. But I did take an interesting trip this month that I wanted to tell you about.
Sometimes, an idea for a column takes a couple of years to actually pan out. This was one of those times. With the proximity of the N.C. State, Duke and UNC campuses, I’ve long thought it would be fun to go to an athletic event at all three schools in a single day and write about it for The Charlotte Observer. Once, I nearly did it with football games, but the timing didn’t quite work out.
The three schools play on the same day quite often, but usually at least one of them is out of town. And football wasn’t really the right sport to write this about anyway for this area – basketball dominates at those schools, especially Duke and UNC.
So this year, on Jan.19, all the stars lined up correctly for the story. UNC played at home at 3:30; Duke at 6 and N.C. State at 8. For a bonus, Wake Forest played the next day at 1 p.m.
Charlotte Observer photographer Jeff Siner is one of the most enthusiastic folks in our newsroom, and I knew he’d be excited about this. He was. So we went together to four games in a 24-hour span, and two of the games turned out to be classic. That’s a good batting average – generally, if you see four games, you’re lucky if one is memorable.
In any case, the story that resulted was a lot of fun. It was sort of a homemade ACC basketball tournament – we went to them instead of them coming to us.
Click here to read the story
'AM I A TRAITOROUS BUM?'
This photo was taken early in the Panthers' history, when some Panther fans got angry at Scott about a story he wrote on Kerry Collins. Notice the way the guy spells "credibility." (Photo courtesy of Patrick Schneider)
About this time of year, I often start getting unpopular.
Let me explain. November and December are the months where NFL dreams die for the majority of the league's 32 squads. If August is when hope springs eternal for every NFL fan, these two months are when that hope is often crushed. Only 12 of 32 teams will make the playoffs, and only one will ultimately win the Super Bowl.
The Carolina Panthers have only made the playoffs three times in their 12-year history, and so I've seen them fail nine times around this time of year.
Sometimes, fans try to take me down with the Panthers.
A good many of my readers in The Charlotte Observer's sports section seem to understand that the job of a sports columnist is not to cheerlead for the home team, but to tell the truth about the club. All good reporting is like that. If you're cheerleading, you need to go into public relations, not actual journalism.
In any case, in the digital age The Observer often allows fans to write comments below stories. This gives readers a chance for immediate feedback, which ranges from the thoughtful to the passionate to the downright ugly.
I don't read the comments too often on my stories (although if someone e-mails me directly, I always read it and usually answer). But my dad fortunately pointed out to me the other day that -- after I wrote an article criticizing many aspects of the humdrum Panthers -- he saw a diamond in the rough of this criticism.
The e-mailer in question called me a "bumb." Yes, b-u-m-b. That's really the way he spelled it -- it happened many times, so it wasn't a misprint.
And not just a bumb, but a traitorous bumb. One of the exact quotes from this feedback on charlotte.com was: "Somebody fire this bumb, he is a traitor and has no credability."
Everybody has an opinion, of course, and I may well be a bum. But I really can't be traitorous because my loyalty is not to the Panthers, but to the newspaper, and to telling the truth about the Panthers or whatever else I'm writing about.
The e-mailer's spelling of "credibility" also reminded me of the picture above. This is the only time I've ever had my name on a poster at the Panthers' stadium -- it was sort of cool, even though it wasn't a fan letter.
How did this "Fire Fowler" thing happen? I was covering the Panthers regularly at the time, although I wasn't yet a sports columnist. Kerry Collins, then the team's quarterback, was a young guy who didn't always think before he talked. He spoke out one week about his offensive line's problems and the fact he didn't have an experienced former NFL quarterback as his QB coach.
That was it in a nutshell. I quoted Collins directly in a story -- I had the interview on tape -- but he thought he was taken out of context. He got on a local sports radio station in Charlotte and ripped me a few times. Thus, the sign. (My editors supported me, and I wasn't fired, obviously).
This was long before Collins basically quit on the Panthers -- or, at least Dom Capers let him quit on the Panthers -- in 1998. And it was long before Collins and I made up -- I wrote a very long, involved story on him a few years later, when he was the quarterback for the New York Giants. Now he's a backup QB with the Tennessee Titans.
Given Carolina's many injury problems at QB this year, they would be fortunate to have Kerry at this point. And I still have fond memories of Collins' time here -- I don't mind that he ripped me on the radio at all. If you give out criticism, you must be willing to take it, too.
THOUGHTS ON A BIZARRE PANTHERS GAME
NEW ORLEANS – I just got finished watching in person Carolina’s 16-13 win over New Orleans, which was one of the more bizarre victories I’ve seen the Panthers pull off. David Carr was playing on pain-killers and nerve in the second half, Julius Peppers finally showed up five games into the season with a huge field-goal block and then Carolina got a walkoff 52-yard field goal to win from John Kasay on the last play of the game.
Although outplayed for three quarters, Carolina (3-2) finally showed some heart in this game (Kris Jenkins, their 350-pound gadfly, had called out the team for playing with “no heart” and “no passion” the previous week in the 20-7 loss to Tampa Bay). The Panthers also got some luck thrown in and suddenly they had won one they really should have lost.
Covering a good NFL game never gets old to me – the sound of the stadium, the drama of the final few minutes, the exhilaration and the exhaustion and the depression in the locker rooms afterward.
Kasay is such a clutch kicker for Carolina, which is why he’s the last original Panther remaining from the 1995 team. It is unusual to listen to him describe a moment like that after the game. He honestly believes God decides whether every field goal splits the uprights or misses. He has said before after missing kicks that God didn’t want that field goal to go in – once I even remember him saying a small gust of wind came up just as he kicked to blow the field goal wide. After this one, he said: “By God’s grace and God’s grace alone it went in.”
Now I believe in God and am a Christian, but in my view God doesn’t care about football games and doesn’t determine who wins them. In the NFL, both teams have Christians on them, after all, and both include players who pray before and during games. How would God decide? By comparing which team had the most active churchgoers?
But no one knows for sure, and for Kasay, his beliefs bring him a great calmness in last-second situations.
One other note I found amusing about this game: everyone wonders what is wrong with Julius Peppers. He’s the most talented defensive player the Panthers have ever had, but he has zero sacks – ZERO – in five games. Coach John Fox knows that Peppers has been bothered by this. So, as I wrote for The Charlotte Observer after the New Orleans game, Fox tried a motivational tactic with Peppers.
Before the game, Fox told Peppers that the New York Giants’ Michael Strahan had zero sacks through five games in 2001. That was the year Strahan set the NFL record with 22.5. Fox was the Giants’ defensive coordinator at the time, so he should know. (Peppers made a huge field-goal block Sunday and had two pass bat-downs but remains sackless this season).
One small problem with Fox’s words: Strahan actually had 8.5 sacks after five games, not zero. He had zero in the first two games, but then broke out of that mini-slump bigtime by getting 8.5 in the next three.
It sounded good, though. The best motivational speeches are somewhat short of facts – remember John Belushi’s in “Animal House”? – but still sometimes work.
A SPECIAL STORY,
A SPECIAL YOUNG MAN
If you're a sports reporter in the Carolinas, you really should go to all the big schools at one time or another for a story. I've been to the obvious ones -- Clemson, USC, all the Research Triangle Schools, Appalachian State and so on -- but somehow had never made the 250-mile drive from Charlotte to Greenville, N.C., to East Carolina's campus in 13 years at the newspaper.
I finally rectified that this week with a trip that resulted in one of my favorite stories of the year, about 22-year-old Drew Steele, who has Down syndrome; East Carolina football coach Skip Holtz; Mike Steele, the former ECU basketball coach before he was fired under bad circumstances and the special relationship among that trio. (You can click here to read it).
People often ask me where I get my ideas, and there's no set place, obviously. But I was twice removed from this one and can take no credit for it whatsoever.
My sports editor, Mike Persinger, suggested at the beginning of the summer that I ask for reader feedback on "sports inspirations." I've done this sort of thing before -- I like reader interactivity -- and the result was more than 100 readers writing about the moments in sports that have most inspired them.
We printed some of those in The Observer and many more online. But one seemed to have such a good story behind it, from a reader named Charlie Roakes, that I decided to pursue that one on my own. He told me in his e-mail about Drew Steele, Skip Holtz and their co-hosted golf tournament. I had never heard of any of this, and decided to make the drive to Greenville to explore it.
Because the story happened to run in the middle of a bad spate of sports news -- Michael Vick's dog-fighting, the NBA's crooked referee and so on -- it seemed to strike a nerve. Like most good stories, the best thing to do when you find one as a newspaper writer is just get out of the way and let the story tell itself. And thanks again to Charlie Roakes (I told him the story was coming a little before it made it into the paper, and he was happy about it).
In the meantime, I believe I'm going to adopt Drew Steele's movie-rating system: every movie gets either a 10 or a zero. No in-between. (In his system, movies with a lot of kissing get a zero and a lot of action get a 10 -- a classic male rating system, really).
Drew Steele was on the sideline today in Blacksburg, Va., when Virginia Tech beat ECU by 10. The Pirates turned in a respectable performance on an afternoon that will be long remembered as the day when App. State upset Michigan in Ann Arbor, 34-32.
For me, though, the week before the 2007 Panther season started will always be about the Steele family and coach Holtz.
I’ve been down in Spartanburg for three days early in camp, covering the Carolina Panther training camp for The Observer. I’ve now seen parts of all 13 of the Panthers’ training camps in their history, and they blend in together after awhile. There’s only so much practice you can watch.
Coaches, on the other hand, often love practice. Dean Smith and Skip Prosser were among those who said their favorite time of any day or any season was practice time. Coach John Fox believes more what I do – games are the best part for him.
In any case, from what I’ve seen so far, the Panthers are going to be pretty good. They traded for another safety, they look healthy and the zone-blocking scheme will help. The difference between 6-10 and 12-4 this season for them, though, is the running game and injuries. I’m convinced of that. The injuries they can’t do much about – I don’t think they have very good depth – but the running game they can.
The Panthers were 24th last season in rushing the ball in the NFL, out of 32. If they get that to at least a top-15 running team, then defenses actually buy play-action fakes, Jake Delhomme will look much better, the Panthers will control the clock and they’ll win a lot of games. And I do believe Delhomme will rediscover his mojo this season.
Steve Smith, incidentally, is Superman in all practices. He kills anyone who’s guarding him. No one is better to watch.
One last note: My “Fatherhood” column for The Observer’s “Living” section was fun but has come to an end for now, because of all the work involved in the football season to come. I ended up writing seven of them altogether this summer – you can see them all of them, in chronological order, by clicking here.
July 3, 2007
Hi, everyone. I had to do something this week for the newspaper online site that I thought I might repeat a little of here. It was an update of my "FAQs," or frequently-asked questions. I get a lot of the same ones over and over when I speak to groups in particular, so here are some of those.
Q: How many columns do you write a week for The Charlotte Observer?
A: Usually about four. We have two sports columnists at The Observer - Tom Sorensen is my colleague and good friend. With our editors' help, we split up the big events to cover (Tom usually goes to the Super Bowl and me to the Final Four, for instance, as we both prefer it that way). Some newspapers have "set" days for their columnist to write each week - Tom and I don't. We believe it allows for more flexibility that way.
Q. I thought you were a sports columnist only. Why do I occasionally see something you wrote about being a father in another section of the newspaper or online?
A: In the summer of 2007, I began writing an occasional column for The Charlotte Observer's "Carolina Living" section about fatherhood. That's my most important job, after all. I get a lot of daily practice with our four kids. Those mostly first-person columns about family life and fatherhood are fun. They stretch a different set of writing muscles.
That's much the same reason I occasionally write non-fiction sports books (I've written or co-written 4, all of which can be purchased on this website). But the daily sports column is where my bread is buttered. I love it, and I never plan to leave it either to write books full-time or for another section of the newspaper or whatever. I would miss the sports column too much if I did.
Q: What's the best part of your job?
A: Getting paid to go to great sports events and write about them is a strong second. But for me, the No. 1 best part is sitting down after a really good interview in front of a blank laptop computer screen and starting to write.
Q: What's the worst part?
A: The weird schedule. I've got a saintly wife and four really adaptable kids, which is fortunate. I work a lot of nights and weekends and am out of town around 50-80 nights per year.
Q: What do you like to read?
A: Novelists Pat Conroy, Dennis Lehane, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling; Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith and Rick Reilly; great sports non-fiction books and/or "as-told-to" biographies like those written by Dave Kindred, Gary Pomerantz, Frank Deford and Sally Jenkins; humorist Dave Barry and other sports newspaper columnists like the L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke.
Q: I want to get into sports journalism. What's the best way to go about it?
A: If you're a student in either high school or college, I STRONGLY urge you to get involved on the school newspaper. That will give you more of a sense of whether you would really want to be a journalist for a living. Also, you have to love to write and to read, and you must do a lot of both.
Remember, sports journalism is not just going to games and getting paid to do so. There is a lot of deadline pressure, a lot of last-minute personal adjustments you will have to make, a lot of strange work hours and a lot of tough questions you will have to ask.
Taking courses in journalism is laudable and I also highly recommend that, but you need to do the real work as well. Most school newspapers are always begging for help. Volunteer for one and see if you still like it before making any rash decisions. If you love it after that - if it's really in your blood - e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll talk more about it.
AND BABY MAKES SIX!
June 12, 2007
I know I've been neglecting my blog, guys, but there's really a good reason. You can see her picture on this entry -- that's Georgia Fowler, born last month and turning our world upside down. With three older brothers, she's got plenty of protectors already, and she's actually a great baby. This summer I am trying something new for The Charlotte Observer, given that I'm now a father of four -- a "fatherhood" column for our "Living" section. The first installment ran today on charlotte.com and in the newspaper and can be read by clicking here.
And of course I'm continuing my regular sports column, too -- I know where my bread is ultimately buttered! If you want to read about the collision in October 2005 between a Carolina Panther and a Green Bay Packer that ended one of their careers on "Monday Night Football," click here.
THOUGHTS ON THE PANTHERS DRAFT
April 30, 2007
The Panthers completed their draft this weekend. I thought they had a pretty good one with one glaring exception – they should have found a safety they thought could start right away. Mike Minter is only going to play one more season and the other safety slot, at the moment, will be probably filled by the unknown Nate Salley or the journeyman Deke Cooper.
However, the Panthers did improve themselves in several places.
I hope all of you are getting outside in this beautiful weather. I’m going to be taking a couple of weeks off from the newspaper starting today, but will still be monitoring the e-mail address ScottFowlerBooks@aol.com and you dedicated readers (you know who you are) can reach me there.
A FRANTIC, FUN WEEK
April 9, 2007
Having my job as a sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer isn’t always glamorous. All NFL training-camp practices in August look the same. Working most weekends during a year is no picnic, and thank heavens I have a very flexible wife with all the schedule adjustments we have to make as a matter of course. Much of the newspaper business is about adjusting on the fly.
But getting paid to go to and write about sporting events is pretty great most of the time if you like sports, and this past week was a case in point. In a nine-day span, I’ve covered the Final Four in Atlanta, tennis’ Davis Cup in Winston-Salem and The Masters in Augusta. It’s rare, outside of the Olympics, to see that many athletes who are among the best at their sport in three different sports in a single week.
That’s a lot of miles on the ol’ Honda, but also a front-row look at Joakim Noah, Billy Donovan, Andy Roddick, James Blake, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and so on.
The worst of the bunch? The Final Four. Florida was so good that, for the second year in a row, the Final Four was more of a coronation than a drama. The Gators led the entire second half of the NCAA final in both 2006 and 2007.
And Donovan, incidentally, made the right decision by staying in Gainesville.
The best? Zach Johnson’s unlikely triumph at The Masters. It was a weird Masters – five different guys had the lead on Sunday, it was cold all week and a guy who no one other than big-time golf fans had ever heard of won the thing. But it was good stuff to write about.
It’s been a heckuva week, but I’m a little tired. I’ll be happy to be home and see my family for a while after today. Hope you and yours had a Happy Easter.
WHAT WILL MJ DO TO THE BOBCATS?
March 21, 2007
The most expensive interview I’ve ever been a part of came a few days ago, when Michael Jordan said something he shouldn’t have and cost himself $15,000.
Jordan is an enigma these days. He has “yea or nay” decision-making power on all Charlotte Bobcat decisions, but he rarely shows his face outside the Bobcats offices. He still lives in Chicago and flies in occasionally. He will hire the Bobcats’ next coach in a couple of months – Bernie Bickerstaff will stop being coach/GM after this season. (He will likely stay in some sort of front-office role).
That nugget about Bickerstaff was the major news to come out of this interview session, but not what Jordan was fined for. To set the scene, Jordan was at the head of a conference-room table at Charlotte Bobcats arena with about eight Observer reporters and editors, including head Bobcats writer Rick Bonnell and myself. It was the first interview Jordan had granted to local media in about 10 months.
It was Bonnell’s question only a couple of minutes into the interview – about what sort of qualities Jordan admired in players today – that led to Jordan meandering around and getting himself in trouble. As he talked enthusiastically about the versatility of such current NBA players as Dirk Nowitzki and Tracy McGrady, Jordan started thinking out loud about the 2007 NBA draft. Then he said “the kid in Texas” – i.e., Kevin Durant – seemed to have all the skills necessary to be a special player in the NBA.
Pretty innocuous, really, but the NBA frowns on anything said that might influence an underclassman (Durant is only a freshman) to come out early for the NBA draft. It slapped Jordan with a fine of $15,000 a couple of days later, which is like fining you or me five bucks.
Other things I found interesting in this interview: MJ seemed to think more of Matt Carroll than Adam Morrison. He said there was a “35 percent” chance he would leave the Bobcats, where he’s a minority owner, if a chance came up to buy controlling interest in another NBA team. He’s gained a little weight.
He claimed his time was spent “50 percent on the Bobcats,” with the rest split between his Nike investment and his kids. (Jordan recently got divorced; he didn’t mention his former wife in the interview). He’s charming and candid when he wants to be. And he wore a sports jacket so red that N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe would have loved it.
AN EXTRAORDINARY REUNION
I've heard the Smith Center loud many times. It got a deserved rap back in the early 1990s as a "wine-and-cheese" crowd, courtesy of Florida State guard Sam Cassell, but has rebounded with a vengeance since then due to putting a lot more students in the lower bowl and just a general willingness (probably stoked now by the fiery nature of Roy Williams) to yell more.
Still, I don't think I have ever heard it louder than toward the end of the introductions of the 1982 team a few days ago. In celebration of that team's 25th anniversary -- and the 1957 team's 50th anniversary -- a reunion was held. They held Michael Jordan for the next-to-last introductory spot and then Dean Smith very last.
Those two, back to back, nearly blew the roof off the place. People who were there understood how special the moment was. I don't think the effect came through as well on TV, although I'm sure you could still get the general idea. (I was pleased also that my co-author, Jimmy Black, received a very warm ovation when introduced).
'THE BIGGEST MAN I'VE EVER SEEN'
|UNC Asheville's Kenny George, a redshirt sophomore center, is 7-foot-7 and 365 pounds. Seriously. And he wears size 25 shoes.
When I heard about Kenny George, I had to see him in person. It's not every day you get a chance to see perhaps the largest college basketball player ever. So I drove up to Asheville this past week to check out George.
George is very raw. He can't run at all -- it's more of a shuffle-jog. When UNC Asheville is shooting free throws, coach Eddie Biedenbach moves George away from offensive rebounding position and then puts him all the way back on defense. "So they have to come to him," Biedenbach explained. In George's best game so far this season, be blocked seven shots in 14 minutes.
I covered 7-foot-7 Manute Bol for a few months when I was working for The Miami Herald. Bol was
maybe 200 pounds -- George is more than a Bol-and-a-half. (George's height is accounted for in part by an over-accelerating pituitary gland).
George has a lot of work to do, but I'm rooting for him. He's a shy guy who's never been able to shrink into the background no matter how hard he tries. He told me that his size 25 shoes are actually built "size 28" in terms of their width, whatever that means.
"But I like to just say they're 25s," George said. "That doesn't sound so big and weird."