clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Q&A With Jackie MacMullan

New, comments

Jackie MacMullan recently wrote a book on Larry and Magic called "When The Game Was Ours."  Go buy the book.  Seriously, what are you waiting for?  Go get it now.  Do I have to explain why?  MacMullan.  Larry.  Magic.  Enough said.

Me, I'm special because I have a blog and her publishers sent me a book for free (I'm obligated to tell you this).  That said, I was also given an opportunity to exchange questions with Jackie herself.  Considering that she's my favorite Celtics writer ever, it was an honor.  So without further ado, here you go.

1. You already wrote a book on Larry and Magic ("Magic & Bird: Basketball's Awed Couple") and another one on Larry Bird ("Bird Watching") - what was it that made you want to write another book on Larry and Magic? What made them want to tell their story now?

Actually, the first book you referenced was never published. It was supposed to be a coffee table book chronicling Larry and Magic's intersecting careers in pictures. I was hired to write about 30,000 words to accompany the photos, but after doing a bit of research it became obvious there was so much more to their relationship and rivalry. The project fell through, the coffee table book never materialized, and it was the best thing that could have ever happened, because it spawned "When the Game Was Ours'' some years later.

2. You were the first female winner of the Basketball Hall of Fame's Curt Gowdy Media Award. You overcame Red's hesitancy to let women in the locker room to eventually develop a great relationship with him. You project a sense of humility, but at the same time you must have a tremendous amount of self confidence and passion to do what you've done. Do you think you needed a little extra drive to be a woman in a (traditionally) man's profession? Any advice for the young women out there trying to break into the business?

Back in the early eighties when I first started in this business, it was much more difficult to be a female sports journalist. There just weren't very many of us, and most of the time I was the only women at whatever event I was covering. As a result, we were all on a learning curve - the journalists, the coaches, the players, the editors, everyone. I had my share of horror stories like any female journalist from that era, but for the most part I was fortunate that both the athletes I covered and the competing journalists I worked alongside were very respectful and willing to give me a chance. And that's all any of us asked - was as chance to prove ourselves. The Celtics, in particular, were very welcoming. Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge....they set the tone and the others followed. Each of those guys were willing to judge me on my own merit, and I will always be grateful to every one of them for that. As for advice for today's young women, just be yourself. Be professional, stick to business and you will be fine. Thankfully, I can't remember the last event I covered where I was the only woman. Those days are over.

3. Rajon Rondo seems like a real hard guy to get to know. He's very guarded and weighs his words carefully. He's also (apparently) incredibly stubborn and amazingly intelligent. In that way he seems to be a bit like Larry Bird. None of this would have been readily apparent to me until April of last year when I read your article on him and felt like I finally "got" him as much as you can "get" a person that you've never met and likely won't have much interaction with. Describe the process you take to understand and write about a player that is so hard to get a read on (be it Larry, Rajon, or whomever).

The biggest challenge in our business today is to develop a relationship with an athlete and get them comfortable enough to open up and share something about themselves. We have less access than ever and it's hard to establish the right environment to get these guys to relax. I don't know why I've had success having athletes opening up to me. Maybe it's because I keep it conversational. I don't write my questions down and read them off a sheet. I just talk to them and let the interview go where it's going to go. The worst thing you can do is have a pre-conceived idea of what you want to write about and stubbornly stick to that even if it's not evolving. You have to be willing to change direction on a dime. The best stories happen that way.

4. When someone sits down to write the book on Paul Pierce's life, I assume there will be chapters on maturity and redemption. There will be themes of toughness, sacrifice, and hard work. But do you see some elements of his legacy that are being overlooked or forgotten about? What would you want to emphasize if you were writing that book (please write that book!)?

If I was writing a book about Paul Pierce, it would center on how he evolved from a young, stubborn kid from LA to a legitimate Hall of Famer and NBA Finals MVP. Of all the athletes I've covered, I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone turn it around the way Paul did. I have great respect for his willingness to discuss his shortcomings and to actually try to do something about them. He's still flawed - aren't we all? - but he's come such a long way. So much of all of us stems from our backgrounds and life experiences when we were young. There's a lot of Paul's life story that hasn't really been told yet. He would be a fascinating subject for a book. Maybe some day....

5. Getting back to the 80's, the decade was dominated by the Celtics and Lakers, but there were over 20 other teams in the league and there were lots of great stories and great players that are largely overlooked and overshadowed by The Rivalry. Who were your favorite players, teams, and themes from the 80's that don't get enough air time?

The Celtics and Lakers certainly did dominate the eighties, so it's easy to forget about the great Portland teams of that era, which could never quite get over the hump. I was totally fascinated by the Detroit Pistons during that time, because they were such an interesting group of players. I got to know them quite well. In fact, guys like Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas were very valuable league sources for me. Both of them have gotten a bit of a raw deal in history, if you ask me (I realize this is not a popular opinion in these parts, but it's true). I always thought Philly would win at least one title with Charles Barkley, but Andrew Toney's injury probably took care of that. He was amazing when he was healthy. Barkley and Patrick Ewing come to mind as two guys that should have won a ring, but didn't. The one guy I always rooted for to win one was Buck Williams, because he played so hard and handled himself so professionally, but he was stuck in New Jersey for the prime of his career.

Some quick one liner questions (because I'm starting to ramble and this is your interview, not mine)

6. Kevin Garnett: Crazy like a fox or certifiable loon?

Kevin Garnett is a very complex man. He's extremely dedicated, focused and intense, and sometimes the combination of those traits puts him over the top in terms of his behavior. He's also fiercely loyal, an amazing teammate if you are on the same page with him, a problem for you if he's not. He was burned when he was young by a racial incident in his hometown that has made him distrustful of others. It's too bad, because the public wants to embrace him, but he reveals little of himself. I can't say I blame him. I would love to see the KG that Shaq and Ray and Paul talk about; a witty, friendly, silly guy. I've only seem glimpses of that, but I know it's in there.

7. Kevin McHale: Most quotable? Any favorites?

Kevin McHale will go down as one of my all-time favorite athletes. He was incredibly talented and worked very very hard, but never seemed to get credit for that. He was the closest I've seen to a completely well-rounded professional athlete. His craft was very important to him, but he could always put it in perspective. He was a true family man as well. When he was struggling at the end of his career with injuries, his friend and former teammate Chris Ford was the coach. In one of Boston's playoff games, Ford went with younger players down the stretch. McHale very uncharacteristically criticized him for that. We were all pretty stunned. The next day McHale called all the beat writers together and made a public apology, admitting he was frustrated, but he was wrong to question Ford. He was sincerely regretful, and it was just great to see him do the right thing. Players could learn from him.

8. Kevin Gamble: I just wanted to keep the Kevin theme going. Any favorite players that don't have their number retired?

Kevin Gamble was a nice kid, but I remember most about him was one night he played 18 minutes in a game and had 0's across the stat line. I mean all the way across: 0 shots, 0 rebounds, 0 free throws, 0 points, 0 assists, 0 fouls, 0 turnovers. I couldn't believe he could play 18 minutes and not register something. Amazing.

9. Are there any similarities between Doc's coaching style and what Red would do? How about Danny and Red the GM?

Doc is harder on his players than Red was, but both of them understood the psyche of a player. They treated them like adults and gave them the chance to control their own destiny. Each of them recognized how proud (and how sensitive) these players are. Red was more arrogant than Doc; he flaunted his team's success. I can't picture Doc lighting up a cigar on the bench before the game was even over. I can't picture him charging the court after a referee either, although he'd probably like to do that. So maybe Doc had more self control than Red, too.

10. Open ended question: Any thoughts or favorite memories or special messages you have for Celtics fans in general?

I've always said the Celtics fans are the smartest in the league. They know the rules, the strengths (and weaknesses) of the opposing players, things like that. When I used to travel to all the other NBA cities, if there was a bad call, you'd hear fans yell, "ref, you suck!" In Boston, you'd hear, "Hey Ronnie Garretson! You blew that call big-time. You'll never be as good a ref as your old man was!" Now that's a knowledgeable fan.