On Halloween, I was given the opportunity to interview Chicago Bulls great BJ Armstrong. It was, with great honor, that I accepted the opportunity.
He was at a Best Buy, promoting the launch of Windows 7, in partnership with the NBA, Microsoft, and HP. Before he moved on to his meet-and-greet portion, I, and another blogger (Ricky O’Donnell from TremendousUpsidePotential.com) were given fifteen minutes to throw any questions at him that we may have had.
I had sixteen questions lined up for him, but obviously knowing that I was only going to have fifteen minutes, I had to decide which ones would be best to ask. I wish I could have had more time, because I had some good ones that I wanted to ask, but may have come off a bit odd if I asked them as stand-alone questions.
But, I did my best. Ricky and I traded off questions, and this is what came of it:
Ricky : What are you doing with Windows?
BJ Armstrong : I’m here with Windows and HP promoting the new operating system, in conjunction with the NBA. They’re introducing new products and trying to get their product out to the consumer.
Scott : In your job description, it states that you are in charge of preparing all your clients for the [NBA] draft. What exactly does that entail and how is the process different from when you were drafted?
BJ Armstrong : Now, being a sports agent and working in that line [of work] is really preparing these young men for all the challenges they are going to face. It’s not only on the court, but off the court, as well. The players are getting younger and younger, and I’m helping them to understand the challenges they are about to face and some of the pitfalls along the way.
And, not that I know everything, but [I want] to share with them some of my experiences as an ex-athlete. But, more importantly, it’s to give them an opportunity to succeed and give them every chance. All the information that you can help give them to prepare them along the way will actually, for better or for worse, give them an opportunity to recognize some of the things that we can talk about, and answer some of the questions they have. It gives me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with these athletes, to bond with them, and to develop a special relationship prior to them getting to whatever team drafts them.
Scott : And, did you have anybody like that when you got drafted?
BJ Armstrong : I did not. It was a different time. You didn’t hear of athletes at the time going straight from high school to the NBA. You didn’t hear of players going to school for one year and then to the NBA. Most of the guys were, when I was coming up anyways, four-year players in college. Then, you’d have another two years to adjust in the NBA.
Now you’re seeing players going one year in college and they’re thrust right into the spotlight. It was a different time. For every LeBron James that jumps onto the scene, or every Derrick Rose that does really well in year one, you have a lot of others that take time to transition. Those guys are just brilliant in their own way, but a lot of other guys need a little help along the way.
Ricky : When you stopped playing, you worked for ESPN and the Bulls front office. How did you come to be an agent?
BJ Armstrong : In the back of my mind, I always knew I wanted to be in the sports representation business. Being an ex-player, I knew that those were the people I wanted to work with. I knew them and was most comfortable with them. I went to work in the front office with the idea that I wanted to learn the business. I wanted to learn how the business worked. I wanted to see how people got drafted, how players got traded, how they got picked up in free agency, how the salary cap worked, how do you manage an organization, how do you negotiate contracts.
The Bulls gave me an excellent opportunity to answer all the questions that I wanted to ask. All the people behind the scenes that make this run like a smooth operation. It’s a huge business. I played, but I never got a chance to see how the business worked. How the NBA offices and other teams worked. I learned that when I was an assistant General Manager for five years.
Then, I wanted to make one more stop. I wanted to see how the media works. I wanted to see how the game was produced. I wanted to see how the game, as content, was put out there. I wanted to see how the players were managed; how did players get to the interviews. You have so many partners that you work with that make this league what it is. And, once I felt comfortable, I said I have a pretty good grip.
I know the game. I experienced that aspect of it. The game is just one aspect of it. It is working on the off the court things that are just as important as on the court. That’s a part of the business you don’t see many athletes come to understand. This is a big business. The people off the court help the game look as smooth as the game you actually see. It was a great experience at ESPN. I learned a lot about the business, which was a big help for me.
Scott : Back when you were drafted, you were drafted with Stacey King. How often did you rag on him about that last-second shot when you beat his Sooners in the Tournament? [BJ went to Iowa, and in the 1987 Tournament, the Hawkeyes eliminated Stacey King and the Oklahoma Sooners on a last-second shot to make it to the Elite 8].
BJ Armstrong : Stacey is a good friend. We came in here together in ‘89. He was a terrific player. The thing about Stacey, though, is that you can’t out-talk Stacey. He is always going to have a comeback. I’m so happy that he is working with Bulls TV. That job was made for him.
He’s a great friend and he’s done well for himself. We used to always tell him that he needs to work in TV or radio. He was always a chatterbox. He was one of those guys that always made you laugh. That’s the one thing I always remember about Stacey. There was never a dull moment. He made the bus rides fun. He made the locker room fun. He’s just a fun guy. He always had something positive to say and I’m really happy for him.
[After his answer, we were given the dreaded “We’re going to have time for just one more question” line].
Scott : Growing up in Detroit, I’d presume you were a huge Pistons fan. I don’t know if it irked you when the Pistons walked off the court and didn’t shake your hands after the Conference Finals? I’m sure some of those guys were your idols growing up.
BJ Armstrong : I grew up in Detroit. I grew up a Pistons fan. I was a hometown guy across the board. You know, the Pistons, Tigers, Red Wings. But, during that time, for whatever reason, I kind of understood what they were trying to do. It just didn’t come off that way. Their intentions were to not concede that we had beat them during that particular series.
Back then sports was a little different, in the fact that you had a psychological game going on. Now, you see guys coming out being more of friends now because of technology, whether they’re e-mailing, [advancements] in cell phones. You have to remember, when we played, there was a game a week. We didn’t have ESPN and DirecTV. The communication with athletes was a little different.
So, what they were doing, they were trying to hold their psychological advantage over us, and it wasn’t by not acknowledging us, but you just never wanted to concede. But, it didn’t come off that way because of TV. TV saw something you never did.
Scott (kind of butting in) : I just didn’t know if it irked you.
BJ Armstrong : The players weren’t really bothered by it, but it didn’t look well to the fans. That was my moment in TV where I was glad I was on the other side.
Ricky : One last quick question. What did you think of MJ’s Hall of Fame speech?
BJ Armstrong : For all of us that knew him, and know him, that was him. That’s who he was. What I mean by that was Michael is a very, very competitive person. With him, I always respected that the light was always on. He never turned it off as a player. He always had something to play for. He always had a motivation. He always had a reason for what he was doing. He was never reckless with it. That’s who he was. I think what he was trying to do was give you a glimpse of what made him great.
Ricky : It seemed to be polarizing.
BJ Armstrong : The problem is that you saw it in a fifteen-minute speech, but you didn’t get the other 47 years or however old he is. You didn’t get that part. Michael was trying to give you a glimpse of why he was great. It wasn’t the fame, it wasn’t the money; it wasn’t to be the best player.
He just wanted to always be the best in that particular moment, right then, right there, right now. Those moments were moments for him to show you that it was you versus him. He tried to give you that in the speech. I understood what he was trying to do.
But, at the same time, to the people that were there, it came off a little…But, I will say this about him, that’s what made him great. I wouldn’t change anything about him. In an era now where you have so many distractions, the man was brilliant at always bringing his focus to the game. And, I think that’s the thing that I learned from him, and tried to take away.
Even in his speech, he was trying to give you key moments that brought him to that point. Whether it be in high school when he got cut, or in college when coach Smith didn’t put him on the cover [of a Sports Illustrated issue with other UNC players on the cover], or whatever happened in the NBA, he was always present in the moment.
BJ was an incredibly nice, genuine person. He was extremely personable, and made it easy to interview him. He mentioned something afterwards that rings true for him. He had said that he tells all of his players to respect the media. And, I don’t begin to pretend that I’m a part of the mainstream media, but BJ definitely treated me and Ricky as if we were writing for a major publication. It was a great moment in my life to interview someone that I had grown up watching, and rooting for.
And, of course, I mentioned to him that I’d love him to allow me the opportunity to interview Derrick Rose. You might as well try, right?
BJ went on to take pictures with the fans that were waiting for him, and to sign autographs for those that brought memorabilia for him to sign. I saw old pictures, sports cards, basketballs, hats, jerseys, and even some shoes (not sure what shoes they were having him sign, seeing as how he never had his own, but whatever works). It was a successful event, and I was happy to have been a part of it.
On a separate note, I have posted this article, with pictures, on my new website. chicagosportsinterviews.com . Visit the site and see (or post) any interviews that are going on with Chicago sports teams.