In my interview with well known and extremely well respected journalist Sam Smith. I wanted to find out more about the man that wrote one of the most interesting and controversial books in sports, The Jordan Rules.
Most people know Sam from his time with the Chicago Tribune or more recently with the Chicago Bulls website Bulls.com, however there is much more to know about this best selling, baseball playing married father of two that still loves his 50's rock and roll.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Sam Smith dreamed of one thing, playing professional baseball for the New York Yankees. Sam recalls his excitement of winning a city championship as a pitcher, however as if that wasn't enough it would be followed by an invitation to try out for his beloved Yankees at the age of 16.
Unfortunately for Sam, but fortunately for us, he didn't make the team. While he was always impressed by the sports writing of the New York tabloids, his parents would often condemn him for reading them from the back to the front, as at that time the sports section was always in the back of the paper. While Sam confesses that he was always a better baseball player than writer, he had dreams of being a sports writer. Unfortunately his parents weren't very supportive of this.
Much like LeBron recently took his talents to South Beach, Sam took his baseball skills to Pace University in New York where he played in Division II. It was also while at Pace University where Sam tried his hand at writing for the school newspaper which went well for him.
Along with some support from a journalism professor Sam knew he had to make some money, and the degree that he had earned in accounting certainly wasn't going to open any doors in journalism. It was at this time that Sam decided to get his masters degree in journalism at Ball State University. It is reported that Sam was once let go from a position for writing positive comments about the Black Panthers in the 70's, however he responded laughing by saying “I know it sounds good, but someone must have put it in there as a joke. It isn’t true.”
Later during the early 90's while covering the Chicago Bulls, Sam became the center of attention due to his best selling book “The Jordan Rules.” I asked Sam why he chose to write about Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the controversial way that he did, to which he responded “I had been travelling with the team and knew there was another story, a side to the Bulls and Jordan which you couldn’t get across in a newspaper. I wanted to try to see if I could write a book. I was always influenced by David Halberstam’s work, and wanted to see if I could do something like that.
I got lucky as the Bulls went on to win the title that season. You always love your first time. For me it was the '91 championship team, which I covered from pretty much their birth and saw them succeed. They had a young and powerful Jordan, Pippen and Grant and veteran All Star center in Cartwright and at the end of that season were to me the best Bulls team.”
Once quoted as calling Kevin Garnett a punk, Sam was quick to acknowledge that and if he would take KG now by saying “I have long admired his game. I would still take Garnett and apologize if I gave a wrong impression.”
Sam lists his favourite places to eat in Chicago as Manny's Deli, Malnati's Pizza and Joe's Stone Crab Seafood. When asked about what he listens to musically he said “I’m not that much into music. I primarily listen to rock and roll from the 50’s and 60’s still.”
I was interested in knowing more about Sam on a personal level and he obliged. “I’m a family man with two children, a son, 21, in college and a daughter, 10, adopted from China. My wife and I felt we wanted to do something to help someone and adopted a girl who’d been abandoned at birth and had a cleft palate which wouldn’t be repaired. She is doing wonderfully as is my son. I mostly spend time with them when I am not working. My son and I take annual trips in the summer for a week or two to watch baseball games at different stadiums around the U.S. and then go to historical sites. He’s away at school and in the winter I spend time with my daughter playing with her as much as my energy and job allows.”
Sam lends himself, and his email inbox, to the fans these days through his work with the Chicago Bulls organisation. His weekly mailbag titled “Ask Sam” suggests fans do just that, and so I took the opportunity to ask Sam what he gets asked about the most. “It’s usually the latest trade, and now Carmelo Anthony. I’ve always felt everyone’s opinion is important in that it’s worth hearing. I long have felt too many journalists look down on their audience. I feel everyone’s question deserves an answer, and I read every email and try to answer as many as I can. I get maybe 50 a day and many more when there is something going on like free agency.”
When asked about David Stern and the NBA's recent changes to the technical foul rules, Sam replied “I like it as I feel the players, especially the stars, got into too much overreacting and reacting. It carried over to the fans who began to look more at the referee calls for the outcome of the game, than the game. It’s all about the game and players should understand that best.”
In closing I asked Sam two more questions. What do the Bulls need to do to be considered a legitimate championship contender, and if you're picking your ideal starting five from current players who would make the team? He suggested “another high level scorer from the perimeter, and some more experience for Rose and Noah.”
With regards to his ideal starting five he said “Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose.”
I thank Sam Smith from the Chicago Bulls very much for his time, and for allowing me to share a side of him that most of his fans and readers wouldn't know about. It was a very special honor for me to be able to speak with Sam, and I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did writing it.
As always you can find me on Twitter @AUBullsFan and through my writing at bleacherreport.com and starting5.com.au.
You can follow Sam Smith on Twitter @SamSmithHoops and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can also read his articles and watch his video updates at bulls.com.