Someone recently asked about interviewing athletes and I mentioned I had a decent list of Hall of Famers I have interviewed. Only one Hall of Famer ever left me star-struck.
HOFers that were no problem:
Robin Yount. Was early in my time doing sports so I was way too immature to know enough to be freaked out. I was just a fan with a press pass and he was just a dude who seemed relieved that he wasn’t talking to a veteran reporter asking stock questions and expecting stock answers. By pure happenstance, I knew the area where he raced dirt bikes when he was a kid in East Central IL. It was probably a 10-minute conversation but it felt like forever and I was never nervous or searched for something to say.
Joe Montana. I was at the radio station and someone sent me an “Interview Joe Montana” email…you just have to talk about his book about high blood pressure somewhere in the interview. It was in some suite at the Pfister and my younger brother went with me. Perry was doing business with a guy in KC and was going to get Joe’s autograph on a Chiefs away jersey. My bro and I were just talking shit and laughing pretty hard when Joe walked in, and he just smiled and looked like he knew this would be a decent 20 minutes. He was gracious, funny, professional, and WAY bigger than you think he is.
Randy Couture. I got lucky with this one because MMA was kinda still in its infancy compared to what it is today. Guys as huge as Couture were begging to be interviewed. He was a real laid-back guy and he knew I could at least hold my own discussing his sport. My older brother was into MMA and was a fan from the jump. He knew EVERYTHING there was to know about the huge names. Then I really caught RC’s respect when I named dropped Ben Rothwell…who was like 20-something years old and a total newcomer into MMA that no one knew anything about at that time. But Big Ben also happened to be Pete’s son-in-law’s, good buddy from Central High School so I knew he was at least a player in the game. Again, pure happenstance wins the day.
Michael Jordan: Thanks to the great Ed Doody from WLIP I got a press pass for a Jordan home game post-baseball break. (Un)Fortunately, I also had suite seats for business that night and that was where my wife was. The first thing I saw when I walked into the hospitality room was Tom Heinsohn and Bob Cousy eating supper…I shit you not…those two along with play-by-play man Mike Gorman were doing the game for the Celtics. I spent the 1st half on press row and the 2nd half in the suite with my business friends and my wife. I left with about 2 minutes to go to head down to the special room they had just for Jordan. I was running behind. As I hustled to get to the room where everyone was waiting for his Airness, I was kinda joined by another dude running equally as late. Happenstance strikes again because as we walk past the Bulls clubhouse doors, Jordan and his people walk out and head to that room. By the time we reached that room, the other dude had asked two questions to MJ directly, as had I. I had no time to think about freaking out. And because I had that raw copy, I turned around and left to go find my wife and never even sat through his post-game press conference, ha!
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. THE King. The Sky King was doing a relatively recent book tour to promote his book “Being Kareem” and it wasn’t hard to get access to the press event at the Milwaukee Something Something Arts Center…no offense, I just never remember what it is called these days. We were told he’d be there at like 6 and he didn’t show up til after 7. No worries, it was fun watching those Milwaukee sports “personalities” think they are something special. And the upside was, for our waiting time, everyone was given a signed copy of his book so that was well worth the extra hour of wait for me. I got my one question with audio and video and I was absolutely the last one to go so I had plenty of time to watch what others did…hear what others said…and watch how he reacted. When he got to me, there was no reason for concern. He was as professional and as polished as you would expect him to be.
The one HOFer where I was a wreck:
Joan Jett. Different HOF but man was I star-struck. Felt sick to my stomach when her manager, the very cool Kenny Laguna said (in the most NY accent you ever heard), “Joanie, this is Pat from the radio station”. Kenny is an old sod in the business, played some keyboards with Tommy James and the Shondells (which is why Crimson and Clover is JJ’s biggest hit ever)….a man that has been around the music industry forever. And Kenny came on the Saturday show on LIP to promote Joan Jet coming to the Racine Festival Grounds. Kenny set me up with 2 backstage passes so I took my old stoner buddy Larry, who was a singer in multiple bands down in Waukegan in the 60s. When we got in and Kenny called her over, Larry was immediately stepping back and I was equally kinda losin my shit a little. Joan Jett is smaller than you can possibly imagine. She had her stage makeup on and she literally looked like a doll. It was the middle of the summer… there was leather and skin and ink everywhere! After really kinda fumbling the initial ice breaker…something about “being back in the Midwest”…a terrible effort, I rebounded with my thanks to her manager for setting this up which she had no problem commenting on…he’s been her manager since almost Day 1. Then I remembered a SI article that mentioned what a huge Baltimore Oriole fan she was. I won’t say it was a perfect conversation, but considering how absolutely star-struck I was, I think it went OK. Watching her show backstage…with the pressure off…was fantastic. I can say without hesitation, the only Hall of Famer to ever make me nervous was the great Joan Jett.