Marv Albert at 71: I’m better now than I’ve ever been

It was my turn on the teleconference, and I asked Marv Albert how he felt about passing the big 7-0-mark in age in 2011 and whether he had any intention to slow down.

Albert, now 71, answered the question, and I didn’t think much about it.

However, the following day, I received word that Albert wanted to talk to me. A few minutes later, he was on the line.

“I didn’t feel like I gave you a very good answer to your question,” Albert said. “Your question caught off guard. I really haven’t been asked about it.”

Indeed, turning 70 isn’t news in this business anymore. It is just a speed bump for broadcasters and analysts these days. The landscape is jammed with guys who have blitzed past the notion of retirement age. Brent Musburger is 73; Verne Lundquist is 72. And heck, they’re just kids compared to Vin Scully, who turns 85 this month.

“The most important thing is that 70 is the new 68,” Albert joked.

Last week, he kicked off another NBA season on TNT, continuing a run that began in 1967 when at age 26 he became the voice of the Knicks.

With a bit more time to think about my question, here’s what Albert had to say:

“I feel I’m better now than I ever have been. You learn so much as you’re doing it. I’m watching tapes and I’ll see things that get me annoyed and where I know I can improve. I understand better letting the crowd play more. I’ve always said it was important for me who I was working with, because I like to kid around a lot. But I’ve also learned to use my partner better.

“I love what I’m doing. As long as I can stay at the same standard, there’s no reason to stop. It feels pretty good.”

Albert says he has cut back a bit in recent years, but it’s still a busy schedule. He calls an NFL game for CBS on Sundays; he was at Baltimore-Cincinnati Sunday. He has his basketball duties for TNT, and he picks up the NCAA basketball tournament for CBS and TNT in March, which has emerged as a favorite assignment.

The key for Albert?

“I still enjoy the preparation,” Albert said. “I look forward to getting ready to call a game.”

The real workhorse in the Albert family now is his son, Kenny. He does baseball and the NFL for Fox Sports; the Rangers games for MSG, along with other assignments.

“I ask my son, Kenny, ‘Why are you doing all this?'” Albert said. “And then I say, I did the same thing. You want to do everything.”

The new NBA season brings Albert back to his roots with the Nets moving to Brooklyn. He grew up in Brooklyn watching the Dodgers. He wrote a first-person piece in the New York Times last week.

In our interview, he talked about Brooklyn, the Nets and the impact on basketball in New York.

“It goes back to the Dodgers. It’s a very unique place. It’s very New York. I remember playing stick ball. The neighborhoods are unique. Coney Island. Brighton Beach, where I come from, playing roller hockey in the streets, taking the subway to go to Ebbetts Field.

“I don’t know if a large number of Knick fans will change to Net fans. I think the Nets will be a smash hit with the new arena. But you have to win. If they aren’t a winning team right away, that’ll be tough. They know that, which is the reason why they made the moves they did.”

Coming Friday: Albert in the latest edition of My First Job. Recreating minor league baseball games and sharing stage with Chubby Checker.





Brooklyn Nets star in new behind-the-scenes series on NBA TV

If I was a player, coach, owner or GM, I’m not sure I’d want my team to be part of an all-access show. I’d find it too intrusive.

Fortunately, there are plenty of teams who do want to participate, especially those that need publicity. Next up: The new Brooklyn Nets.

They star in NBA TV’s new edition of The Association. It premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

Here’s the trailer.

Brooklyn could use all the hype it can get as the team settles into its new home. And it’ll be about Brooklyn as much as the team. The first episode includes Brooklyn native, actress Rosie Perez, taking Joe Johnson around the borough.

Perez said:

“I just loved how people were so real with him. Even myself. I said, ‘My goodness, you talk slow as hell.’ He said, ‘Yeah, you just say whatever comes to your mind.’ And I go, ‘Welcome to Brooklyn…get used to it!'”

Last week, Nets GM Billy King and center Brook Lopez addressed the show during a teleconference. Here are some of the excerpts.

King on the opportunity to participate in the show: “It’s a great opportunity for the city and organization as we move into Brooklyn. It will be a great chance for our players and organization to really display what it takes to try and build a winner. To me, it will be a great time for the organization as well as the people of Brooklyn to be able to unveil Brooklyn to the world.”

King on whether he had any concerns about the access: “There really wasn’t any concerns on my part. If this was a young team, I probably would not have wanted to do that. I’m not worried about anything where our players or organization will come out looking bad.”

King on whether he discussed the show with the players: “I didn’t really talk to the players when we first discussed it. The NBA has done a great job of producing the show so the players all get to see it. In regards to the publicity, it’s gone above and beyond what any of us thought. It’s been a great launch.”

King on whether or not there were restrictions placed on the camera and crews: “No. They’ll be in the locker rooms. They get to travel with us. They’ve sort of blended in. The cameras have not distracted them one bit.”

Lopez on participating and having cameras around: “I’ve never really been a part of something quite like this before. It’s a bit of a change….they [production crew] handle themselves very well.”

Lopez on his perception of the change in energy and the mood of the team since relocating to Brooklyn:  “It’s only mere miles but the mentality is completely different.  We are in the city now and have to deal with a lot more media, but the people in Brooklyn have been so welcoming.  The city has a huge sports fan base and is excited to have us.  It has really been noticeable in practice, just the level of competition every day.  I am getting beat up daily by guys like Reggie [Evans] and Andray [Blatche].





School daze: Long-time USA Today sportswriter makes transition to high school English teacher

The first day of school also marks the first day for scores of new teachers throughout the country.

However, only one of them is a 57-year-old who had a 30-plus year as a distinguished sportswriter at USA Today.

What in the world are you doing, Steve Wieberg?

“I’m terrified,” Wieberg said on the eve of his new life as a high school English teacher. “I feel like I’ve been dropped out of a helicopter right into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.”

The new media landscape has seen many long-time sportswriters transition into new roles in life. Fortunately, Wieberg is making this lifestyle change out of choice and not because he lost his job due to newspaper cutbacks, as has been the case with so many others in the profession.

Wieberg was one of the most respected members of our fraternity, noted for his solid and reasoned coverage of college sports. He covered 29 straight Final Fours and 15 NCAA Conventions.

The grind, though, was taking its toll of Wieberg. He was getting tired of phone calls at 6:30 in the evening, telling him to take the next plane to Dallas or somewhere else.

I definitely can relate. It was one of the reasons why I left the Chicago Tribune in 2008.

“Your life is subject to the whims of breaking news,” Wieberg said. “You get a phone call and you’re off and running. That’s the job. I’m not quarreling with it. But I thought I had lost the balance between work and life in the last couple of years, and it only was going to skew further in that direction.”

Wieberg is referring to a major restructuring of the USA Today sports group, which is putting an increased emphasis on breaking news and setting the agenda. He said he was asked to be part of the investigative and enterprise team.

Wieberg, though, already had made up his mind. He was ready to walk away from the only career he had ever known.


Wieberg always enjoyed working with kids as a long-time coach for his son’s various teams. Last year, he did some substitute teaching.

“When I got through the Final Four, I decided I wanted to do something different,” Wieberg said.

Wieberg accepted a full-time position at Lawson (Mo.) High School. Despite working for the large circulation USA Today, he always maintained his small-town roots. Lawson, located 35 miles from Kansas City, has 2,400 people. And Wieberg says most of them know he is in a panic about his new job.

“I’ve become known as the town’s basket case,” Wieberg said.

Wieberg said he lost the “romantic notion” of teaching almost immediately once he began to digest all the material he had to teach.

“I won’t be uncomfortable standing in front of a classroom,” Wieberg said. “I will be uncomfortable if I can’t get through 50 minutes of a class. I’m telling the students that this will be the most collaborative class they’ve ever had. They’re going to help me get through this.”

I told Wieberg not to worry. He’s a pro’s pro and that will carry over from journalist to being a teacher.

Besides, putting up with Bob Knight all those years should make Wieberg well prepared for dealing with any obnoxious kids.

My words didn’t calm Wieberg’s nerves.

“School starts tomorrow,” Wieberg said. “I just want to make it through this week and then go from there.”


Steve, here are a couple of tips. Show your students this post and the Chronicle of Higher Education story about your move. Name another teacher at Lawson High who is getting this kind of press. They should be impressed.

And if things get derailed in the classroom, just entertain them with stories about Knight.




My first job: Bob Ryan covers Celtics for Boston Globe at 23: Intern class of ’68 included Gammons

Bob Ryan is hanging it up as a regular columnist for the Boston Globe after the Olympics. It’s been a great run. Ryan has been a distinctive voice in the Northeast for more than three decades.

I remember a long night at Runyon’s in New York with Ryan, Malcolm Moran of the New York Times and Jackie MacMullan of the Boston Globe. Moran had a train to catch to get back home, but thanks to Ryan, the conversation was so lively, Moran kept saying, “I’ll catch the next one.” Not sure if he ever made it home.

In honor of Ryan’s last columns for the Globe, it seems fitting to look back at how it all started. I had a chance to talk to him a few years back for a project about sportswriters.

It turns out Ryan didn’t have to wait long to get the plum assignment that eventually defined his career.

Here’s Ryan:


My real beginning is that I always was interested in the idea of the newspaper being the validation of a sporting event.

I grew up in Trenton, N.J. It was a very good sports town. It was a big high school basketball town. My father was involved in sports. He was a promoter and publicity man-type. He was an assistant AD at Villanova. My whole orientation was sports.

I liked to read too. If we went to a high school basketball game, I didn’t think it was validated until I read about it the next day. It’s just the way my mind worked. From (a young age) I was interested in newspapers.

I started as a summer intern at the Boston Globe on June 10, 1968. There was this other guy named Peter Gammons. That’s when we met.

As an intern, I did sidebar stories at the ballpark, feature stories on off beat stuff. Boston had a soccer team in the North American Soccer League. Dick Walsh was the new commissioner. He had been a longtime baseball executive. He comes to Boston on a publicity tour and is available for an interview. Who do they send? The lowest man on the totem pole. Me. He laughed about it. He said, “This is what I’ve become.”

(Eventually), they brought me back as an office boy with a verbal promise that I would get the next opening. I got married in May, ’69. I was making the princely sum of $72.50 per week. My wife was teaching school.

By October, the sports editor came up to me and said, ‘You probably thought I forgot all about you.’ The guy who had been covering the Celtics left. That created an opening.

The next night on a Friday, I was covering the home opener for the Celtics against the Cincinnati Royals and their new head coach, Bob Cousy. It was the first year of the post-Russell era. Tom Heinsohn was a rookie coach, and I was the rookie beat man.

Despite all their titles, the Celtics still were on the backburner in Boston compared to Bruins. I did mostly home games. We didn’t travel much.

I was 23. I was exactly the same age as the rookies and not that much younger than the key guys. They took me under their wing. It was a tremendous thrill.

There was a whole different set of circumstances when it came to access. We had almost unlimited access. You could come in and go to practice. You could hang out and sit in the locker room and shoot the breeze for an hour. You’d hang out after practice. You might even go have lunch with them.

I knew how to write, I thought, but I needed to learn the NBA. Nobody taught me a thing about how to cover a team. You have to figure that out yourself.

Heinsohn thought it was to his benefit to fill my head with what he wanted me to know, and it was my benefit to listen. I spent many hours hanging out with him. I got a crash course in learning the NBA.

I know during the first year all kinds of stuff went on. Until this day I have no idea what happened. Later on, I would know automatically, but back then I didn’t have a clue.

I became the beat man in 69-70. It was the first of seven years on the beat. I wound up doing it three different times.

Tommy Boswell once told me when you’re talking about spreading your wings, never be shy about having an expertise in something.

I got two titles out of that run and three in the Bird years. I’ve done many things, but people always identify me with the Celtics. I’m proud of that.





Gottlieb on leaving ESPN for CBS: Need to step out of nest and see if wings work

Sean McManus as the Godfather? Not exactly the Marlon Brando type.

But the CBS Sports chairman did make Doug Gottlieb an offer he ultimately couldn’t refuse.

“Sean said, ‘This is what I want to do and I want you to be a part of it,'” Gottlieb said Tuesday afternoon. “It wasn’t just tempting. It was an honor.”

McManus and CBS lured Gottlieb away from ESPN with a package that includes his own 3-6 p.m. (ET) radio show. The network debuts on Jan. 2.

He got other terrific goodies, such as working the NCAA tournament and Final Four as a game and studio analyst for CBS. Gottlieb also is going to host a show on the CBS Sports Network.

All in all, it is an excellent deal with a myriad of opportunities. Yet when I chatted with Gottlieb Tuesday, he definitely had conflicting emotions about leaving ESPN, his home for the last nine years.

“At some point you have to step out of the nest and see if the wings work,” Gottlieb said.

Here’s my Q/A.

What made you decide to go to CBS?

I wasn’t looking for another job. I wanted to make a little more money. ESPN made an incredible offer.

CBS then came in and said, ‘What if you could do your radio show from California (where he was raised and still has family)? What if you could be done by 3 in the afternoon (to allow him to get home to spend time with his three young kids)? What if you come back at 7:30 to do your own TV show? And what if we throw out the golden carrot of NCAA basketball?

I was very torn. ESPN helped create me. I’m very loyal. But all the stars aligned for me to go back to Orange County.

How much did getting a chance to work the NCAA tournament sway you?

I consider the tournament the holy grail. Whether it is sweeping the floor or calling a game. Whatever they want me to do.

I’m not looking to replace anyone. I’m just going to be added to the mix. I think I bring something different to the table.

How does it feel to be a cornerstone of CBS’ new sports radio network?

It feels great. A substantial number of people know my radio style. I’m very coachable, but I know what works in sports radio.

ESPN is a juggernaut. I respect that. I don’t expect it to be easy. But CBS and Cumulus Media have a good plan.

What is the plan for the TV show?

They asked me not to give out the details. It’ll be all sports. I’m not going to try to out-ESPN. The show should be unique and fun.

Much like Jim Rome, you’re leaving the biggest sports network for a network that barely is on people’s radar. How will it feel playing to much a smaller audience?

I asked people (who left ESPN) what it was like to go to a smaller network. They’ve had success going somewhere else.

Listen, I love to work. I love to talk about sports. One thing I pride myself in is that I put everything into it. I don’t care if five people are watching. They’re going to get a good show.





Illinois fans might boycott; ESPN adds Pearl to GameDay

I know some of my fellow Illinois fans likely will tune out ESPN’s College GameDay show for basketball this year. The network just hired Bruce Pearl to be one of its analysts.

Even though it’s been more than 20 years, the folks in Champaign haven’t forgotten how Pearl got the Illini in major hot water with the NCAA. Then an assistant coach at Iowa, he accused Illinois of offering $80,000 and a Chevy Blazer to sign Chicago high school star Deon Thomas. The NCAA never found Illinois guilty of the charge, but it still slammed the program with penalties.

I covered the messy story for the Chicago Tribune, and it was one of the more interesting years of my career.

Much has happened since then. Pearl went on to have considerable success before he ran into his own NCAA problems at Tennessee. Now he has found refuge at ESPN.

All I can say is the bitterness over Pearl still runs deep at my former school. If I’m ESPN, probably not a good idea to do a College GameDay live from Champaign if Pearl is on the panel.

From the release:

Former college basketball coaches Bruce Pearl and Seth Greenberg have joined ESPN as men’s college basketball analysts and ESPN’s Jalen Rose will be added to the college basketball commentator team, it was announced today by Mark Gross, ESPN Senior Vice President and Executive Producer, Production. Pearl and Greenberg will each serve as studio analysts throughout the season and will call select games from various conferences. Rose will be a featured analyst on the weekly College GameDay as well as other college basketball studio programming, and will work as a game analyst for a series of matchups. Additionally, all three will contribute college basketball commentary to ESPN Radio, and other ESPN outlets.

“Both Seth and Bruce bring a contemporary coaching perspective and a great ability to break down the action in an entertaining style,” Gross said. “Jalen’s NBA analysis has been insightful and engaging and that style will translate to the college game where he’s remained closely connected since the ‘Fab Five’ days.”

Greenberg, who served as a guest ESPN studio analyst during the 2012 NCAA Tournament, most recently coached Virginia Tech for nine seasons (2003-2012). While there, he compiled a 170-123 record. Prior to that, Greenberg had head coaching stints at South Florida (1996-2003) and Long Beach (1990-1996). He was previously an assistant coach at Long Beach, Miami, Virginia, Pittsburgh and Columbia. He is a 1978 graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson with a Broadcast Journalism degree.

Greenberg said, “I am excited and honored to be joining ESPN. I look forward to using the relationships I have developed over 35 years of coaching college basketball to bring unique insights to the ESPN viewing audience.”

Pearl has worked as a college basketball commentator for Sirius XM Radio this past season after coaching the University of Tennessee from 2005-2011. While at Tennessee, Pearl led the team to 145-61 record and NCAA Tournament berths each of his six seasons there. Prior to that, Pearl coached at UW-Milwaukee (2001-2005) and Southern Indiana (1992-2001) after working as an assistant at Iowa and Stanford. Pearl is a 1982 Boston College graduate where he served as a student assistant coach and earned a degree in Business.

Pearl said, “I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to bring ESPN the same sort of knowledge, passion and intensity that I tried to have as a basketball coach. I’m anxious to get started and contribute to ESPN’s great college basketball coverage.”

Rose has been an ESPN NBA analyst, primarily for studio coverage since 2007. He will continue to provide NBA studio analysis during the Playoffs. Rose had a successful 13-year NBA career which included playing with the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 Finals. He was a consensus high school All American and team captain of the University of Michigan’s famed “Fab Five” that played for the National Championship in 1992 and 1993. Rose and his production company Three Tier Entertainment served as executive producer of ESPN’s critically acclaimed documentary about that team.

Rose said, “I’m eager to join College GameDay with Rece, Digger, Jay, and the amazing fans across the country! Calling games courtside feeling the spirit and electricity of the crowd plus hearing the gym squeak will be a treat.”


Dream Team Book Q/A: Best show ever in basketball; landing an interview with elusive Jordan

Jack McCallum was witness to one of the greatest miracles in sports: He saw me make a birdie on the par 3 12th hole at Augusta National. I dropped a six-iron to within four feet and actually made the putt. Not bad for a 15-handicapper who was playing like a 30 prior to that hole.

“Pretty good shot,” said McCallum, recalling our round the day after Jose Maria Olazabal’s victory in the 1999 Masters.

While it was the highlight of my pitiful sporting career (note: this is my blog and I will try to tell that tale as often as possible), McCallum has seen much greater feats of athletic prowess. Perhaps none were greater than the collective talents of the original “Dream Team.”

Twenty years later, the long-time Sports Illustrated writer is out this week with what should be the hottest sports book of the summer: Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry and Charles and the greatest team of all time conquered the world and changed the game of basketball forever.

It seems like every sports book these days has the “changed the game forever” kicker. Publishers must think it adds some gravitas to entice sales.

Often the label isn’t deserved, but not in this case. The Dream Team did change basketball, and sports for that matter.

It was an unprecedented, and never duplicated, array of transcendent superstars playing for the same team; 11 of the 12 players are in the Hall of Fame. The Dreamers featured Michael Jordan, fresh off a second NBA championship with the Bulls, trying to grab the torch away from Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, two aging stars who saved the NBA in the 80s.

McCallum writes, “It couldn’t have been scripted any better, and when the Dreamers finally released all that star power into a collective effort, the show was better than everyone thought it would be…and everyone had thought it would be pretty damn good.”

McCallum, who covered the team from beginning to end, brings his A-game in telling the many stories and taking readers behind the scenes. He includes personal moments of covering the team, including the time he and fellow David Dupree asked to get a picture taken with the team.

McCallum writes that the moment was incredibly awkward, leaving him open to some good-natured verbal abuse from Bird. “Hey Jack,” drawled Bird, “later on, you wanna blow us?”

On that note, here’s my Q/A with Jack:

There’s no talk about this year’s U.S. Olympic team. What made that team so special in 1992?

It’s a cliche, but it was the perfect storm. There was the first time news angle. Then there was the fact that the international stage was set for them. All of sudden at a time (when overseas fans) were experiencing the NBA as an appetizer, here comes the whole entree in the form of the greatest team ever.

I think it was the only time in the sporting culture where NBA players were the biggest stars. LeBron James is huge, but I don’t think, fair or not, he has the same positive impact across the culture like they did back then.

Those guys truly were rock stars. What was it like to travel with them?

I had seen a mini-version of it with Jordan. The best way to describe it is when they got to Barcelona, there was thousands of people surrounding the hotel. I thought, OK, maybe it will be like this for a day or two. On day 17, they were still there. To this day, I still have a hard time trying to figure it out.

In the book, you revisited many of the players and did portraits of their lives today. Why did you take that route?

As you know, access sucks at the Olympics. I was not inside the bubble. I needed to talk to the players to get information on what occurred during the Olympics.

I also wanted to see what they’re doing now. I wasn’t looking to do a Boys of Summer. These are famous guys even in retirement. But I still knew I could find out something else about them. For instance,  to see David Robinson run his school in San Antonio, that puts him in perspective.

Michael Jordan doesn’t do many interviews these days. How difficult was it to get him?

It was difficult. He’s at war with Sports Illustrated (for mocking his attempt at baseball), although that didn’t have anything to do with me. I made it clear this was not a SI project. Finally, I got, ‘Michael Jordan will see you. But it only will be for 15 minutes and you must keep your questions to the Dream Team.’

I knew I was OK. He’s not Charles Barkley, but he’s pretty honest. Michael is an incredible bullshitter and I knew he’d talk about anything. I also knew it wouldn’t be for 15 minutes. The key was getting in the room. It was a great interview. Afterward, I had a sense of relief wash over me. I got him.

Talk about Jordan’s teammate, Scottie Pippen.

He surprised me. Pippen always got the shortshrift. Every time, I came to Chicago, I’d wind up writing Jordan. One time I came in to write Horace Grant and still wound up writing Jordan.

I found a guy in Pippen who you could clearly see how this experience meant so much to him. He couldn’t believe it when he got invited. The way it validated his career was interesting. Chris Mullin said the same thing. Karl Malone, in his own way, did too. It was interesting to me to see how much these guys needed that validation.

What is the legacy of the Dream Team?

All the players wanted to make the point that there was only one Dream Team. Don’t get into this BS about a Dream Team II. As accomplished as they were individually, they all knew they were on the one team that was different. They knew not only how meaningful it was to them, but also across the entire history of basketball.












Make up your mind SI: Is it LeBron’s era or Durant’s?

There’s a fundamental problem when you anoint a new era in a sport before the finals is played. Your new era guy might lose out to the old era guy.

A few weeks ago, Sports Illustrated ran Kevin Durant on the cover with the big headline declaring: “The New Era.”

Then mockingly, it had a small insert of an old SI cover declaring LeBron James as “The New Era.” Hey, LeBron, you are so yesterday.

Well, now we all know the rest of the story. James and the Heat defeated Oklahoma City in five games.

As a result, SI went back to the old era with James on the cover this week. Lee Jenkins wrote a post finals piece with the now official King of basketball.

Who knows? Perhaps the Durant cover inspired James?

And who knows? Perhaps Durant was done in by yet another tale of the SI cover jinx?




Nail fungus ad mars historic Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel front page

OK, it’s a fact of life that newspapers need the revenue from front page advertising. But perhaps just this one time it might have been best for the Sun-Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale to kill a front-page ad.

The Miami Heat’s championship presented the paper with one of those rare opportunities for a historical front. Thousands of extra papers are printed for fans who want a timeless souvenir.

The Sun-Sentinel delivered a front page Friday suitable for framing. However, at the bottom, there’s a huge ad for a nail fungus remedy, with before and after photos.

I’m sorry, but that’s way too much for me to digest in the morning, and especially on a front page celebrating LeBron James’ first. The paper should have said to the nail fungus folks, “Not today, we’ll make it up to you.”