Sharing my learnings from the book, Talking to GOATs by Jim Gray
Talking to GOATs by Jim Gray
Anyone who has watched Jim effortlessly engage his subjects at the precise moment of triumph or tragedy has little idea what it takes to secure the interview, or what actually happens when the camera cuts away. These are real, mesmerizing, and previously untold stories. Talking to GOATs features numerous world-class athletes, including Muhammad Ali, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Floyd Mayweather, Michael Phelps, Mike Tyson and Tiger Woods, and world leaders George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Mikhail Gorbachev, and many more. On each page, Jim gives the reader a coveted all-access pass as he reviews the best interviews, the best athletes, and the best games in modern sports history. It’s like a personal introduction to the characters and careers of these heroes and villains we’ve known since childhood. He examines how money, celebrity, the media, and power interact, and how sports, more than any other institution, has led to momentous transformations in American society.
- for more than 40 years, Jim Gray has built a reputation as one of the most influential sportscasters in the United States.
- A chance interview with boxing icon Muhammad Ali kickstarted Jim Gray’s broadcasting career. Gray was an Ali fan and knew everything about the 3-time world heavyweight champion. For years, he had watched his favorite sports broadcaster Howard Cosell banter with Ali after bouts, so Gray decided to model himself on Cosell. Despite having no prepared questions, Gray recorded a 32-minute interview with Ali. He has 2 topics to discuss Ali’s upcoming rematch with Leon Spinks and his proposed exhibition bout with a Denver Broncos American football player. Gray simply asked him questions based on his previous answers. That day, Gray learned the secret to being a good interviewer: listening.
- the chance interview with Ali gave his career a boost in other ways too. He and Ali became friends and industry people noticed. Rivals Bob Arum and Don King would send Gray to fights to conduct interviews
- the career home-run record of baseball player Babe Ruth stood for 39 years. Then on April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron broke that record. As Gray eventually discovered, the truth was that some people simple didn’t like that the record had been broken by a black man.
- Gray had always been impressed by Aaron. He was a talented baseball player and a man of integrity. Whether facing death threats or other forms of overt racism, Aaron always handled it with dignity & grace.
- Gray had the opportunity to interview Aaron. He was particular keen to talk about race & baseball. Aaron spoke candidly about his achievements being ignored. He also spoke of other Black players who had been treated in the same way.
- Gray expected praise from his CBS boss for this forthright interview. Instead, he was as pulled from the network coverage of the World Series that year. Grey was surprised and concluded that the MLB commissioner must have complained
- at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Johnson defeated his arch rival, Carl Lewis, to win the most prestigious track and field event: the 100 meters. Within 24 hours though, Johnson failed a drug test for the steroid stanozolol and was disqualified. Lewis was then awarded the gold medal.
- Gray was one of a group of ambitious journalists hired by NBC to cover the Seoul olympics and their job was to hunt out the best stories during the games. Gray’s boss Weismann had been tipped off that Johnson was leaving Seoul and returning to Canada. He wanted Gray to get the story.
- Johnson didn’t stop for an interview. But as he walked by, Gray asked if the international Olympic committee had stripped him of his medal because of the failed test. Johnson glanced at Gray and gave a half nod, without saying anything. Gray took it as a yes, NBC broke the story and Gray went on to win his 1st Emmy for the report
- Gray first interviewed golfing prodigy Tiger Woods at age 9. He saw a report in a local newspaper about a 9-year old who had hit a hole-in-one. Gray thought it must have been an error so he followed up. Tiger’s dad agreed to the interview. Gray hired a camera crew at his own expense to investigate. In the interview, Tiger displayed his youthful ambition saying, “I want to win all the big tournaments, all of the major ones and I hope to play well when I get older and beat all the pros.” This would go on to become a famous quote. Gray pitched the story to ESPN and they aired it a few months later
- no player in the history of American football has played more Super Bowls, or won more rings, than Tom Brady. What drove Brady to play well? As Jim Gray found out, it also involved Brady’s quest for perfection. The drive and determination of quarterback Tom Brady impressed Gray.
- Beyond sports figures, Gray interviewed world leaders, including 9 US presidents.
- Mikhail Gorbachev – then-leader of the Soviet Union
- Nelson Mandela – South African statesman
- every US president from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump
- as one of just a handful of people, Jim Gray witnessed the Dream Team’s greatest game. USA basketball had a rule of prohibiting professionals from participating in international competitions but this changed for the Barcelona games. The dream team featured megastars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley.
- to build a title-winning team in the NBA, a coach needs to assemble a cast of superstars. With the Lakers, those stars were Kobe and Shaq. The tension between the 2 erupted in 2003 when Kobe telephoned Gray and asked for an interview where Kobe gave full vent to his frustrations with Shaq. Gray aired the interview and this resulted to him having a fallout for years with Shaq and had a sour relationship with Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson.
- Kobe and Gray remained friends even after Kobe’s retirement. Gray describes January 26, 2020, the day Kobe died as one of the worst days of his life.
- Gray once asked Kobe how he would like to be remembered. He responded, “as a talented overachieve. Blessed with talent but worked as if he had none”