Los Angeles Lakers: 30 for 30

PodKast with director Ron Shelton ("Jordan Rides the Bus")

August, 24, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Tonight at 8pm, ESPN will debut "Jordan Rides the Bus," the latest film in its 30 For 30 series. The Ron Shelton-directed documentary examines Michael Jordan's 1994 foray into baseball, which began as a spring training tryout with the Chicago White Sox and mostly consisted of a stint with the Birmingham Barons, the team's Double-A affiliate. To say the least, this development threw the sports world for a loop, as everybody and their mother theorized why Jordan would leave basketball at the top of his game to grind away in the minor leagues.

Andy Kamenetzky talks with director Ron Shelton ("Bull Durham," "White Men Can't Jump") about his new 30 for 30 film "Jordan Rides The Bus," which takes a look at Michael Jordan's stint as a professional baseball play

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Count Shelton, the director of "Bull Durham" and a former minor leaguer himself, among those skeptical of Jordan's motives. At the time, it smacked of unbelievable arrogance to him. After some reexamination and research, however, Shelton concluded this period in MJ's life has gone largely misunderstood. Rather than foolhardy and perhaps shady hubris, Shelton now regards Jordan's baseball career as an introspective journey (fueled in part by a desire to come to grips with the murder of his father) and, contrary to popular belief, legitimately accomplished in its own right.

Shelton was quite generous with his time as we discussed a wide variety of topics: Jordan's baseball prowess. The warm relationship between MJ and Birmingham. Shelton's other films like "Bull Durham," "White Men Can't Jump," and "Tin Cup," plus his favorite sports film of all time. I really enjoyed the discussion and the documentary, and think others will, too. Before folks listen to the poddy, I wanted to share a few thoughts:

- It really hit me watching this movie how the obsession to figure out "why" Jordan left basketball (in particular, the gambling connection) allowed the media to overlook an even more interesting angle: This was the most vulnerable we had ever seen Jordan over the course of his professional life. Before 1994, his image was always either the on-court assassin or cooler-than-thou pitchman. Baseball pushed MJ out of his element and offered a more human side, but the frenzy to uncover "the truth" took first, second and tenth priority in covering this story.

A wasted opportunity, and even worse, as Shelton notes, nothing was unearthed:

"The journalists that I talked to, sportswriters, really top rate ones: Jack McCallum, Rick Telander, and Sam Smith. National guys. The Chicago guys. Mike Downey. All those guys. They were very honest. They said, "We were looking for the smoking gun." All the gambling stuff had come out. He had refused to go to the White House with the Dream Team and said he needed family time. He was out with gamblers golfing. There was that guy who was a bail bondsmen or something, I forget his name, I think he was mentioned in the movie who was murdered. There was a check from Michael. This was really sordid stuff.

"But it simply was unconnected. He had gambling issues and he had personal issues. But it had nothing to do with why he was out of the NBA. But the sports writers freely admit [they] were looking for connections, because [they] wanted the cover of SI or wanted the Pulitzer. And they all came away saying, absolutely no connection. It was a personal quest."

- That personal quest was also more impressive in retrospect that often given credit. Without question, the guy was initially a train wreck. But by the end of the summer, Jordan had improved his swing, his fielding acumen, and developed into a base stealing threat. It's pretty remarkable, considering how Jordan was learning on the fly at the professional level. His stats weren't mind-blowing when the dust settled, but the transformation was, even if people missed it. Or, in some cases, weren't as wild about any angle where Jordan didn't flat out stink. The movie addresses how Sports Illustrated spiked Steve Wulf's positive story and the general reluctance to see this labor love and effort as anything but a failure.

"I was as judgmental as everybody else until I started looking into it," admits Shelton.

- Lest anybody accuse me of sucking up to my guest upon hearing his unorthodox choice for best sports movie, this 2004 piece proves our shared mentality.

Special Land O'Lakers PodKast with Ice Cube

May, 5, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Every once in a while, our PodKasts don't center entirely around Laker basketball. In most cases, Brian and I simply went off the grid while babbling about trivial and ridiculous nonsense, but this particular time it was by design. I was fortunate enough last week to land a generous amount of phone time with hyphenate extraordinaire Ice Cube, whose new documentary "Straight Outta L.A." debuts on May 11 at 8pm ET as part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series.

ESPNLA.com's Andy Kamenetzky talks with actor-rapper Ice Cube about his 30 for 30 film "Straight Outta L.A.," which documents the intertwined stories of the Raiders' time in Los Angeles and the rise of N.W.A. and gangsta rap. The film debuts on ESPN on May 11th at 8pm ET.

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30 for 30 has featured an outstanding string of films --I'm not saying this as a company man. They've been consistently fantastic-- and Cube's is no exception. The movie documents the Raiders' time in Los Angeles, what they meant to the community (particularly South Central L.A.) and how the team's profile was linked to the rise of N.W.A. and gangsta rap. As one would correctly guess, it's a movie about way more than just sports.

Our discussion naturally centered mostly around matters like football, rap music and race, but Cube's lifelong stint as a Laker fanatic made a few purple and gold questions a must.

Given his bankable presence in mainstream and often family-oriented films (Are We There Yet, The Longshots), it's easy to forget how Cube's career began in a much grittier, more controversial fashion. To say the least, Cube's perception has evolved since N.W.A. Similarly, Kobe Bryant's career has often been steeped in polarizing controversy, but these days the guy's marketed heavily by the NBA and a perennial king-of-all-jersey-sales. There are obviously some who don't and never will like Kobe, but all in all the man is considerably more popular than divisive these days.

I asked Cube about if he could relate to Kobe's image reinvention. His response was quite insightful:

"What we all gotta realize is, when we see these young stars or these young entertainers or athletes, you usually see someone that's going from a boy to a man. If anybody really thinks about what they've done to go from a boy to a man and all the mistakes they've made, and if they was under that spotlight, they wouldn't be so critical of a person like Kobe. For what you really want him for, to me, he's the ultimate. You want him on the court. All you should care about is what he does in between the lines when it comes to being a Laker fan.

"But if you really want to get into the man's life, all the way in there, of course you're not gonna like everything he does. You know what I mean? Of course you're not gonna like everything he says. Of course you're not gonna like every opinion he has. But if somebody makes a mistake or two and you go for the venom or go for the throat at the first mistake, you never really had love and respect for this person, anyway. You don't give them the room to be human. You don't give them the leeway to be human. He's a great basketball player, but he was speeding down the highway. He's irresponsible and he's this, and that, and the names. And people pile on.

"I think people like Kobe knew the job was dangerous once he took it and kind of prepared for it mentally and is stronger, really, than what all of us can dish out on him. And that's good. That's something that hopefully all stars develop, that power to overcome the criticism and overcome the disappointment in your life."

(FYI, I interviewed Cube after Game 5 of the Lakers-Thunder series, but his praise for the Laker bigs could just as easily apply to the current series against Utah.)



Kobe Bryant
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.9
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.5
BlocksE. Davis 1.2