A big new biography of Michael Jordan may turn out to be newsworthy, but not for the reason it made headlines this week.
"Michael Jordan: The Life,"
by veteran sportswriter Roland Lazenby, caused a stir with quotes from the basketball legend about his "racist" attitudes toward whites as a black teenager growing up in the South.
"Basically, I was against all white people," Jordan is quoted in several news articles as saying in the book.
But the author, it turns out, never interviewed his subject.
He just did what biographers often do, which is to recycle parts of an old interview — in this case a sit-down with Playboy magazine from 1992, when Jordan was 29 and a superstar leading the Chicago Bulls toward their second of six National Basketball Association titles.
News organizations were no doubt looking for an angle on the just-released biography, which hit shelves this week just days after Jordan
, now chairman the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats franchise, ripped another team owner, Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers, for racial remarks.
So they led with the race quotes and either didn't realize or didn't care that Jordan's acknowledgment of youthful anti-white animus came 22 years ago.
By Wednesday morning, Twitter was blowing up with commentary about the Hall of Famer and variations on "I was a teenaged racist."
The Grio, an MSNBC-owned news site, finally pointed out the source of Jordan's recollections, after stories touting them as fresh news had appeared on the websites of Sports Illustrated
, E! Online
, the New York Post
and even one of The Grio's corporate cousins, nbcnews.com
Lazenby himself tweeted a partial clarification on Wednesday that Jordan "made those comments years ago, talking of his youth." But it was The Grio's Todd Johnson, in an interview with Lazenby, who spelled it out and linked back to the Playboy
In it, Jordan was asked, "When was the first time you ever had to deal with racism?" He responded, "When I threw a soda at a girl for calling me a n*****. It was when 'Roots' was on television."
Jordan told Playboy he was 15 years old and "really rebelling," adding, "I considered myself a racist at the time."
He said it took him "a whole year" and guidance from his parents to shed anti-white feelings.
"It would be very easy to hate people for the rest of your life," he told Playboy, "and some people have done that. You've got to deal with what's happening now and try to make things better."
As for the book, the Chicago Tribune's Ed Sherman
wrote, "Lazenby's vast research didn't produce any new revelation about Jordan," but he credited the book as "truly comprehensive."
"At nearly 700 pages," Sherman wrote, "you might wish Michael Jordan's career had lasted as long as the new biography on him."
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