Catching Up With Buzz Bissinger
Earlier this month I had a chance to read an advance copy of Buzz Bissinger’s book “LeBron’s Dream Team” that he co-wrote with LeBron James. After reading through the book I had a couple of questions and Bissinger was gracious enough to grant me some of his time last week.
Once he got my list of questions he told me my questions were “smart and intriguing.” A compliment that gave my ego a huge boost.
During our Q+A we were able to chat about how the writing process unfolded, what impressed him the most about LeBron James while spending time with him, the most rewarding part of writing this book and he gave his thoughts on whether LeBron will be playing in Cleveland past this season.
Ryan McNeill: How did the writing process unfold? Did you and LeBron James have a lot of face-to-face chats or were most of your chats over the phone while he was on the road with the Cavs?
Buzz Bissinger: In terms of LeBron, all the interviewing was done face to face in Akron. We had four or five lengthy sessions together. In addition I met dozens of times with the other key characters of the book–the other members of the Fab Five and their Coach Dru Joyce. I also did dozens of other interviews to make the record was as factual as possible, particularly when LeBron was suspended by the Ohio High School Athletic Association for the acceptance of two “retro” jerseys when he was a senior. I probably was in Akron a dozen times for three or four days at a stretch. And there were close to a hundred phone calls and e-mails in the name of being as accurate as possible.
McNeill: Was it tough to not change parts of how this story was written so that it would fit your “voice” as a writer? How close is this book to being verbatim what LeBron James told you?
Bissinger: The book is a complete and total reflection of LeBron’s thoughts and feelings. Make no mistake–it is his book. But it is not written in “verbatim” style and there was frankly no attempt to do so. LeBron was attracted to me as a writer because of my voice so I was encouraged to use it. Half the reviews said my voice was too strong in the book. Half said the book was too restrained and unemotional and my voice was not in it enough. Which says to me that the proper amount of voice was used. And we wanted to use voice. We wanted to make the book as elegant as possible. That was a deliberate decision.
McNeill: What was the toughest part of writing this book?
Bissinger: The toughest part was the decision not to do a memoir or but to stick to the story of the book as much as possible, which is basically a coming of age tale involving LeBron and his four closest friends. I thought it was incredibly moving, which is why I entered into the project knowing that the book would be told in the first person and LeBron would have full control. This was never intended to be a memoir and is not a memoir. LeBron is too young, has many years ahead of him and the time will come for him to write the definitive memoir after his career is over. But not now. In some cases, I think critics completely misunderstood that. But it isn’t the first time nor will it be the last. The only people who count of course are readers. And many many many have either told me or sent emails saying how they found the book wonderfully inspirational. Because it is wonderfully inspirational.
McNeill: What was the most rewarding part of writing this book?
Bissinger: To see the obvious bond of love between LeBron and the other members of the Fab Five–Little Dru Joyce, Willie McGee, Sian Cotton and Romeo Travis–both as young kids and when they were in high school. They truly did adore each other and supported each other through thick and thin and became brothers to one another. I also think the role that coach Dru Joyce played, both as an AAU coach for these kids and as the head coach at St. Vincent St. Mary, was truly inspirational. I have met many coaches who beneath the charm are manipulative and only interested in their own goals of winning and moving on. Coach Dru is an amazing man, a true mentor in a world where there are fewer and fewer left. To meet not only LeBron but Coach Dru and the other members of the Fab Five and their families was an experience I will never forget.
It is also wonderful to see how well everyone in the book has done after high school. Yes, they played great basketball in high school and won the mythical national championship. But all the members of the Fab Five went on to do terrific things. With the exception of LeBron of course, they all went to college. Little Dru and Romeo, after great careers at the University of Akron, play overseas. Sian played football at Ohio State and Walsh. Willie McGee is pursuing his master’s in sports management at the University of Akron. To see five African-American kids thrive like this, several who came from very difficult backgrounds, is as good as it gets. And coach Dru is still at St. Vincent St. Mary, still inspiring kids and still winning state championships.
McNeill: During your time working with LeBron, what about him impressed you the most?
Bissinger: How incredibly grounded and decent he is. LeBron has been under a national microscope since he was sixteen. And he has handled himself with incredible maturity and dignity. Many kids would have cracked under the weight of the exposure LeBron got in high school; it was a surreal amount but he went about his life on and off the court without missing a beat. He has continued that conduct in the NBA. Many people have asked me if LeBron as is as nice and accessible and mature as he seems and the answer is yes. He does not travel with a huge posse. He is very careful about who is in his inner circle. He has a sixth sense when it comes to knowing who to trust. He is wonderful with kids. He believes in giving back.
I am biased, but he is to me the most amazing figure in all of sports. There is no one like him both in terms of astounding talent and being a great ambassador for the game he plays. The only one who comes close is Derek Jeter and I love Jeter but he is no LeBron in terms of sheer talent.
McNeill: LeBron’s love for Ohio shone through in this book. If you were a gambling man, where would you put the odds of him re-signing with Cleveland?
Bissinger: LeBron does love Ohio. He loves playing in Cleveland and he loves Akron. Like everyone else, I have asked LeBron what he is going to do and he has flashed me that exquisite smile. I am not privy to any special information, but my gut tells me he will leave the Cavaliers whether they win the NBA championship or not. He has aspirations beyond basketball. He wants to be a billion dollar athlete. He likes challenges and bright lights. There is nothing like New York and the goal of making the Knicks champions again is an incredible one. So I say he goes to the Knicks, IF THEY GET THE RIGHT SUPPORTING CAST. And as you know that’s a big “if” when it comes to the Knicks. LeBron would own New York in a way that no athlete has ever owned it, except maybe for Reggie Jackson after game six of the 1977 World Series when he hit three home runs, and as we know the love affair did not last forever. It would be exciting as hell to watch and I think LeBron would luxuriate in it. But as you say he also loves Ohio, so it is going to be a very difficult decision and I don’t think he has come close to making it yet. And remember, the most important value in LeBron’s life is loyalty. Still, I say he goes. But once again, if anybody out there is a betting man, bet against me.