Tell a friend you met Robert “Scoop” Jackson and they might ask who the hell you’re talking about. The ones who know will be extremely passionate. Walk down the street with Jackson and half the people will be completely unaware the diminutive man they walked by holds the keys to a large creative empire. Others stop, ask if he is in fact Scoop Jackson and then laud praise upon him. Some even take cell phone pics of him.
Jackson is currently a national columnist for ESPN. The deal entails a regular contribution to ESPN.com (opposite cult figure Bill Simmons) and ESPN the Magazine. He also regularly appears on the Jim Rome Show, Cold Pizza and ESPN Classic.
Slam magazine is where Jackson became nationally known. Since his time there, he’s arguably gained more access to the NBA than any other writer.
The Heckler: Scoop. I’m hoping there’s a good story to the nickname other than you just being a top-notch journalist.
Scoop Jackson: I was born the day after JFK died (Nov. 23, 1963). That’s how I got my name. My uncle told a joke the day I was born. He said, “This boy scooped Kennedy. Put him on the cover of the paper.”
TH: You’re a columnist for ESPN.com and have been an editor for Slam, Hoops, Inside Stuff, among others. Would you consider yourself a reporter or a writer?
SJ: I would say I’m a writer first. I never gained an appreciation for reporting. I could never get into that—beat writing. It’s a hard job. Those people are vultures.
Managing editors sit back and dictate things but don’t do it themselves. They’re looking so much for stuff. It’s worse in entertainment, but pro sports figures are held to a higher degree than other professions. Hell, half the people we hold dear as icons like musicians were drug addicts.
But you never hold that against them. Editors seem to have a hatred for some athletes. It’s like they’re out to get them. I’ll be at games and I look down at all the reporters crowding them, trying to get quotes. All I think is, “Careful guys, they’re out to get you.”
But as I got older, I got to appreciate what my father [a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver] did. I don’t want to use the word “nauseating” [to describe reporters]. But I just sit back and look and say, “What are these people after?”
TH: Would you consider yourself a Chicago sports fan first—or a sports fan in general?
SJ: I’m a sports fan in general. I don’t pull for Chicago teams just because they’re from Chicago. What are you pulling for? The players don’t stay there. They’re there for maybe a few years. I’m supposed to be a Cubs fan for life, just because the team is there? I don’t even know those guys. If you’re pulling for an organization or franchise, you’re rooting for the front office. With free agency, there are no long-term players to pull for. Look at the Cubs. There’s no reason to pull for the Cubs. The team five years ago has no one still there today. If your team sucks, you have the opportunity to jump the bandwagon.
TH: Race plays a major role in much of your writings. How much does race affect sports?
SJ: Race plays no more role in pro sports than the everyday business world. But it is one of the main businesses where the people in it are predominantly people of color. Look at all of the mayors in the country. How many of them are black? Quite a few. But then you look at how many governors are black. How many senators? Very few. It’s the same in sports. The further you go up (in management) it dwindles and dwindles and dwindles. Pro sports is a microcosm of life. I at times find myself to be the reminder of it. If we don’t remind people of the issues, they don’t stay at the forefront.
We’re still dealing with issues of race in this country. Look at Michael Jordan and the issues he’s faced trying to buy a team. And he’s trying to buy them with the money. Bob Johnson owns a team now [the Charlotte Bobcats]. It took a billionaire for a black man to own an NBA team. How many other owners are billionaires?
TH: Who is your favorite professional athlete and why?
SJ: Of all time? It’s probably Muhammad Ali. Him or Julius Erving. Erving would probably be a close 1A. My favorite right now is Allen Iverson. You know what? We talk about it all the time. In my profession, I’m him. We are doing a lot of the same thing. Against all odds. Not apologetic. I’ve known Allen for a long time. We’ve both had some struggles professionally. We maintain ourselves without selling out. He believes what he’s doing on the court is building his legacy. That’s the way he treats each game and it’s the way I treat my writing. Hopefully a legacy is being built.
I first met Iverson on the campus of Georgetown. I wanted to put him on the cover of Slam. They never put a college kid on the cover before and I said I’d quit if they didn’t do it. I was up in D.C.—a friend and I decided to find Iverson on campus, but had no idea how. Have you ever been to Georgetown? It’s like you: all white. We decided to ask the first black person we saw where Allen Iverson’s room was. It worked. We found it. When we got there his roommate [current Bulls player] Othella Harrington answered the door. Here comes Allen. He’s my size, 5’9″. I told him what we wanted to do [put Iverson on the cover of Slam] and he was like “Okay, let’s do this.”
We were supposed to meet the next day in the lobby of his dorm. I was waiting and the person at the front desk asked if I was Scoop Jackson. I said yes and they handed me the phone. It was [legendary former Georgetown coach] John Thompson. He went off. He was very protective of his players and was angry I went behind his back to get in touch with Allen. After listening for a while I snapped back. I was thinking “I’m damn-near 30. I don’t have to be talked to like this.” I told him my side of the story. Once I snapped back he came around. He said “This is how we’re going to do this” and put Allen on the phone for a one on one.
TH: Who is the best player in the NBA right now?
SJ: Kobe [Bryant]’s the best player in the NBA right now. Michael [Jordan] left such a high mark. He was the best, but he was flawed. 1987 was Michael’s breakout year and his team won 48 percent of their games. He wasn’t perfect, but that’s how we remember it. We get it all messed up. We hold Kobe to perfection, but Michael wasn’t perfect.
TH: Is it good for the league for Kobe to score 81 points?
SJ: It is what it is. If you can put up 81, why not do it? It won the game. It’s a phenomenal feat. 81 is 81. If the points are gonna come, they’re gonna come. He shot 60 percent. He wasn’t missing. If you can do it like that, do it. I’m just as fascinated with his 62-point game [earlier in the season against Dallas, when Bryant scored 62 points in the first three quarters, then sat out the fourth quarter of a 20-point win]. He was outscoring the entire other team. There ain’t no “I” in “team,” but there’s an “I” in “win.”
TH: What city has the greatest fans?
SJ: That’s a tough call. If you’re saying most supportive and most knowledgeable, I’m not sure. The most loyal fans in the country are probably in New Orleans, because of the Saints. I lived in New Orleans from ’81 to ’86 and when I was there I’ve never seen such a connection of fans to management. Just to see that, there was no such thing as a non-Saints fan because that was literally all they had.
I love Chicago fans because they are one of the few groups of fans who listen. They’ll hear you out, even if they don’t agree. That is why I have trouble with Boston fans. They don’t listen to general conversation. You can’t tell Bill Simmons anything. He thinks the world revolves around Boston fans. I keep telling him I’ll be his only black friend. He wrote a column about inventing a black friend because he didn’t have any. Just like Jeff Kent needs a black friend, I’ll be his black friend. I love Bill Simmons. He’s the Howard Stern of sports. His life is right there. But you can’t tell him anything. He won’t go back to check the facts. That’s all of Boston fans. Look at Chicago fans. They’ll hear you out.
TH: What did it mean to the city when the White Sox won the World Series?
SJ: It meant a lot to me. It won’t be nearly as big for the city if the Cubs win it. I never really knew how much contempt Cubs fans have for the Sox. I watched Game 4 [of the World Series] at the Cubby Bear. That’s the spot to watch a World Series game. It was packed the year before when St. Louis was in it. It was empty for the Sox. Empty.
If you’re a true Cubs fan, you have to let your guard down and enjoy the Sox. They don’t do that. By that logic, if you’re a real Cubs fan, don’t vote for Daley. He’s a Sox fan. They won’t go that far though.