by Phil Keren,
Will LeBron James burn out? What should people do when San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds breaks baseball's home run record? What does the future hold for all forms of journalism?
Six-time National Sportswriter of the Year Frank Deford addressed these questions and others when he paid a visit to Lake Forest Country Club in Hudson June 10 as part of a tour for his new novel, "The Entitled."
Deford is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, a commentator on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," and is a correspondent for HBO's "RealSports with Bryant Gumbel."
At the June 10 event, Deford fielded questions from the audience and from me in a one-on-one discussion. His observations were thoughtful, humorous and insightful.
I asked Deford if he thought James could become the next Michael Jordan.
"I think before he can really be put on a par with Jordan, he has to be a better shooter," said Deford. "He's more of a playmaker than Jordan ever was ... at his age, LeBron James has the potential to be ranked with Michael Jordan ... I think James has that extra quality to be ranked [with Jordan], whether he will or not, only time will tell."
I asked Deford what that "extra quality" was.
"I just think you see greatness in some people," he responded.
Deford said he believes James needs a supporting player like Jordan had with Scottie Pippen to help shoulder some of the scoring responsibilities.
"If he doesn't ever have a Scottie Pippen, it's going to wear him down a lot more," said Deford. "That makes a difference, particularly someone who started so young ... we don't really know at this point ... whether these guys who started so young will burn out."
Of course, Jordan set an extremely high bar for excellence, and Deford noted His Airness is "one of a kind." I was surprised by the player he singled out as being the "closest thing" he ever saw to Jordan and I believe diehard pro basketball fans would not have guessed this name in the first four or five tries. The player? Hall of Fame guard Jerry West, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1960s and 70s.
"For maybe ... only three or four years [of his career], West was the closest thing I ever saw to Jordan, more so than even Magic [Johnson] or [Larry] Bird," said Deford.
During his Q & A with the audience, Deford was asked what people should do when Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's career home run record. Bonds is on track to break the record sometime this season, but some journalists have alleged that he has taken steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.
"I think we all should hold our nose," said Deford. "I don't think there's anything you can do about it . . . I think Bonds' problem is there's no reservoir of good will there because he's so surly and so disagreeable."
Deford noted it is telling that Aaron is not planning to attend the game when Bonds breaks the record.
"The fact that Aaron, this utter gentleman, [won't] have anything to do with it speaks more volumes than what anybody else can say," Deford said.
Despite that issue, Deford said he believes baseball is moving past the steroid era, has settled its labor relations problems, has good stars, good attendance, and also thinks newer trends such as interleague play are helpful to America's pastime.
"More people are going out to baseball games than ever before," said Deford. "Its television ratings are up, which suggests to us that the great bulk of baseball fans didn't give a hoot that people were cheating . . . they didn't care, or at least they cared, and now they have put it behind themselves. I can't see how the shadow of steroids is going to continue over the sport."
Deford also discussed the contributions of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam, who died in a car accident in Menlo Park, Ca. April 23.
"I think he was the greatest reporter of our time," said Deford. "I think David would agree with me that he was not a great writer. He was a good writer, maybe very good, but he was a great, great journalist. A fabulous interviewer."
Deford said Halberstam had "tremendous interests" and "tremendous integrity," and 'was capable of doing extraordinary initial research."
Deford said he is uncertain what advice he would give today to a young, aspiring journalist.
"The whole business is just so utterly in flux today," said Deford during the Q & A with the audience. "Nobody knows what's going to happen in newspapers, in magazines, even television is scared because everybody turns off the commercials. The whole business is totally going through some kind of transition and nobody knows how it's going to come out the other end."