The Yang Slinger: Vol. XXI
Last night was the world premiere of the HBO series, "Winning Time," based upon my 2014 book, "Showtime." Here's the story of a crazy, wonderful, breathtaking sliver of time in the spotlight.
So if you’ve read the first 20 of these installments (or even some of the first 20), you know my Substack is a spot for journalism, and journalism lessons, and thoughts and ideas and insights.
Today—a break from all that. Simply to share.
As I write this, it is 11:56 Wednesday night, and my kids and I have just returned home from one of the most magical, splendid, wonderful, fantastic, meaningful, impactful, insane nights of my life.
This evening marked the official world premiere of “Winning Time,” the HBO series based upon my 2014 book, “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” It was scheduled to be held in downtown Los Angeles inside the historic theater at the Ace Hotel.
And, to be honest, I was sort of terrified.
Like most journalists, I’m born and raised to not be a center of attention. I like asking questions, not answering them. I like shining the spotlight, not standing in it. Sure, it’s fun to release a book and then spend a few days doing those radio and TV hits. But this was a waaaaaaaaaaay different level. This was an HBO show. The premiere of an HBO show. With big-time actors. Adrien Brody. Sally Field. John C. Reilly. Jason Segel. On and on. And on. And on.
So, in the leadup, I found myself a tad nervous. So nervous, in fact, that we (gasp!) went shopping last weekend, and after I rebuffed any and all suggestions to hire a stylist (a fucking stylist? No), I settled upon a blue suit (one I bought two years ago for my son Emmett’s Bar Mitzvah), a new white T-shirt and white Adidas tennis shoes. I’ll never be anything approximating a well-dressed man, but I felt … not sloppy. Which is unusual.
Anyhow, the sucky part is Catherine (and my wife and sidekick and guru), would be out of town with her mother on a long-ago-planned trip. But the cool part was I’d be taking my kids—Casey, an 18-year-old college frosh, and Emmett, 15 and a high school sophomore. They were moderately excited for the event, but the level skyrocketed (weirdly) when I told them HBO was sending a car to take us to LA, then back home.
This, from Casey …
The black Escalade arrived today at 3:15, and as we boarded I noticed my hands were clammy. Which I can explain thusly: I am intimidated by 0 people walking the earth. I mean that. I could stroll up to Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Mike Trout or Julia Roberts and never flinch. Fame has no impact on me. There’s no dream man or woman I aspire to interview. People are people are people. It’s one of the valuable lessons of being a journalist—knock on enough strange doors, nothing leaves you too rattled.
What gets me, however, is the fear of … awkwardness. God, I fucking hate awkwardness. In particular, the feeling that people are humoring/belittling you. And that was my worry from the start with this experience: That I’d show up, and HBO reps would be like, “Oh, fuck, the annoying writer.” Because I never wanna be the annoying writer. Put differently: I’m as Hollywood as a tree stump.
Our car landed at the Ace at around, oh, 4:45. I had no idea what to expect. Would we linger on the sidewalk? Have to battle to get in? Feel like idiots? Answer: none of the above. As soon as our driver (a lovely guy named George) parked, our doors were opened and I was greeted warmly, lovingly by a team of HBO peeps. “Jeff! So great to see you!” and “Jeff, are these your kids?” It was just … nice. Welcoming.
We took a quick tour of the theater, then I was directed toward the red carpet (which, in this case, was Laker purple) and asked whether I wanted to walk it.
The answer was easy: No. No fucking way. No fucking way in hell. No, no, no, no, no, no. Again, I’m not a celebrity and don’t aspire to be one. If you don’t understand, the answer is a big, fat, chunky no.
Then (motherfucker!) Jim Hecht arrived. If you haven’t listened to this episode of my podcast, Jim is not only an excellent friend, but the guy who initially came up with the idea for the adaptation of my book into a show. There are good people in this world, great people in this world and exceptional people in this world. Jim is exceptional.
So when Hecht said, “Let’s walk the carpet …” well, my choices vanished.
I stepped onto the carpet. Again, it was purple. Electric purple. A woman next to me said, “Is your named P-E-R-L or P-E-A-R-L …”, then wrote it down correctly on a board to display for the bewildered photogs. I took a few steps, stopped, took a few more steps, stopped. There were probably, oh, 15 shooters in attendance, snapping images of a sports writer with literally zero paparazzi value. Every so often someone would say, “Turn right”—and I turned right. Then, “Look this way”—and I looked that way.
It was … different. Fun. But different.
When that ended the kids and I just stood and watched the real celebs stroll by. You could tell who knew the language of the carpet (Brody, Reilly) and who felt clumsy and confused (me). Every so often someone would come by and chat about the book, the show, etc. I spent a good amount of time with Jason Shuman’s mother, Sean Patrick Small’s wife, Idan Ravin, the trainer who turned actors into basketball players.
After an hour or so, we went inside.
This is where it all heated up.
I was using the bathroom. Had to pee. As I approached the sink I saw Brody washing his hands.
I’d never met Adrien Brody. But … so? “Hey, Adrien,” I said. “My name’s Jeff Pearlman, and …”
He stopped me cold.
“Jeff, man!” he said. “So great to meet you. Love the book. How have you been doing? What do you think of this all”
We chatted for no more than two minutes before shaking slightly wet hands (Covid? What’s a Covid?). But it was insanely gratifying. Not because a celebrity knew who I was. Not at all. The gratification came in having someone from the show, playing a character I chronicled, acknowledging he read it. Hard to explain. But powerful.
A few moments later, the kids and I were in the lobby when we spotted Segel.
“Jason,” I said. “I’m Jeff Pearlm—”
“Jeff!” he said. “How great to meet you. What a book, man! How are you?”
I mean. Seriously. This was bonkers. We spoke for a solid number of minutes about Paul Westhead (the character he plays), and how he prepared for the role. I introduced my kids, and Casey told him she loved “The Muppets,” then flashed her Muppets screen saver.
“Well,” Segel said to Casey and Emmett, “let’s take a picture …”
So they did.
I’m not sure how to explain this, so I’ll throw out the word: Love. There was a lot of love. And, yeah, Hollywood slings around a ton of bullshit. And, yeah, there are definitely some assholes in the business. But this felt shockingly tangible. A bunch of people, in one place at one time, finally able to walk a bit freely in an increasingly post-Covid nation, celebrating a kick-ass television series that (holy fucking shit shit shit!) is based upon a book I wrote.
It got better.
There were movie snacks. Tons of movie snacks. Popcorn. Candy. Sodas. We were all ushered into the theatre. Adam McKay, the big gun of big guns, rose to speak before the showing of the premiere episode (which debuts on March 6). I told my kids, “To be clear, no one’s gonna say anything about me.” And I meant it—no one was going to say something about me.
Only, McKay—fuck. Ridiculous. He starts talking, and he then hits the, “None of this would be possible without a book written by one of the great sports writers of this generation.” And he had me stand. For a long time. Literally demanded I not sit. McKay has been terrific to me and my family throughout, and he clearly knows my funky discomfort zone. So I stood there, Casey and Emmett by my side, as people applauded. At the premiere of an HBO series. Again—based on a book. I wrote.
How did I get here?
Seriously? How did I get here? To this spot? This moment. I was sports editor of the Mahopac High School Chieftain, reading every article aloud to my parents before handing them in. I was editor of the University of Delaware Review, thinking I was hot shit for no good reason but youthful cockiness. I was a chronic fuckup at The Tennessean who couldn’t check a fact if his life depended on it. I was an SI writer who tired of sports and left to try my hand at books.
Standing there, euphoric and (a tad bit) uncomfortable, I wanted to sob. I didn’t, because my kids would forever mock me. But it’s how I felt. As y’all know, being a writer is a punishing, exhausting, oft-thankless endeavor. You’re in your head, convinced everything sucks, damning yourself to an eternity of self-loathing. It’s a dark space to occupy. Blessed, but dark.
And there I stood.
The rest of the evening isn’t a blur, per se—just a shitload of fun. The show went over well. My gut says it’s gonna be huge (not even slightly because of me—because of tight-ass writing and tremendous performances). Afterward, there was a party behind the hotel on an outdoor basketball court. We ate mountains of grub. We hugged loads of people. We hung with Michael Chiklis’ family. I allowed my kids to try taking puffs of a cigar (as did I. We’re all thumbs down). Jim Hecht and I shared a handful of “Can you believe this?” looks. Casey let Quincy Isaiah (who plays Magic Johnson) know that her suite-mate thinks he’s going to be an enormous star (as do I). He then posed for a pic with the tykes …
Quincy told my kids their dad was a dream maker. Delante Desouza, another breakout star as Michael Cooper, told my kids their dad was responsible for this. It was one compliment after another. And while none of it is legitimately true (I wrote a book and had no inkling it could ever be a show. This was 100-percent luck on my part. I am fully aware), there is something to be said for having your children hear kind words (from sparkly people) in your presence.
Ultimately, that’s what this night was for me.
A preposterously fun time, yes.
But more important, a moment in the sun with my daughter and son by my side.
A moment to forever cherish.
The Quaz Five with … Andrew Hammond
Andrew Hammond is the assistant sports editor of the Detroit Free Press and a man who can pull off a turtleneck without flinching. One can follow him on Twitter here.
1. So Andrew, you're an assistant sports editor at the Free Press. Which leads to a question that isn't asked enough: what does an assistant sports editor do?: (Laughs) I get this a lot, what my job is to edit stories, help push stories from the Free Press onto our social media sites. Work on my own stories and projects, but also help writers with their content. I work with a great group of people who are committed to making sure we’re one of the best sports pages in the country.
2. I used to sorta dread Detroit when I was covering baseball. People were nice, but dead downtown, lotta empty buildings. How do you feel about the city, 2022?: Ya know, I love the city. I’d never been here before so when I flew out I was a bit nervous. But when I got here, people were very kind and they truly care about their sports. The cool thing about Detroit in 2022 is it’s a city on the rebound and almost everybody takes pride in it. If you embrace them, they will sure as hell embrace you. That’s what I love about being here.
3. In your Twitter bio you cite "Proverbs 18:16." Interested: How has your faith/religion impacted your career?: I’ve been in some form of journalism since I was 15-16 years old and I have never really had anything handed to me on a silver platter. My mom or dad didn’t have elite connections that put me on a fast track.
Proverbs 18:16 says “A man’s gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men.”
It’s something my mom would tell me as I struggled to find jobs and would be easily dismissed because I didn’t meet whatever standards that company had, although I knew I was passionate about the job and would work just as hard as the other candidates. Working in sports media has been a dream of mine since I was four so I knew I’d reach this point, just didn’t know where.
4. How do you feel about the state of sports journalism these days? Confident? Sad? Worried? Freaked?: All the above? (laughs) I’m encouraged because there are some great talents out there right now, and all come from various backgrounds and interests. Of the top of my head I think about Clinton Yates, Monica McNutt, Mirin Fader – I could go on and on.
I’m sad because the very publications and things that got me interested and enhanced my love for sports have changed so much, they don’t look recognizable. I LOVED reading the newest Sports Illustrated, SLAM Magazine, Baseball Weekly, and ESPN the Magazine. I knew I’d be able to read quality stuff from quality writers. Some of this stuff still exists, but it doesn’t come with the same zeal or lack of a better term…high, that I used to feel.
I’m worried because we’re now feeding these aggregation and content machines for hedge fund overlords and corporate media goons who just want the name of a property but could care less about the journalists who put things together. Don’t get me wrong, I cut my teeth in blogging and content aggregation but if you’re making your career off of slapping together content from someone else and passing it off as your own…I’d rather invest in those who are actually creating the content.
I’m freaked because we’re losing out on appreciating great talents and eras because everything has to be a debate or has to have an instant comparison or reaction. Not everything needs that, I believe comparison is truly a thief of joy. What also freaks me out and makes me a bit sad too is we’re starting to see our stewards of history and storytellers leave the profession.
In a way, we’re going to lose out on moments in learning about great players and historic moments of the past. In ways, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I feel like the grumpy old man now (laughs) things that I grew up reading and learning regarding the history of a player, team, game, or sport…many young and aspiring journalists aren’t doing that. It’s tough to see, especially with the rich history that spans decades upon decades.
5. Rank in order (favorite to least): Kevin McHale, Cookie Monster, Willie McGee, Comerica Park, paper towels, the Keebler Elf, deadlines, Barack Obama, Hall & Oates, meatloaf, Mandy Moore: This is tough (laughs), someone has to be last and there’s really no lock here. I’d probably go 1. Barack Obama (I’ve met him before, long-but-funny story) 2. Hall & Oates 3. Comerica Park 4. Mandy Moore (underrated talent) 5. The Keebler elf 6. Kevin McHale 7. Deadlines, 8. Cookie Monster, 9. Meatloaf, 10. Paper Towels, 11. Wille McGee (I’m a Royals fan…I can’t stand the Cardinals)
This week’s college writer you should follow on Twitter …
Brock Munoz, University of Wyoming undergrad and writer for the Branding Iron.
So a few days ago Munoz wrote an opinion piece headlined, “I’m glad the mask mandate is gone.” And my first reaction was to cringe. Like, oh, great—another conservative voice from a hard-right neck of the woods dumping on libs and telling us why Donald Trump is a visionary.
But, nope. I was wrong. Brock’s article was nuanced, smart, savvy. I particularly enjoyed this …
I don’t agree with everything Munoz writes. But that’s not the point. A young scribe made his case in a way that kept me reading and informed—far more than it offended.
One can follow Munoz on Twitter here. Bravo, kid …
Yet another story of one of my myriad career fuckups …
In 1993-94 I was a University of Delaware senior and editor in chief of the student newspaper, The Review.
I spent the year believing I was God’s gift to journalism, and come semester end it was time to pen the traditional farewell column.
Get a load of this …
It’s, without much debate, the most arrogant and unaware vomit I’ve ever written—and I’ve written a lot of vomit. If you’re wondering, I’m the solitary figure standing by the garage. Why? Not sure. I’m also the one who referred to himself as “the most hated man at Delaware.” Which is bonkers. Because if you’re actually “the most” anything, there’s no need to refer to yourself as such.
It’s just an absolute pile of drivel that screams of a young, immature loser seeking attention the only way he knew how.
Random journalism musings for the week …
Musing 1: Just when you start losing faith in journalism, Emma Rosemurgey of the Mirror drops this bombshell, headlined, “I want my husband to get a vasectomy so he can't have more kids if we split up.” Russia on the attack? Climate change? Meh. We need real news.
Musing 2: A general take, but we’re witnessing some absolutely dazzling journalism from folks covering the awfulness in Ukraine. One reporter after another risking life in order to get the story right. Next time you hear some lemming slam the #fakenews, remind them of this time in history.
Musing 3: Wright Thompson of ESPN.com delivers yet again with “The Last March of Coach K.” Wright is simply different level. And if you don’t believe me …
Musing 4: So I’m not trying to dog Al Roker, who’s been a trusted voice on NBC for decades and who seems like a lovely guy. But a few days ago Roker won the Walter Cronkite Award for excellence in journalism. And … I don’t see it. How, exactly, is Roker a journalist? An entertainer? Sure. Someone who brings joy? Absolutely. A journalist? I don’t see it.
Musing 5: This week’s Two Writers Slinging Yang features the two of us (Catherine Pearlman, Jeff Pearlman) talking all things “Winning Time” experience. Link here.
Quote of the week …
A breathtaking spot.
Unless they’re planning on punching me.
What an amazing wow moment!! I'm so excited for you and your kids!! (And you weren't a chronic fuckup.)
The only thing more appropriate for the lead item today is if you could have had Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" playing in the background.