Episode 344 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina features an interview with Sports Illustrated senior writer, author and 60 Minutes correspondent Jon Wertheim.
Wertheim has a new book out, Glory Days: The Summer of 1984 and the 90 Days That Changed Sports and Culture Forever. During the podcast, he discussed several topics covered in the book, including the animosity-filled relationship between Bobby Knight and Charles Barkley, the NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers that saw a referee pass out because of the oppressive heat inside Boston Garden, and Donald Trump's destruction of the USFL. Wertheim also talks about David Stern and Vince McMahon's recognizing the importance of cable back in 1984 and explains how Cyndi Lauper's involvement in the then WWF led to the birth of WrestleMania. Other events from 1984 that we discussed on the podcast include the release of Karate Kid, Michael Jackson's Victory Tour and more.
Afterward, we debut a new Traina Thoughts segment for the podcast as Jimmy talks about a few topics that are on his mind.
Jimmy Traina: Let's talk about some of the sports stuff. There's a lot of Olympics, Michael Jordan is a huge part of your book. ... But the relationship and back-and-forth between Bobby Knight and Charles Barkley is, I think the most entertaining stuff in the entire book. With Barkley basically not playing along with, you know, Bobby Knight's dictator routine and trying to joke with him and poke fun at him and Bobby not having any of it. I love that stuff in the book. If you want to just maybe give my listeners here a little preview of what they can get from that chapter, which I enjoyed.
Jon Wertheim: So, I mean, the context is that this is before the Dream Team. The players on the Olympic team were college players—were amateurs. They all come to Bloomington, Indiana, which is my hometown. So I was 12 years old and saw this all unfold with my own eyes and these players were at different points in their lives and their careers. Olympics meant different things to them. I mean, Jordan was hell-bent on playing on this Olympic team. Barkley basically wanted to use these Olympic trials to boost his draft stock. And if he had the summer off and didn't make the team and he could go back to Alabama, and go eat and go home, and have a good summer before the NBA, so be it. So Barkley had no interest in Bob Knight's discipline and he put on these eating exhibition videos; "Hey, do you think I can eat this whole pizza?" He came from a college program where—he talked about it recently—basically he did whatever he wanted. I think his line was, "As long as I had 20 points and 10 rebounds, I was going to pass my classes just fine." And all of a sudden he gets to Indiana, and this guy who's not even his coach, who's not paying him, it's a few weeks before the NBA draft, and he basically says, "Who does this guy think he is?" You know, Bob Knight, who is this just celebrated college coach at the time. I'm trying to think of a good comparison. ... Coach K, I guess, but whatever sort of absolute dominant, unquestioned college coach at the time. And he walks in and everybody sits there and sits at attention, and he's nicknamed the general, and Charles Barkley says, "Did your granddaddy die that way, wearing those shoes?" And Bob Knight has never been talked to you this way by anyone. He can't really tell Charles Barkley to run laps, he can't really say I'm taking away your scholarship, I'm benching you or taking away your minutes. And it's this great standoff. And it's really funny, and it was sort of a glimpse of Charles Barkley down the road. And it was sort of a glimpse of Bob Knight losing some of his aura and some of his discipline. And it was good foreshadowing that Bob Knight's methods were on their way out. But I also think one theme—and I probably should have hit this over the head a little harder.
I mean, one theme of this whole book was this was kind of the summer when athletes woke up to their own power. And Charles Barkley is kind of right. "Why am I taking shit from this guy? What do I get out of this?" And, you know, Michael Jordan signs this shoe deal where he's making more money from Nike than he is from the Chicago Bulls, the team that pays him. And in retrospect, you're like, yeah, that's the way it should have been. And I think a lot happens in the summer. You know, we have the rise of cable TV, which completely changes the way sports positioned themselves. It changes the finances. We have the rise we talk about. You were very helpful, and I feel like we need to give you your credit. You were a big help in the Vince McMahon show you in the McMahon chapter, you and David Shoemaker—I owe you dinner. But the other thing you had happen this summer is I think ... It wasn't political empowerment, it wasn't sort of activism politically. But I think this was a summer that athletes woke up—and led by Michael Jordan said, "You know what, I've got a lot of value that hasn't been unlocked in the past. I'm going to show for these products. I'm going to have a shoe that's my name on it. I'm going to figure out a way to structure my contract. So I get these bonuses." And this bit about Charles Barkley confronting Bob Knight was very funny. And it's sort of this great culture clash. But I think it was really a bit of foreshadowing that Charles Barkley is like, 'wait a second, who's this guy? Why am I eating shit here? I'm playing for free, I'm not getting anything out of this, and this guy is busting me. No, that's not how it's going to be.' So you had this great culture clash. Charles Barkley and Bob Knight.