Sam Smith has been covering the Chicago Bulls for more than 30 years and is a recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Award and bestselling author. Both Smith and Bernstein were covering the Bulls’ historic three-peat championship and share how “The Last Dance” documentary is bringing Jordan to a new generation of NBA fans. This 10-part series follows the Chicago Bulls and all-star Michael Jordan through their drama-filled 1997-98 championship season.
Smith recalls interviewing Jordan for The Chicago Tribune when he first moved to Chicago while Jordan was ironing his clothes. Smith met Jordan early on in his career and developed a relationship with him and the team once Smith started to cover the team fulltime.
“Michael impacted society like really no one ever in the twentieth century,” Smith said.
Smith remembers when Air Jordans retailed for $75 and earrings were just becoming fashionable for men. From his fashion sense to his iconic shoes, Jordan is recognizable on the court as well as off.
”Micahel’s reach was so far beyond just being a basketball player,” Smith said. “He’s magnificent as a player but more than that as a cultural icon.”
Smith ranks Jordan among the “Mount Rushmore of sports” which he said would include Babe Ruth, Muhammed Ali, and Jackie Robinson.
As part of his legendary writing career, Smith authored The Jordan Rules which was widely criticized at the time of its publication, and a follow-up, Second Coming: The Strange Odyssey of Michael Jordan from Courtside to Home Plate and Back Again. In 2014, he published There Is No Next: NBA Legends on the Legacy of Michael Jordan detailing the tidal shifts in Jordan’s psyche, Hard Labor, and co-authored Derrick Rose’s autobiography I’ll Show You.
Smith describes how he handled the fallout from the publication of Jordan Rules and how he was able to maintain his relationship with Jordan after the book.
“The comparison people are going to make all the time is to Kobe Bryant – he was not a popular teammate,” Smith said.
Both Bernstein and Andy draw further parallels between the two legends from their drive, to their relentless pursuit of athleticism, and high expectations of their teammates.
Listen here to a deep discussion on the 1984 NBA draft and Smith’s role as the reporter and now in-house blogger for the Bulls.