The quotes appear in Roland Lazenby’s new book Michael Jordan: The Life but don’t come from an interview Lazenby conducted with Jordan for the project.
The reason? As writer Ed Sherman pointed out for the Chicago Tribune last week, Lazenby did not interview Jordan for the book:
“Lazenby worked 3 ½ years and conducted nearly 100 interviews for the book. One of them, though, wasn’t with Jordan. The former Bull only would agree to talk if he had some editorial control over the book. Lazenby declined, saying he wanted to do “an independent project.”
Where Jordan’s specific quotes — that after a white student called him the N-word, Jordan considered himself “racist” and “against all white people” — come from is still unclear.
Wednesday, Lazenby set the record straight via Twitter:
Media are focused on comments Michael Jordan made about race which appear in my book. He made those comments years ago, talking of his youth—
Roland Lazenby (@lazenby) May 07, 2014
In an interview with theGrio.com’s Todd Johnson, author Roland Lazenby said the quotes are actually from an interview Jordan gave in the 1990s.
“Michael Jordan is not involved in this book,” Lazenby said. “It’s a book about him. It’s supposed to be an independent look.”
Lazenby said the quotes have just taken on a new context this week because of the recent Donald Sterling controversy.
“When a book comes out, the people reporting about it will seize on something that is relevant today that doesn’t seem to be that unusual,” Lazenby said. “Michael’s comment was just an honest assessment of how he felt after watching ‘Roots,’ but we are now in the midst of a national conversation on race. I’m happy we are. I just couldn’t have anticipated that this would bubble up to the top this way.
“This is a section (in the book) where I go into great detail about Michael’s great-grandfather (Dawson Jordan),” Lazenby explains. “It comes to the moment of (Dawson’s) death, right when Michael has watched ‘Roots,’ and this incident has happened at school and all these things come to play in his life.”
Lazenby’s work focuses heavily on the racial climate in North Carolina and what he says contributed to Jordan’s stances and beliefs later in life.
“I’ve spent my life writing about basketball and race,” Lazenby said. “It’s part of the conversation.”
Lazenby, 61, is also the author of books on such basketball icons as Jerry West, Phil Jackson and the Utah Jazz squads led by Karl Malone and John Stockton. The book, Lazenby insists, isn’t just about his on the court heroics – but the family and culture he was a part of before he became ‘Air’ Jordan.
*Update* 2:19 pm
The Jordan quotes are actually from a May 1992 interview he gave to Playboy. Jordan was 29 at the time. As is customary with biographies, quotes are gathered from a variety of sources.
Playboy: When was the first time you ever had to deal with racism?
Jordan: When I threw a soda at a girl for calling me a nigger. It was when Roots was on television.
Playboy: How old were you?
Jordan: I was fifteen. It was a very tough year. I was really rebelling. I considered myself a racist at that time. Basically, I was against all white people.
Jordan: It was hundreds of years of pain that they put us through, and for the first time, I saw it from watching Roots. I was very ignorant about it initially, but I really opened my eyes about my ancestors and the things that they had to deal with.
Playboy: How long did it take you to get over that?
Jordan: A whole year. The education came from my parents. You have to be able to say, OK, that happened back then. Now let’s take it from here and see what happens. It would be very easy to hate people for the rest of your life, and some people have done that. You’ve got to deal with what’s happening now and try to make things better.
Follow theGrio.com’s Todd Johnson on Twitter @rantoddj