Leland Stein III

Haley interviews 20th Century’s top personalities

In Black history through sports on January 17, 2022 at 4:28 am

Riveting interviews with Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Cassius Clay and others makes this book a classic.

(Book review first published in the Black Voice News and NNPA member news affiliates on 5-29-97)

By Leland Stein III                                              

“We must recognize the awesome demands of time, effort, and life of the serious struggle,” explained noted author and activist Maulana Karenga. “The struggle is a long and difficult one; therefore, we must mask no difficulties, tell no lies and claim no easy victory.”

A persuasive argument is made for this statement in Alex Haley: The Playboy Interviews (Ballantine/One World Books). The compilation of interviews was edited by former Playboy Magazine editor Murray Fisher.

Haley has amassed exclusive one-of-a-kind interviews with Martin Luther King Jr., Miles Davis, Sammy Davis Jr, Malcom X, Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali), Johnny Carson, Quincy Jones, Melvin Belli, George Lincoln Rockwell, and Jim Brown.

Fisher believes, Alex Haley: The Playboy Interviews, are some of the “most important writings” of its kind. In fact, in 1962, Haley became one of the first African-American journalist to be featured in a prominently white mainstream medium.

Haley’s premiere interview with Mile Davis for Playboy Magazine was the first of its kind; moreover, it’s a masterful penetration of a complex man that’s acknowledged as one of the greatest “Jazz Men” ever.

The Davis interview convinced Playboy to continue to invest in this African-American journalist on a level unheard of to that point.

Miles Davis

As Haley told Fisher in their interview, “Opportunities for Blacks as journalist in America at the time were zero. The opportunity Playboy Magazine extended at the time was outside the norm.”

The interviews clearly highlight Haley’s unique ability to gently – but incisively – pull insights, as well as, never before revealed information from his interviewees in relaxed, but sometime tenuous situations. Haley’s freewheeling manner and personal touch allowed him to maneuver through any strained moments during his interrogations.

Haley’s examinations reveal the demand of time effort and serious life struggles of many of the most recognizable and famous people in the 20th Century. He makes Karenga’s words come to life as he probes and gets inner reflection from his interviewees.

Their long and difficult struggles of each gives another insight that is opposite the external glamour and glitz of the stars with whom he converses and we have come to hold up as models of achievement.

Haley’s literary volume is not a large one: consisting of only two books and numerous magazine articles and interviews; however, his legacy is an important one.

In Alex Haley: The Playboy Interviews, his one-on-one examinations are among the finest ever published, and, a few have taken on the mantle of historic.

Haley’s journalistic guile and legendary work ethic is clearly revealed in this compilation.

Haley interviews Malcom X.

For example, the “Malcom X Memoirs,” which Playboy Magazine commissioned Haley to write in 1991, offers an enlightening and unforgettable description of the early tension between Malcom X and himself.

In the “Malcom X Memoirs” chapter of the book, Haley wrote: “You say you are a journalist,” said Malcom coldly, “but we know you are just a tool for the white man, here to spy on me. Before I can trust you . . . you have to personally get approved by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad at his house in Chicago.”

Wrote Haley about his interviews with Malcom:

“I left New York, went to Elijah Muhammad’s house . . . I must have made a good impression on him, because he approved the interview with Malcom.

“Back in Harlem my interviews with Malcom were conducted over a two-week period, mostly at a secluded table in a Muslim restaurant with many guards always on watch.

“Our talk sessions crackled with electricity as I picked my way through the minefield of Malcom’s mind, trying to ask tough questions without antagonizing him to the point of jeopardizing the interviews. I could not use a tape recorder, so I copied down in longhand every word that Malcom said.

“After the interview, Malcom X called me and he seemed pleasantly surprised that I hadn’t betrayed him; that my story was balanced and objective. Through that experience, a foundation was laid and it led to him trusting me to write his (amazing) autobiography.”

What Haley expressed in his recall with Malcom is his essence. The relentless pursuit, the on-the-edge, but not over-the-edge questioning, the honesty, but most of all, the work ethic.

Throughout Alex Haley: The Playboy Interviews, especially with Dr. King and Rockwell, (not to minimize the importance of the content of the others in this book), the energy and electricity of the interviews makes the respondents jump off the pages as if you were sitting there with Haley.

The face-to-face confrontation between Haley and Rockwell, the self-appointed Fuhrer of the American Nazi Party, or, Quincy Jones exposing his heart and confessing that his overwork may have helped induce his last aneurysm that almost killed him.

Jones then reveals how Marlon Brandon gave him his place in Tahiti, where he convalesced for 31 days and regenerated his personal lifeforce.

Contained in this wonderful smorgasbord of interviews is a one-on-one interview with Haley, conducted by Fisher, that reveals how sudden and drastically his life changed.

“After 15-years as a journalist,” Haley told Fisher, “I’d gotten used to a certain lifestyle: hustling for a buck, waiting for the phone to ring (in a segregated America) with an assignment, wrangling my way past secretaries to interview their bosses. Now, all of a sudden, I’m paying someone as much as I use to make in a year to handle my finances. And, just to wrap up irony, I’m being interviewed by you the guy who used to be my editor at the magazine.”

Haley’s ability to get others to trust him, coupled with the respect he commanded with deeds and words, becomes evident in his research driven twelve-year journey of tracing his roots all over the world.

The result of his labor was a historic book called Roots, which sold over 6 million copies and earned Haley a Pulitzer Prize.

Fisher included in Alex Haley: The Playboy Interviews, a chapter titled “Roots: Mixing of the Blood,” which documents the writing effort extended by Haley for the book Roots.

In this chapter, Haley explains how the fire was lit under him concerning his roots. Writes Haley, “I was on assignment for Playboy in England when I first saw the Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphics.”

He notes how this small incident heightened his curiosity and later he started hearing “African phrases” in his head. Many of the phrases came from family stories while growing up in Tennessee, and in particular, the name “Kunta Kinte” was mentioned over and over again.

Haley goes on to give detailed examples of how he pored over old records, consulted experts in linguistics, anthropology and genealogy – tracking every lead.

In the chapter titled “Roots: The Mixing of the Blood” Haley writes: “My research led me to a village in Gambia. There, in a moment of high drama, the tribal historian . . . retelling the story of the village through past generations to a day in 1767 when a 16-year-old boy was abducted by white men in the woods . . . ”

Of course, as a result of Roots, Haley became a world-renowned writer, and his story became “Roots the Saga,” made for television story that trace Haley’s family heritage from slavery to the present day.

The movie became the most expensive dramatic television-production ever aired. The 12-hour mini series firmly stamped Haley in folklore of bigger than life story tellers. Although, Roots, will stand forever as Haley’s legacy, his collaboration with Malcom X on his only authorized autobiography is just as important a piece of literature as anything he’s done.

Filmmaker, Spike Lee, in 1992, based his epic movie starring Denzel Washington, on Haley’s book “Malcom X”, and the book promptly sold over 1.5 million additional copies.

In Haley’s interviews he presents a fascinating recollection of important American history, through the mouths of the men that were major players in it. The book offers one insightful quote after another.

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. talks about his continuous death threats in Haley interview.

Alex Haley: “Haven’t both these segregationist societies been implicated in connection with plots against your life.”

Martin Luther King: “It’s difficult to trace the authorship of these death threats. I seldom go through a day without one. Some are telephoned anonymously to my office. Other are sent, unsigned of course, through mails. There was a plot to take my life on my visit to Mississippi. I was strongly urged to cancel the trip . . . I had to go on.”

Alex Haley: “Why?”

Martin Luther King: “Because I have a job to do. If I were to constantly worry about death, I couldn’t function. After a while, if your life is more or less constantly in peril, you come to a point where you accept the possibility philosophically . . . I feel, though, that my cause is so right, so moral that if I should lose my life, in some way it would still aid the cause.”

 Alex Haley: “Are you the greatest now fighting, or the greatest in boxing history?”

Cassius Clay: “Now, a whole lot of people ain’t going to like this . . . I think Joe Louis, in his prime, could have whipped them all . . . and I would beat Louis. Look, ain’t never been another fighter like me. Ain’t never been no nothing like me.”

George Lincoln Rockwell: “I see you are a black interviewer . . . I want you to know that I don’t mix with your kind, and we call your race “niggers.”

Alex Haley: “I’ve been called “nigger” many times, Commander, but this is the first time I’m being paid for it. So, you go right ahead. What have you got against us niggers?”

George Lincoln Rockwell: “I’ve got nothing against you. I just think you people would be happier back in Africa where you came from.”

Alex Haley: “We seem to be experiencing a resurgence of racial violence, letter bombs, cross burnings, and personal assaults. Why now?”

Quincy Jones: “It baffles me and saddens me, because I thought we were moving beyond the Neanderthal period in race relations. I don’t understand how it’s possible to hate yourself so much that you have to hate somebody else just to feel better about yourself.”

Alex Haley: “Did you have to contend with race prejudice in pro football as well?”

Jim Brown: “Of course! Every Negro in this country, I don’t care who he is, is affected by racial prejudice in some various forms. Athletes enjoy as much freedom as any man in this country, but they are by no means exempt from discrimination.”

Bringing the interviewees struggles to life, making them real, convincing them to lower their guard and speak freely is what Haley mastered. He shows that not only the common person is burdened with struggles, but people we have come to admire faced internal battles that are common to us all.

Alex Haley: The Playboy Interviews is an extraordinary candid collection of personal reminiscences, compiled by Haley in its controversial and informative best. His interviews tell no lies, mask no difficulties and claim no easy victories.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter at LelandSteinIII

Celtic legend Sam Jones passes

In Black history through sports, NBA on January 5, 2022 at 10:52 pm
No photo description available.
Observing the NBA All-Star session practice while sitting and reminiscing with, NBA Hall of Fame guards Isiah Thomas of Detroit Pistons and Sam Jones of the Boston Celtics at the NBA 50-year celebration in Cleveland.

(Article published throughout the Black press via NNPA member news services)

By Leland Stein III

Recently, Nupe, HBCU and NBA legend, Sam Jones transitioned at 88. For too many young basketball fans, many think basketball started with ESPN, NIKE and Michael Jordan.

However, men like the great clutch shooting Jones could matchup in any era. Unquestionably, Jones was the prototype for the next generation of shooting guards.

His basketball journey started when pioneering Hall of Fame coach John McLendon brought him to North Carolina College (now Central) for Negroes in 1951. After his college career, he was inducted into the CIAA Hall of Fame.

Sam Jones, Celtics great and 10-time title winner, dies at 88 - Los Angeles  Times
Sam Jones makes a move against Jerry West.

Next, the Boston Celtics led by coaching legend, Red Auerbach drafted Jones with the eighth pick in the 1956 NBA draft out of North Carolina Central. He played 12 years—from 1957 to 1969—as part of Boston’s historic dynasty.

Earlier this year Jones appropriately earned a spot on the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.

During his stellar career, Jones won 10 NBA titles, the second most of any player in NBA history — including eight consecutive with Celtic teammates, Bill Russell and K.C. Jones.

He averaged 17.7 points and nearly five rebounds per game. In the 1964–65 season, Jones led the NBA in scoring with 25.9 points per game.

Jones’s No. 24 jersey was retired in the rafters of Boston Garden, and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver wrote in a statement.: “Sam Jones will be remembered as one of the most prolific champions in all of professional sports. “His selfless style, clutch performances and signature bank shot were hallmarks of an incredible career. An HBCU legend at North Carolina Central University and a member of the NBA’s 25th, 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams. Sam was a beloved teammate and respected competitor who played the game with dignity and class.”

Sam Jones: Celtics legend, 10-time NBA champion dies at 88 - Sports  Illustrated
Sam Jones shoots his signature jump shot.

Jones always comported himself with “dignity and class” in the face of a hostile America, including Boston. But when pushed too far, Jones and Russell, led a boycott of an NBA exhibition game.

In 1961 the boycotted game was held in Lexington, KY. Although all the Celtics Black players were allowed to stay in the hotel, when Jones and roommate Satch Sanders went downstairs to the hotel restaurant to eat, they were told, “Sorry, no Blacks can eat in here.”

Sanders and Jones explained that they were staying in the hotel, but management said no go. The players then told Russell, Willie Naulls and K.C. Jones. The five of them found Auerbach who convinced the hotel to back down and accept his players.

End of story? Not quite.

“Not good enough,” Sam told Auerbach. “We’ve been insulted. And tomorrow, after we’re gone, they won’t serve Blacks in that restaurant.”

Auerbach then drove them back to the airport and they flew home without staying in the hotel or playing in the game. About three years later, those five players became the first all-Black starting lineup in NBA history.

In Russell’s book, “Second Wind,” he wrote this about Sam: “Whenever the pressure was the greatest, Sam was eager for the ball. To me, that’s the sign of a champion. He has a champion’s heart. In Los Angeles, Jerry West was called “Mr. Clutch,” and he was, but in a seventh game of a championship series I’ll take Sam over any player who’s ever walked on the court.”

“The Bank is now closed” . . . RIH “Kappa Man” Sam Jones . . . 👌🏼

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or twitter @LelandSteinIII

Into Mich. Sports Hall of Fame goes Rice

In Detroit/Area Sports, Final Four, Mich. Sports Hall of Fame, NBA on November 9, 2021 at 8:55 pm
Glenn Rice leads UM to NCAA title vs. Seton Hall.

(This article was first published in 2007 in the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame’s Commemorative Magazine.)

By Leland Stein III

Almost every culture around the world cooks rice, but this particular 40-year-old (Glen) Rice has been the one doing the cooking.

He has served up Michigan high schools, Big Ten opponents and NBA superstars.

The former Flint Northwestern High School and University Michigan basketball prodigy said he is elated to have been selected to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2007.

“I was surprised and elated when I found out,” Rice told me. “It’s an honor, one that I never dreamed about growing up.”

He said his Flint high school coach, Grover Kirkland, was a big influence on how he viewed athletic competition.

“(Northwestern) is where I took my basketball skills to another level,” Rice explained. “Kirkland helped me grow not only as a basketball player, but as a person. He made sure we humbled ourselves and gave all our blessing to God. Having that humble spirit really helped me as I moved up to U-M and on to the NBA.”

The 6-foot-8 small forward/shooting guard is acknowledged as one of the best shooters in basketball. He could get hot with ease and would go a shooting spree that left all basketball fans in collective approval shaking their heads or clapping in appreciative applause.

Rice had one such game in 1995 when the Miami Heat contested an Orlando Magic team that featured NBA All-Stars Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway.

Rice the scoring chef, cooked up a career-high 56 points. He hit 20 of 27 shots from the floor, including 7-of-8 from the three-point line.

Glenn Rice wins NBA All-Star Game MVP

“Wow!” Rice exclaimed. “For the entire game I shot .784 percent. You could say I was feeling it. It was one of those days that I can’t even explain.”

Added Heat coach Alvin Gentry: “I haven’t seen anything like what Glen did that night. He was shooting like it was something out of the old ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ TV show.”

Although Rice did not match that point total while at the University of Michigan, he did produce at a level that made him one of the greatest scorers in NCAA Tournament history.

For four seasons (1985-1989) Rice smoked the Big Ten and NCAA. He became U-M’s all-time leading scorer with 2,442 points. He led Michigan to the 1989 NCAA title, while scoring a record 184 points in tournament play, a record that still stands.

Glenn averaged 30.7 points for the tournament and eclipsed Bill Bradley’s mark. Rice cooked up a 31-point, 11-rebound effort against Seton Hall in the NCAA Championship game. It was U-M’s only NCAA basketball title.

The Wolverines won the overtime game, 80-79, on a pair of Rumeal Robinson foul shots with three seconds left.

For his legendary effort Rice had his No. 41 jersey retired during a recent ceremony at Michigan’s Crisler Arena.

He left U-M as the Big 10’s all-time leading scorer tossing in 2,442 points. He averaged 25.6 points per game in his senior year. For his effort he earned the Jesse Owens Award as the Big Ten Athlete of the Year for 1989.

Rice led a Michigan team that many accused of underachieving the previous seasons.

Loy Vaught, Terry Mills, Sean Higgins. Mark Hughes and Robinson were key ingredients in U-M’s title run. All played solid roles in the Wolverines run at NCAA glory; however, Rice just elevated the team and himself to another level.

“Glen got into a grove that was incredible,” interim coach Steve Fisher said. “It was a tough battle throughout the tournament, but Glen put together a stretch that was historic.”

“I got hot at the right time,” Rice explained. “I knew it was in me; but, I guess I took it up a notch during the NCAA’s. It was my last run and I had to leave it all on the court.”

Glenn Rice, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant celebrate LA Lakers title.

During the Big Ten regular season campaign, Michigan lost to an exceptional Illinois team twice. Many thought they were early outs in the tournament.

Add in the fact head coach Bill Frieder was fired by then Michigan Athletic Director, Bo Schembechler, right before the tournament for accepting the head coaching job at Arizona State. It is safe to proclaim . . . there was turmoil all around the basketball program in Ann Arbor.

“The way we finished the season we were beaten up by Illinois,” Rice remembered. “Then Bill got fired and we were surprised they did not let him coach in the tournament. After all, he was the reason we all were there at Michigan.

“We were a little confused about what was going on and then Bo came to us and gave us a speech right before the tournament. He told us that ‘we were Michigan men and we have a winning tradition.’ He then looked at Mark (Hughes) and myself and said you two are the seniors and he expected us to lead.

“Mark and I came up with this slogan, ‘Shock the World.’ We took it to the team and we ran with it. It was a great slogan because we had a lot to prove.”

Rice carried the Wolverines through the 51st NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and, through a NCAA Title contest that is remembered as one of the more remarkable Final Four title games.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Rice gleefully recalled. “As the years go by people tell me it was one of the great runs in NCAA history. It was a special thrill and a turning point in my basketball career.”

Rice said that Fisher came to him and told him he needed him to step up and be a leader.

“I knew we had something special going when we beat Illinois in the Final Four semi-finals,” Rice remembered. “They were a great team that had beaten us convincingly twice, but it was our time to shine. It went down to the wire, but we won.”

Rice’s success did not stop in college; he continued his basketball journey in the NBA achieving at a noteworthy level.

Selected by the Heat in the first round of the 1989 draft, he played 15-years in the NBA averaging 18.3 points.

Along with the Heat, Rice played with the Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, retiring after the 2003-04 season.

He eventually won an NBA championship with the 2000 Lakers as the team’s third leading scorer.

“It was a fun year in L.A.,” Rice said. “I got to play with two of the greatest players in NBA history – Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) and Kobe (Bryant). Not to mention being coached by Phil (Jackson); it was phenomenal!”

The sharp shooting Rice was a three-time NBA All-Star who ended his career ranked 4th in NBA history with 1,559 three-point field goals made.

His other outstanding NBA achievement came when he was named MVP of the 1997 All-Star game, which was commemorating the 50th anniversary of the league. In the game, he set All-Star game records of 20 points in the third quarter and 24 points in the second half. He also won the NBA All-Star Long Distance Shootout at the 1995 All-Star game in Phoenix.

“I’ve had some great memories from my basketball career,” Rice noted, “and they all came as a result of hard work, dedication and effort.”

Leland Stein is columnist for the Michigan Chronicle. He can be heard on WGPR radio (107.5) every Sunday from 11 p.m. to midnight. He can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com.