Talking to GOATs by Jim Gray Book Summary – Review

Jim Gray has made himself one of the most renowned sportscasters in the United States of America for more than four decades

From having discussions with Muhammad Ali about his challenges to witnessing the rise of Tiger Woods and the greatness of Tom Brady, he has partaken in various remarkable moments in sports history.

In this book, you will find stories that didn’t make it to the sports airwaves, alongside uplifting tales showcasing the potential of human accomplishment.

If you’ve ever been curious about the workings of locker rooms post-game or the preparations preceding major matches, this book is for you.

In this book, you will discover

  • how the unexpected interview brought Gray into the spotlight;
  • how he took on sportswear giant Nike 
  • How he challenged the massive sportswear and
  • his involvement in the Kobe-Shaq conflict

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Chapter 1 – An impromptu interview with boxing legend Muhammad Ali launched Jim Gray’s journey in broadcasting.

In 1978, Jim Gray, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Colorado and a sports intern at a Denver TV station found himself editing a show early one Monday morning. Suddenly, a frantic assignment editor approached him, urgently requesting that he head to the airport to interview the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali.

Ali had unexpectedly arrived at the airport two hours ahead of schedule for an interview with one of the anchors of the station’s sports. With no means of communication like mobile phones or beepers available at that time, there was no means of informing the anchor about the change in plan.

Despite lacking time for preparation and not even having a notepad, Gray found himself surprisingly ready for the task at hand.

As a devoted fan of Ali, he had extensively followed the three-time world heavyweight champion’s career. For many years, having observed his favorite sports broadcaster, Howard Cosell, engage in banter with Ali after fights, Gray decided to emulate Cosell’s way.

Upon meeting the author, Ali was amazed at the interviewer’s youthful appearance and inquired if he was still attending school. Nevertheless, he carried on with the interview, and after a few exchanges, commented that the aspiring sports reporter resembled a local Howard Cosell.

Despite not having questions prepared, Gray conducted a 32-minute interview with Ali. He focused on two main topics: Ali’s forthcoming rematch with Leon Spinks and his proposed show bout with a Denver Broncos football player. How did he succeed in keeping the conversation for such a duration? Gray asked him follow-up questions based on Ali’s responses. The outcome? Ali delved into discussions about his global initiatives, aspirations for another “Rumble in the Jungle,” and the significance of his Muslim faith.

That day, Gray understood the key to effective interviewing: listening.

Upon returning to the TV station, Gray intended to edit himself out of the interview. However, the news director had different plans and opted to broadcast the interview that very evening. This impromptu on-air debut would transform Gray’s life permanently.

This unexpected interview with Ali not only boosted Gray’s career but also fostered a friendship between them, catching the attention of the industry. Notably, boxing promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank recognized Gray’s talent and regularly assigned him to cover fight interviews. Similarly, Don King, another prominent figure in boxing promotion and Arum’s former rival, also utilized Gray’s interviewing skills for his events. As a result, Gray found himself in the rare position of working for both Arum and King simultaneously, a distinction reserved for only a few of individuals.

Chapter 2 – Gray witnessed firsthand some of the racial prejudice experienced by the record-breaking baseball player, Hank Aaron.

Baseball icon Babe Ruth’s career home-run record, which is most likely the most renowned sports accomplishment in the United States of America, was undefeated for about 39 years. On the 8th of April, 1974, Hank Aaron broke that standing record. That was the day the 14-year-old Jim Gray got to understand the profound importance of sports records.

Babe Ruth’s status as an icon led to disappointment among many when his record was surpassed. However, as Gray later came to understand, some individuals harbored animosity towards the fact that a Black man had broken the record.

Gray had always held Aaron in high regard. He viewed him as a skilled baseball player and a man of integrity. Despite being confronted with death threats and blatant racism, Aaron consistently treated such challenges with dignity and composure.

An illustration of this occurred in 1991 when the author unexpectedly met Aaron and his wife at an upscale restaurant along the Hudson River waterfront in New York City. Despite the Aarons arriving before Gray and his group, they were seated instantly.

After forty-five minutes had elapsed, the Aarons remained unseated, much to Gray’s bewilderment given the restaurant’s was half-empty. It was only after Gray complained to the restaurant manager that they eventually sat. Even then, they were escorted to the back table. Once again, Gray spoke up and they were eventually granted a table on the waterfront. This incident left Gray shocked, especially considering it occurred in 1991. Nonetheless, he was impressed by Aaron’s composure throughout the ordeal.

Immediately after this scenario, Gray seized the opportunity to interview Aaron, particularly focusing on the topics of race and baseball. Gray was aware that despite Aaron’s holding an esteemed and iconic record in the sport, he had encountered difficulties getting opportunities. Instead of being honored as a respected figure in the sport by Major League Baseball, Aaron remained largely unfamiliar to younger fans.

Aaron openly discussed in the interview how his accomplishments were overlooked, and he also mentioned other Black players who faced similar treatment.

Gray anticipated commendation from his CBS superior for conducting such a candid interview. However, he was unexpectedly removed from network coverage of the World Series that year. Gray found this surprising, especially since the same superior had initially approved the interview before it was broadcast. He concluded that the MLB commissioner might have complained.

Chapter 3 – Gray received an Emmy for covering the steroid scandals that shook the sports world.

In sports, Ben Johnson’s name is used interchangeably with dishonesty.

During the Olympic Games in 1988 that took place in Seoul, Johnson defeated his opponent, Carl Lewis, in the highly esteemed 100-meter event and he even set a new world record with that gold medal he won

But, his victory wasn’t for long as he didn’t pass the drug test for the steroid stanozolol within 24 hours, leading to his disqualification. Consequently, Lewis was awarded the gold medal, marking an important moment in Jim Gray’s career.

Gray was part of a team of determined journalists employed by NBC to cover the Seoul Olympics. Called the Seoul Searchers by Mike Weisman, their boss, their task was to uncover the most compelling and significant news stories during the Games. This was something huge for Gray. It marked his first assignment for a television network.

Following Johnson’s win in the 100 meters, Gray’s boss woke him with a phone call at midnight. Weisman had received a heads-up that Johnson was departing Seoul for Canada and instructed Gray to head to the airport and cover the story.

Upon Gray’s arrival at the airport, numerous reporters and camera crews were already present, indicating that NBC wasn’t the sole organization alerted about Johnson’s departure.

Fortunately, the NBC team was positioned in the appropriate spot, with the camera positioned at an ideal angle. Therefore, they were the first to capture the humiliated sprinter’s arrival as he got to the airport terminal.

Johnson declined to engage in an interview; however, as he passed by, Gray inquired whether the International Olympic Committee had revoked his medal due to the failed drug test. Johnson briefly acknowledged Gray with a nod, prompting Gray to interpret it as a yes. NBC promptly aired the breaking news, leading Gray to earn his first Emmy for the report.

It wasn’t just Ben Johnson who was disgraced by cheating scandals in sports. In the mid-2000s baseball had its controversies as well about steroid use, implicating notable figures such as Barry Bonds, who had the record for the most home runs. The scandal also reached track and field athletes such as Marion Jones, a well-famous sprinter who had three gold and two bronze medals at the 2000 Olympics. Jones ultimately went to prison for six months because he didn’t tell the truth to prosecutors regarding steroid use.

Chapter 4 – Gray first interviewed golf genius Tiger Woods when he was only nine years old.

Tiger Woods particularly got on the global stage in the year 1997 in great style, and this was when he won his first notable tournament, called the US Masters, with a remarkable 12-stroke lead. He was just 21 years of age at that time.

Gray’s initial encounter with Woods happened 12 years earlier. During Gray’s tenure as a freelance journalist in Los Angeles, he stumbled upon a newspaper article discussing a nine-year-old named Eldrick Woods, who had achieved a hole-in-one. 

Upon securing an interview with Tiger’s father, Earl, Gray went the extra mile by personally hiring a camera crew to look into the story. Gray witnessed firsthand Tiger’s exceptional talent as he effortlessly hit balls out of a sand trap, with several landing directly into the hole.

During the interview, Tiger exhibited his youthful determination, expressing his aspirations to win in all the major tournaments and surpass professional golfers as he gets older. This quote would later become famous. Gray told this story to ESPN, and it was broadcast after a few months.

As Tiger grew older, he gained recognition for his exceptional performances as an amateur golfer. Therefore, it came as no surprise when he got an endorsement deal with Nike in the year 1996. As part of the agreement, Earl Woods gave Nike his entire collection of videotapes and photographs featuring his son, which included a copy of the ESPN report produced by Gray many years prior.

When Nike unveiled Tiger’s first commercial, it contained a quote regarding Tiger’s youthful aspirations derived from the interview conducted by Gray eleven years before. However, Gray owned the copyright to the footage, and the quote had been used without his consent. Legal representatives for Tiger’s management company, IMG, contested Gray’s claim, prompting Gray to employ the services of a prominent law firm in Washington to address the issue. Eventually, Mike Thomashow, Nike’s head of business affairs, acknowledged the error and compensated Gray for the use of the footage.

Despite this incident, Gray’s admiration for Tiger’s talent remained intact, as did his amicable relationship with the Woods family. Tiger’s predictions materialized as he went on to achieve victory in all the major golf tournaments and surpassed professional players.

Unexpected, however, were the controversies and wounds that later disrupted Tiger’s profession. Gray was sure that Tiger would never win again. In September 2018, Tiger made a great comeback by winning the Tour Championship, and he also won the Masters in April 2019. Gray views this accomplishment as one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports.

Chapter 5 – Jim Gray was greatly impressed by the perseverance and dedication shown by quarterback Tom Brady.

In the history of American football, no player has ever played more Super Bowls or won more championship rings than Tom Brady. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that he is well-known for being the best quarterback in the history of sports.

Do we know what motivated Brady to get into nine Super Bowls, moving on to winning about six of them, and then to keep playing at a high level well into his 40s? While having a great team with him also played a part, Jim Gray found out that Brady’s relentless pursuit of perfection played a key role.

Brady’s football career at Michigan was notably anonymous, characterized by stretches spent on the sidelines. The New England Patriots chose him during the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, as the 199th overall pick.

Brady only became prominent in his second season in the professional league just when Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots’ starting quarterback got injured. This was when Gray first noticed Brady. Brady made the Patriots win the Super Bowl that season and he then became the youngest quarterback to accomplish such during that time.

Now, Brady is well known for his healthy way of living. His TB12 diet predominantly consists of organic, locally sourced, and plant-based foods. Also, he emphasizes flexibility and hydration. Nonetheless, this depiction of Brady contrasts significantly with the version that secured the 2002 NFL Championship.

During that period, Brady carried some extra weight and ate like the majority of people do. He enjoyed meals such as cheeseburgers and liked having a good time. Nevertheless, as now, he had an unwavering zeal to succeed. He constantly prepared with commitment and relentless practice until he got perfect. Brady’s consistency was obvious as he led the Patriots to winning two more Super Bowls in the next three years.

To the majority of the players, winning three Super Bowl rings would be a huge achievement. This wasn’t the cash for Brady and he wanted more than that. However, nine years passed before he won another championship ring. His team had an impressive performance –they won all the games in the regular season in 2007 – but, the New York Giants defeated them in both the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowl matchups.

In the end, Brady’s perseverance yielded good results as he led the Patriots to three additional championship victories in the years 2015, 2017, and 2019, setting a record as the oldest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl.

Chapter 6 – Aside from sports personalities, Gray conducted interviews with global leaders, as well as nine presidents of the United States.

When the author’s wife, Fran asked him what he would like for his 40th birthday, he said he would like an interview with the then-leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. With the assistance of broadcaster Larry King who was their friend, Frann was able to make this wish come true.

The interview happened in Denver, Colorado Gray’s hometown. During the interview, the Soviet leader discussed his early involvement in the Communist Party and how he got active in the party as a youth. He also mentioned that going abroad gave him a change of perspective, leading him to understand the need for reform in his country to fulfill its potential.

However, Gorbachev was not the only prominent person Gray interviewed during his extensive career.

Larry King also played a crucial role in facilitating Gray’s meeting and interview with Nelson Mandela, the South African statesman. They came across each other when King invited Gray to attend a taping of his show in New York City, where Gray and Mandela had the opportunity to socialize over breakfast and in the green room.

Gray specifically enjoyed listening to Mandela’s anecdotes from his time in prison. Mandela recounted the close relationships he formed with some of the guards while he was in prison. At one point, Mandela was only allowed one visitor every year and he was granted permission to only send or receive one letter every six months.

On one occasion, the warden offered Mandela a conjugal visit with his wife. Instead, Mandela requested visits from 85 additional females, not only his wife. Perplexed, the warden advised Mandela to reconsider. The offer was repeated two months later, and Mandela asked for visits from 87 women along with his wife. Mandela said that there were 87 other prisoners with him, and as their leader, he wished for them to have the same freedom he had, as well as conjugal visits.

Also, Gray had the opportunity to interview all US presidents from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump. In the year 1994, when he came across Bill Clinton, Gray was immediately charmed by him, and the two had a close relationship.

Gray remembers being invited by Clinton to attend a dinner in Atlanta in honor of Hank Aaron the baseball legend on his 65th birthday in the year 1999. Coincidentally, this dinner also happened on the same day when Clinton’s impeachment trial in the US Senate was happening. Despite having a valid reason to excuse himself, Clinton attended the dinner. Gray admired Clinton’s commitment to honoring one of baseball’s greatest players, despite the situation.

Chapter 7 – Jim Gray saw the Dream Team’s most memorable game and was one of the few people to experience that. 

The exceptional performance of the Dream Team, the star-studded US basketball squad is one of the most unforgettable highlights of the 1992 Olympic Games. Even though it was a prevalent force in international basketball, the nation’s Olympic performances had not been consistent as a result of the USA Basketball’s rule banning professional athletes from competing in international games. However, this wasn’t the case for the Barcelona Games.

Gray had recently transitioned from NBC to CBS and missed out on covering the Games. However, he still had the opportunity to be at the Barcelona Games and attend as the guest of his close friend as well as Dream Team coach, Chuck Daly.

The Dream Team delivered a stunning series of victories, winning every game by a margin of at least 32 points. However, Gray highlights that the team’s most impressive performance occurred away from public view.

The Dream Team did not only bring the most skilled NBA players of their era together but also of all time. It encompassed of iconic people like Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkle, Patrick Ewing, and so on.

The pre-Olympic training camp of the team camp was held in Monte Carlo. Despite their 111-71 victory over France in an exhibition game, the team did badly, and this made their coach concerned. In response, he put in place another practice session only 12 hours later, aiming for the players to challenge one another.

However, due to injuries, John Stockton and Clyde Drexler were unable to participate. The other ten players were split into two teams, one led by Jordan and the other led by Magic – two best players ever; however, at different levels in their professions. One was at the peak of his career, while the other leader was in the twilight of his career after an HIV diagnosis a year before. This battle was not ordinary; it was the team’s most competitive game of 1992, even before the Olympics began.

Both teams were determined to win and claim bragging rights. Ultimately, Jordan’s team won with a 40-36 win, making Magic aware that a new king has emerged. He even established dominance by proclaiming, “there’s a new sheriff in town,” disrupting a discussion between Magic and Larry Bird. Jordan later expressed to the author that it was the most enjoyable feeling he had ever felt on a basketball court. Shortly afterward, the team got to Barcelona and proceeded to dominate the Olympics.

Chapter 8 – Jim Gray’s interview was what revealed the feud between Los Angeles Lakers’ superstars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

Jim Gray’s first encounter with basketball sensation Kobe Bryant happened when Bryant was only an infant. Gray was working as a scout for the San Diego Clippers at that time, where Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, Bryant’s father played. Over time, Kobe became one of Gray’s closest buddies in the sports field.

Kobe was a high school sensation and was drafted directly into the NBA by the Los Angeles Lakers immediately after school. He experienced a nice beginning to his 20-year career – however, encountered challenges along the way.

In the NBA, forming a championship-winning team requires a coach to bring together a set of superstar players. However, clashes of egos can lead to complications. For the Lakers, these stars were Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The pressure between them flared up in the year 2003 when Bryant called Gray, saying he wanted to discuss with him.

During the interview, Bryant openly aired his frustrations with O’Neal, highlighting his shortcomings such as arriving at training camp overweight and out of shape and shifting blame onto other people for the team’s failures, among others. Bryant even went as far as to compare Shaq with the guy selling donuts saying “The donut seller at 7-Eleven had more pride and zeal to their work than Shaq did.

However, Gray deemed Bryant’s comment excessive and decided to omit it from the broadcast version, which he omitted. Given his amicable relationship with Shaq and several other Lakers players, Gray contacted O’Neal before the interview’s airing. O’Neal reacted angrily, later calling Gray a “Traitor Gray.” It took years before they were able to settle their dispute.

In the meantime, Gray’s relationship with Lakers coach Phil Jackson was never particularly strong, and their interactions worsened following the interview. On one occasion, when Gray arrived to conduct a pre-game interview with Jackson, he declined it rudely.

Despite the ups and downs, Gray and Kobe maintained their friendship even after Kobe’s retirement. Gray recalls the 26th of January, 2020, the day Kobe and his daughter Gigi tragically passed away in a helicopter crash together with seven other people, as one of the darkest days of his life.

Gray asked Bryant how he wished to be remembered. Kobe responded, “As a skilled overachiever. Gifted with talent; however, worked as if he didn’t have any talent.”

Talking to GOATs: The Moments You Remember and the Stories You Never Heard Jim Gray, Tom Brady Book Review

Throughout his four-decade profession as a sports broadcaster and interviewer, Jim Gray has observed the highs, lows, conflicts, controversies, emotional outbursts, injustices, and larger-than-life personalities that characterize the world of sports. Alongside interviewing nine US presidents and various world leaders, Gray offers perspectives on global politics. This book transcends mere storytelling; it stands as a substantial addition to the annals of American sports history.

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