Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Q&A With Seth Davis On the Subject of His New Book

Yesterday, I reviewed the new book, When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball by Seth Davis (pictured, right) of and CBS. Today, I've got a brief interview with the author* to share.

*I appreciate him taking the time to answer my questions, even the ones The New York Times' Quad Blog scooped me on over the weekend.

HOOPINION: I assume you wished to interview both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson for the book. Why did neither choose to be involved with the book? At what point in the writing process did you resolve yourself to their non-involvement? Did their non-involvement change the writing of the book in any way?

SETH DAVIS: Yes, I wanted to interview those guys, but they are at a point in their lives where they are not giving this stuff away for free. I can totally understand that, and while I was disappointed I can honestly say that I don’t think the book suffered from it. The irony is, editorially those were the guys I needed the least, since they have both written autobiographies and had books written about them, not to mention the scores of interviews they have already given on this subject. Not having their participation also liberated me to write a little more critically about them than I would have otherwise.

HOOPINION: Was there anyone else you wished to but were unable to interview?

SETH DAVIS: The only people I really wanted to interview but couldn’t were the ones who are no longer alive. I feel very fortunate that most of the main principals are still around and they all had great stories to tell.

HOOPINION: One of the best things about the book is the amount of detail you provide about the games described. Could you please provide some background on how you acquired tapes for so many 30-year-old games?

SETH DAVIS: The schools provided much of the game videos. Bill Hodges also had a bunch of old game tapes, and one of his students transferred them onto DVDs for me. Magic’s high school coach, George Fox, had the video of the press conference where Magic announced he was attending Michigan State . And a local sportscaster in Terre Haute got me the video of Bird’s retirement ceremony a few years ago that served as the dramatic final scene in the book.

HOOPINION: The book's structure reminds me of John Feinstein's A Season Inside (though obviously with a narrower focus and thus greater depth). Was that book a conscious influence on you? Were there any other books that provided inspiration as to how to write or structure When March Went Mad?

SETH DAVIS: I certainly read that book, but that was a little different in that it was a contemporary account as opposed to a historical one. A better Feinstein comparison might be Forever's Team, which is about the 1978 Duke team that was the national runner-up, but again, that was about one team and mine was about two. The structure of this book was pretty unusual because it was really two books that converged into one. Thank god I had a phenomenal editor, Paul Golob, who really guided me through the organization of all this material.

HOOPINION: Frank Deford's blurb reads, in part, "Seth Davis reminds us what fun it used to be when we could still be surprised, when a whole sport could be turned upside down, right before our wondering eyes." How do you agree and how do you disagree with DeFord that greater access to games, players, and coaches has changed the way or even lessened the degree to which people enjoy sports in general and college basketball in particular?

SETH DAVIS: Well, Frank is a little older than I am, so he might be a little more wistful about it, but I certainly understand the point he is making. It’s my job to ruin the mystery in college basketball. I try to know everything there is to know about what’s going on, but back then, many of the people watching this game were seeing Magic and Bird play for the very first time. That is a very special thing, but the moment has passed and it’s not coming back.

HOOPINION: How good does it feel to have Frank Deford blurb your book?

SETH DAVIS: What a beautiful question! (ed. note--Thank you.) I’m told that blurbs are of marginal value, but while we were bandying about the different names of people we wanted to ask, the only one I felt strongly about was Deford. I don’t know him all that well, but we obviously share a common heritage with Sports Illustrated. So to you answer your question, it feels the same as it would feel to have Mozart tell me I’m a darn good piano player.

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