One of the hardest things about writing a book is deciding what not to include. As an author who’s deeply immersed in your subject, you come across certain nuggets that you find fascinating, but which may not resonate with your readers. Stories or other pieces of information may also be left out because they could not be confirmed, were off the record, didn’t fit the time period, disrupted the flow or were too tangential to the topic. I thought I’d share a few of the nuggets that didn’t make it into the book.
But first, the bloopers. I interviewed close to 100 people for my book and spoke with many others who declined to talk or assisted me along the way. Tracking down a source is a two-step process. First, you have to find contact information for the person. Then you have to convince him or her to talk to you. The second part led to some comical interactions.
One afternoon I called a former Knicks scout to glean some insight into the Knicks’ draft picks in the 1990s. He answered the phone and without saying hello immediately unloaded on a rant: “Listen you fucking scumbag, I’ve had enough of this shit. I’m a busy man and I don’t have time for fucking scumbags like you. You’re a real piece of shit. I’m trying to get work done and motherfuckers like you keep harassing me…” This went on and on and on. I had never heard anything like it. Then he concluded his epic rant by asking, “Is this a fucking scumbag or a real call?” I said, “It’s a real call.” Stunned silence. He asked who I was and I explained. He apologized profusely, explaining that he had received a ton of solicitations that day from numbers he didn’t recognize and assumed I was one of them. He ended up being helpful and generous with his time.
After venturing down multiple paths in search of contact information for an important executive of the 90s Knicks, I finally acquired the correct phone number. (He will remain nameless.) I called his home number and asked to speak to him when a male answered. The man asked who was calling. I identified myself and said I wanted to talk to this individual for a book I was writing about the 90s Knicks. The man on the phone said the person I was looking for wasn’t home and asked for my number so he could get back to me. Except, I knew with 100 percent certainty that the man I was talking to was the man I was looking for! I grew up on those Knicks teams and had heard his voice countless times.
Not surprisingly, the executive didn’t call me back. A few weeks later, I tried again. Once again, I called his home number and once again he answered. This time he revealed his identity, but said he had a guest and asked if I could call back later. I asked if there was a specific time and he said, “Any time this afternoon.” I called back later that day. Somebody picked up the phone and immediately hung up. I was pretty sure it was intentional, but gave him the benefit of the doubt. I immediately called back. The same thing happened.
I wasn’t about to let this important source off easy after his bizarre behavior. A few weeks later, I called again. Once again, the source answered. Once again, he said he was busy. He told me to text my number to his cell phone and he’d call me back later that day. He never did. Months later, I was up against my deadline to submit the book to my publisher. I texted him one last time, saying I was out of time and would really like to talk to him. To my surprise, he called me a few days later. He was as nice as could be and we talked for well over an hour about the 90s Knicks and current NBA. It was a lesson in persistence.
One of the most difficult omissions from the book is the story behind the Notorious B.I.G.’s track “I Got a Story to Tell.” In the song, Biggie tells a story about having sex with the girlfriend of a Knicks player in the player’s bed and then robbing him at gunpoint when he unexpectedly returned home. “I Got a Story to Tell” appeared on the 1997 album “Life After Death,” which was released 16 days after Biggie’s death and he never publicly revealed the player’s identity. The only clue he provided in the song was that the Knick in question was six-foot-five. It became one of hip hop’s biggest mysteries.
Nineteen years later, rapper Fat Joe revealed on ESPN’s “Highly Questionable” that the player was Anthony Mason. Fat Joe hedged on his claim, indicating that he did not know all the details and that rappers are known “to lie or stretch the truth.” However, a few days later, Biggie’s close friend and producer, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, confirmed it was Mason. Mason, who died from a heart attack in 2015, was 6’7’’, a bit taller than the height Biggie provided, though close enough.
I investigated the story behind the song a bit further. A couple of Knicks players told me it was not something that was discussed within the team when the song came out (at which point Mason no longer played for the Knicks). I decided to leave it out of the book for a couple reasons. One, neither Biggie, nor Mason are able to confirm or deny the story. Additionally, I determined it was really a story about Biggie, more than Mason or the Knicks, and there was no way to smoothly incorporate it into the narrative.
Knicks owner James Dolan is not a major figure in the book. He didn’t take control of the Knicks until 1999. However, I did uncover some interesting stories about him during the course of my research. Dolan loves music and has his own band JD and the Straight Shot. During his early days at Madison Square Garden, he inquired as to which Garden employees played instruments. Then he forced those musicians to jam with him after work. Dolan had them flown by helicopter to his house in the Hamptons and play music with him, often until midnight. Here’s the crazy part. After the sessions were complete, the employees had to find their own way home! It was midnight and they had work the next morning. They didn’t have cars at his house and some of them lived as far away as New Jersey.
There were several questions I attempted to answer during my research. One I never definitively answered was what caused the beef between Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. The two were teammates in Charlotte, but their relationship had soured prior to their brawl in the 1998 Knicks-Heat playoff series. There were rumors that a woman was the source of the rift between the two big men, something both have denied. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to talk to LJ or Zo, though I spoke with people who were around them in Charlotte as well as their teammates in New York and Miami. Most people either didn’t know the cause of the beef or believed the animosity stemmed from a clash of egos regarding who was the man in Charlotte, a la Shaq and Kobe in L.A. I discuss this in detail in the book. The one exception was Tim Hardaway Sr. who grew close with Zo when they were teammates in Miami. When I asked Hardaway if he knew what the beef was between L.J. and Zo, he chuckled mischievously and said, “Yes, but I can’t tell you.” The way he said it certainly made it sound like there was more to the story, but he wouldn’t elaborate and I didn’t discover any additional information on the subject.
Another “but I can’t tell you” I received was about Anthony Mason. Mase was a practical joker and I cover some of his PG-rated pranks in the book. However, I sensed that the best Mason pranks were R-rated and typically involved his genitals, but I couldn’t get any of his teammates to violate the sanctity of the locker room by giving specific examples. His good friend, John Starks, started cracking up when I asked him about Mason’s jokes, but was adamant that he couldn’t share them.