Michael Jordan ended his playing career 11 years ago, but he is still one of the most famous people in the world of sports.
The former Chicago Bulls great has been the subject of a number of books, as well as countless magazine and newspaper articles.
But author Roland Lazenby felt there was still more to his story.
Lazenby, a Salem resident and Wytheville native, has written a new biography of Jordan that will be published by Little, Brown and Company. “Michael Jordan The Life” will be available in stores May 6.
“The Jordan story, some of it had been told, but a lot of it had not,” said Lazenby, 61. “You’ll get one story early in the game while he’s playing and then as people look back, you often get a very different story.
“I didn’t really feel the context had ever been there. I think family often provides context. There were a lot of things I wanted to look at there.
“I just wanted to explain him.”
The book not only delves into the 51-year-old Jordan’s time at the University of North Carolina and with the Bulls but also details his family history, his youth, his stint with the Washington Wizards and his ownership of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Lazenby’s last book was a 2010 biography about another former NBA star — “Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon.”
“At the end of your career, to be able to do these kind of books, these in-depth biographies, it’s very special,” said Lazenby, a George Wythe High School and VMI graduate.
Writing the Jordan book was “very, very difficult,” said Lazenby. He spent 3 1⁄2 years conducting interviews, researching and writing the book, working himself to exhaustion. He originally wrote 1,000 pages before cutting it to about 680.
Lazenby had written several previous books about the Bulls, including the 1998 book “Blood on the Horns: The Long, Strange Ride of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls,” about the end of the Bulls dynasty.
For the new book, Lazenby interviewed about 100 people, including former Bulls stars Scottie Pippen and Steve Kerr; former Bulls assistant Tex Winter; former Bulls executive Jerry Krause; and former Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro.
Jordan and Nike made each other plenty of money.
“Before he ever played a minute in the NBA, he got this fabulous Nike contract that paid him [a] 25 percent royalty — unheard of,” Lazenby said. “That essentially laid the groundwork for Jordan becoming a Nike partner. It’s a pretty amazing business story and a pretty amazing black power story — not the traditional black power of protests and politics but a black power story all the same, an economic story.”
It is no secret that Jordan likes to spend some of his money gambling.
But Lazenby said he was surprised to learn the extent of Jordan’s gambling. For example, said Lazenby, NFL player “Pacman” Jones told him that Jordan once lost $5 million shooting craps with Jones and others during the NBA All-Star weekend in 2007.
“Michael has lots of money and he has the gift that keeps on giving with his brand and his Nike relationship,” Lazenby said. “To throw away the millions he does gambling, that creates problems for him. … Family members, other people get angry. … They want things.”
For this book, Lazenby used interviews he had done with Jordan for the 1998 Bulls book and for a 2008 magazine article. He also had the benefit of interviews he had done with ex-Bulls coach Phil Jackson for previous books, including a Jackson biography.
Lazenby did briefly talk to Jordan about Jordan’s great-grandfather for the new book. But otherwise, said Lazenby, Jordan would not talk to him for this book because he wanted editorial control.
Learning about previous generations of Jordan’s family in North Carolina provided the context Lazenby was seeking for the book.
Jordan’s paternal great-grandfather, Dawson Jordan, was a sharecropper and moonshiner who died when Michael Jordan was 14 years old.
“He was the power figure in the family,” Lazenby said. “Michael’s great-grandfather is a powerful story in his own right and no one had ever told that story.”
Lazenby also learned about Michael Jordan’s late maternal grandfather, a farmer and moonshiner named Edward Peoples.
“He came to own his own land,” Lazenby said. “He had a two-story house and all this acreage. … They had this determination economically that until you understand that context, you don’t understand Jordan.”
Lazenby also researched Jordan’s childhood.
“This gets in and explains for the first time his … failure in Babe Ruth League baseball,” Lazenby said. “He was the North Carolina [Little League] player of the year as a 12-year-old. Then the next year he moved up … and he rarely got off the bench.
“You have to line all these things up and go through his adolescence to look at the building of his competitive nature.”
Lazenby said a lot of Jordan’s competitiveness stems from his relationship with his late father, James Jordan.
“His father really was down on Michael as a little kid,” Lazenby said. “He preferred his older brother [Larry].”
Lazenby used to teach at Virginia Tech and Radford. But he spent a lot of long weekends in Chicago during Jordan’s Bulls career for books he wrote about some of Chicago’s championship seasons.
Lazenby wanted to call the new book “Black Jesus: The Life of Michael Jordan,” in part because a Bulls employee used to refer to Jordan as Jesus. But the publishing company opted for the simpler “Michael Jordan The Life.”
Lazenby, who will soon return to a marketing job with some area radio stations, said he respects Jordan.
“Most of the people that have his kind of wealth and fame, they end up like Elvis,” Lazenby said. “He has his issues, but he has survived it for the most part.
“I just try to tell the story. You have to be engaging in your writing, but I’m not there as a cheerleader.”
Lazenby’s next book will be about the late VMI football coach John McKenna and will be published by VMI.