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Monday, October 29, 2001
Updated: November 27, 3:33 PM ET

Spike Lee


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In a sports town known for big events, Tuesday will be the ultimate with the Yankees playing host to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 3 of the World Series and Michael Jordan making his regular-season debut as a member of the Washington Wizards against the New York Knicks.

Spike Lee
Spike Lee and Turturro are working on a movie about banned NBA star Jack Molinas.
What a dilemma for hard-core sports fans, Knicks or Yanks.

One of New York's most famous superfans, Spike Lee, opted to use his Knicks ticket, while selling his second ticket for $101,300 on an Internet auction and giving the money to the Widows and Children's Fund set up by the New York Fire Department in the wake of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The anonymous buyer ended up donating his ticket to a child of one of the firefighters lost in attack on the World Trade Center.

So, Page 2 columnist Ralph Wiley subjected Lee to our 10 Burning Questions.

1. Page 2: How'd you get the idea to auction off one of your courtside seats for this Michael Jordan comeback/revival?
Spike Lee: Well, I just had a feeling that I had to do something in the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. I felt every New Yorker, whether on a bucket brigade, handing out sandwiches, everybody was doing what they could do. I had to do my part.

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan
I was looking forward to that game, Jordan's first regular-season game back, knew it was big-ticket, a scalper's delight kind of deal. And so I approached my wife with the idea. It wasn't going to be both seats being auctioned off. I knew it wasn't going to be mine. I felt I had to do something concrete for New York City's firemen, not to negate what anybody else did, all the heroic efforts before and since -- but the FDNY took the biggest hit.

1a. Did the terrorist attacks make you think, "This is like a movie."? If so, which ones?
Lee: I was in L.A. when it happened, planes flying into buildings, super fireballs. It looked like a Jerry Bruckheimer film to me. I tell people all the time, "It's not our military might that makes us the ultimate world power, it's not our war machine, it's our culture -- the TV shows, the music, the films." Sometimes, that stuff can be turned against you. I will go to my grave believing the terrorists had watched American movies. I'm not blaming Hollywood, but subconsciously, the terrorists thought they were gonna outdo Industrial Light & Magic.

2. You were there for the last Michael Jordan comeback/revival, in 1995, when Jordan dropped a double-nickel on the Knicks. What happened after that game?
Mars Blackmon, Michael Jordan
Jordan and Mars Blackmon
Lee: Well, after the game when Mike dropped the 55 -- and then dropped a dime on us, an assist to Bill Wennington, a spear-carrier, for the game-winning bucket -- I went back to the visiting locker room at the Garden and got his sneakers. I'd told Mike before the game that I wanted them, and we go back to the Mars Blackmon-Nike ad campaign days, and I don't know how many times I've sat there and watched him do in my Knicks. So he signed them for me.

By the way, come the opener, he's getting 30. Best of both worlds, he scores 40, Knicks win. Everybody goes home happy. Except Michael.

3. Say Mark Cuban had won the auction -- how would you feel about sitting next to him for an entire game?
Lee: I enjoy Mark Cuban. He's funny to me. Refreshing. I like Mark Cuban. I like him a lot. They try to lump all the young aggressive, dot-com, new-money owners together, like they're all control freaks and know-it-alls. I'd take Cuban over Dan Snyder any day.

4. Where did you come up with the persona of Mars Blackmon?
Lee: Mars was really from my imagination. I had asked my grandmother for a name, and she had a crazy uncle named Mars once, so that's where that came from. But I never met anybody like that character. All from imagination. The bike messenger, hoop fan, seer, who was "kinda small," so Nola Darling could dog him, but who loved the Knicks, Bernard King's game. Probably a lot of Mars was me ...

Chris Rock
Chris Rock
5. Who are the real bout-it bout-it NBA fans among movie people?
Lee: The best and most knowledgeable NBA fans are Chris Rock, Denzel (Washington), Bill Murray. Woody Allen knows the game; so does Jack Nicholson. Samuel L. Jackson knows. Matthew Modine -- him and his wife. His wife is more fanatical than anybody.

6. What's the worst basketball movie you've ever seen?
Lee: "One On One" with Robby Benson has to be one of the worst, if not the worst.

Woody Allen
Woody Allen
I'll tell you one of the worst basketball sequences in a game that wasn't really about the game. In "American History X" -- that was definitely a white boy fantasy. The Ed Norton racist character makes a bet on the playground that him (he had nice little game) and his roadies (who had no game at all) could beat some of the local brothers. And whoever lost the game could never play on those nice outdoor courts at Venice Beach again. The way they shot it, with the hidden trampolines and what-not, I'm sure ... And the premise itself -- that these boys would win, and if they did win, the brothers would then say, "OK, we'll never play again here," instead of saying, "OK, let's play again, double-or-nothing," or something. They'd never just leave. I mean, that's the daily dose of manhood for some of those brothers. So to me, that stuff was fake. Total fantasyland. Did not help make that film work. Otherwise, interesting movie.

6a. What's the best basketball movie you've ever seen?
Lee: "Hoop Dreams" is the best basketball film I've seen. Even though it was a documentary, it had a great dramatic arc, a fine narrative twist, and was so real. Just goes to show, you can make it up, but you can't make it up as well as life.

7. What scene from "He Got Game" do you wish hadn't hit the cutting room floor?
Milla Jovovich
Milla Jovovich
Lee: I can't even remember the stuff we cut out of "He Got Game," so whatever we cut must not have been that good. We had more stuff with the character Sweetness, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, playing the pimp for Milla Jovovich. Some of that was hilarious, but we couldn't use it. It didn't advance the story, and it didn't reveal anything central or meaningful about the primary characters. It was good, but it had to go.

7a. Is your next movie sports-related? If so, or even if not, what's the hook?
Lee: Well, I've been working on this project called "Save Us, Joe Louis," with legendary screenwriter Budd Schulberg, who wrote "On the Waterfront," and with boxing historian Bert Sugar. The hook is the relationship -- as adversaries, as political tools, as opponents in the ring, and as friends -- between Max Schmeling and Joe Louis, and the arc of their lives. They engaged in perhaps the greatest two minutes of sports and warfare of the entire 20th century, symbolically speaking.

7b. We hear you've got an HBO documentary about Jim Brown in the hopper. Can you tell us why you chose Jim? Did you -- or Jim -- pull any punches telling his story?
Jim Brown
Jim Brown
Lee: We're finishing it up now for HBO. It's called "Jim Brown: All-American," and it's about Brown the young man from the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia, the Manhasset, Long Island, high school star, the great athlete at Syracuse, the NFL icon, the activist, the movie star, the entrepreneur, the sex symbol, the guy who got in trouble with the law over domestic problems. We're dealing with everything, across the board, there are no punches being pulled. Jim's the type of person who gives you full access, never asked for approval. He said, "Do whatever you want to do, Spike. I trust you." So that's been our approach.

8. Deep down, way deep, have you ever thought about why you love sports so much?
Lee: The reason I love sports so much is because I was introduced to them at an early age by my father, at old Madison Square Garden, going to hoop tripleheaders, in the daytime, and night. Going to Yankee Stadium as a boy with my father, going to Shea. Now my own son, Jackson, is 4 years old. The past two weekends, we've been to Giants games, Jets game. We go to Knick games. If we're lucky, we'll catch Game 4 or Game 5 of the Series at Yankee Stadium. The love is, in a way, genetic; it gets passed down, handed down, generation to generation. As Americans, we're the greatest sports fans, even greater than the ancients Romans, or the Mayans. Someday, my son will inherit my courtside seats at the Knicks, but he'd better be making some money. Them seats cost!

9. What's your favorite sport?
Lee: Basketball is my favorite sport, but baseball is a close second, and football is a close third ...

9a. OK, then, give us your all-time first five starting hoop squad for one game, for all the marbles, against anybody, anytime.
Larry Bird
Larry Bird
Lee: Bill Russell at center. I know, Kareem, Wilt, now Shaq. Whatever. Like I said, Bill Russell at center. Magic Johnson at point guard. Michael Jordan at two guard. Then give me Larry Bird at small forward. In "She's Gotta Have It" when Jaime said, "Say what you want, the white boy is the best player in the NBA," I know that Mars says, "The best? The best? He's the ugliest m'f'er in the NBA!" But even Mars knew Bird was the Truth. He was just defending the rep of the brothers. Politically, it's just hard to consider Karl Malone for my five. He's been a great player for a long time, but some of that stuff Karl has done bothers me too much to put him on my team. OK, put Doc, Julius Erving, at three, move Bird to strong forward.

I never saw Oscar Robertson play with the Royals, but people who played with him, they say the Big O was better than anybody; they even pick him over Michael Jordan. Wish I'd seen him.

10. Are the Yankees going to win the World Series?
Lee: Yes.

10a. Jeter or A-Rod?
Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter
Lee: Jeter. You know, you can't always go by numbers; sometimes you gotta go by intangibles. Winners give off an aura, and Derek Jeter has that. I'm not hating on A-Rod either. Everybody knows how great a player he is. They don't give you $250 million because you look good in the lobby. And everybody knows he's saddled with a poor pitching team in Texas. And forget Jeter, not even Mays could win with a pitching-poor team. But if I was a GM, Jeter would be my shortstop. That play he made against the Oakland A's ... now if baby Giambi had slid, the Yankees might not be in it, but those are the plays a Willie Mays makes, an Ali, a Jordan, a Jim Brown. We're taking about genius. Genius! You can't teach that, you can't quantify it, there isn't a word for it.

10b. Favorite baseball team ever?
Lee: I'll give you my three favorite teams. '55 Brooklyn Dodgers, the only year they won the championship in Brooklyn. The '69 Mets. The '77 Yanks, when Reggie hit the three homers against the Dodgers. Each of those teams has part of me.

I was born in 1957, those Brooklyn teams of the late '40s and early '50 were just as good as the Yankee teams, but something always happened. Then in '55 the Dodgers finally broke through. Then the '69 Mets -- a true miracle, and this time I was there, right at a lot of those games. Then '77. Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie. Not just Reggie. Munson, Chambliss, Roy White, Randolph, Nettles, Billy Martin, Mickey Rivers ...

10c. Give us your all-time baseball team, one through nine.
Willie Mays
Willie Mays
Lee: Last week, Filip Bondy in the Daily News, in evaluating how the current Yankees stack up against the Yankee teams of the past, wrote that as far as baseball was concerned, anything before 1947 doesn't count. People of color were not allowed to play, so it definitely was not a level playing field, and the guys in the "major leagues" were not playing against all the competition. So none of the people on my all-time team played before 1947, although you could put Ruth on any team. They snuck him in there. You know one of the favorite names both friends and foe had for him was "Nigger" and "Niggerlips." He never liked being called that by Ty Cobb and all them. Know what? I don't blame him.

OK, Mays in center. Hank Aaron in left. Roberto Clemente in right. Bench at catcher. Bob Gibson is my right-hander, and Koufax is my left-hander -- I'm trying to win here. Maury Wills at shortstop. Why? There might be better shortstops, but I've got to think about my lineup and my defense. That's why Brooks Robinson is at third, got some power, and got some speed with Maury, but you need defense, so that's why Brooks is at third.

Second base. Joe Morgan. First base, I'm moving Stan Musial over there. Hit it like this:

Maury Wills ss
Joe Morgan 2b
Roberto Clemente rf
Willie Mays cf
Henry Aaron lf
Johnny Bench c
Stan Musial 1b
Brooks Robinson 3b
Gibson/Koufax p

Jackie Robinson is one of my childhood heroes, but as a baseball guy, a purist, in my role here as GM, I have to say, I don't know if Jackie could make this team.

Andruw Jones
Andruw Jones
10d. Bobby Cox recently compared Andruw Jones to Willie Mays. Wouldn't any current players make your all-time team?
Lee: That's not a serious question you're asking me, is it? That's an example of being misguided, of some kind of malfeasance. Mays? Mays? Bobby Cox is crazy, comparing Andruw to Mays. He's out of his mind. Maybe you can compare Andruw to Willie Mays Hayes, the Wesley Snipes character from "Major League." But you can't compare Andruw to the Willie Mays. Not yet. Probably not ever.

Not even Barry Bonds is on Mays' level, although Barry is the greatest player of his generation and just had a great, boffo, year -- the Year of All Life at the plate for the Giants. But I never was a big Giants fan. I loved Mays though. Or, better said, I recognized Mays. Genius. Genius!

Gotta get going now. Super Tuesday's coming up. Game 3 of the Series at Yankee Stadium, and the Knicks vs. Jordan's Wizards at the Garden. Same night. Know were I'm gonna be. You?