Sports writer John Feinstein on his first audio book, ‘The Friends I’ve Made’

The listening time for sports commentator and writer John Feinstein’s first exclusive audio book “The Friends I’ve Made” is listed at four hours and 47 minutes — and yet, it still feels like it ends too soon.

There has to be one more story with Hall of Fame college basketball coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo, or Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, or golf analyst David Feherty, or tennis commentator Mary Carillo. Feinstein calls them all unique personalities who have become among his closest friends, and his connection and intimacy with them comes through.

“Because they all know me as well as they do, I believe they felt comfortable sharing stories with me that maybe they wouldn’t share with somebody else,” Feinstein said. “Each of these people is unique. Each has a story to tell that in its own way is unlike anybody else’s story.”

Over four decades, Feinstein has taken us on journeys of discovery through written word with books on every major sport. Now in an audio format instead of reading, Feinstein’s interviews with his friends are really conversations and that make it is easy for the listeners to feel like they are joining them at a table.

Jim Gallagher Jr., left, and John Feinstein as seen in the Golf Channel during the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 11, 2017, in Ponte Vedra Beach. (Photo by Cy Cyr/PGA TOUR)

The stories that come to life in “The Friends I’ve Made” flow because of decades of trust between Feinstein and his colleagues. As Feinstein worked on writing books, meaningful relationships developed and each personality featured in “The Friends I’ve Made” was part of one of Feinstein’s previously-written books.

Krzyzewski and Izzo are on the pages of “A Season on The Brink,” on Indiana coach Bobby Knight, that served as a launchpad for Feinstein’s book writing career. Kerr was a player at the University of Arizona when Feinstein was writing “A Season Inside.” Carillo was in the tennis book “Hard Courts” and Feherty was in contention at the 1994 British Open when Feinstein was working on the golf classic “A Good Walk Spoiled.”

With earphones on, or ear buds in, listening to an audio book can be a very personal experience, but “The Friends I’ve Made” makes listeners want to share what they just heard. There are so many moments when it is hard not to look for someone to nudge and say, “Did you just hear what Feinstein said.” At least audio books have a rewind function.

For example, as Feinstein shares, it really was John McEnroe (hardly the diplomat in his playing days) telling Mary Carillo to calm down when she was working for ESPN and upset at the network’s coverage of the 2010 U.S. Open and its failure to mention Serena Williams’ verbal assault of a line judge.

“Mary found out the reason that no one was allowed to bring it up and they were not showing any video was because ESPN wanted Serena to work for them during the tournament,” said Feinstein. “And when she heard that, she just said I can’t do this anymore. Mary is a born reporter.”

Listening to “The Friends I’ve Made,” it is hard to reconcile that David Feherty is really an introvert. Feherty has surpassed his success as a professional golfer with his work in the television booth. He is a born storyteller and his ability to hold court in locker rooms led to his television career.

“He does a stand-up routine in theaters called Feherty Off Tour,” said Feinstein. “I’ve sat with him before he’s gone on stage, and he will tell you that every single time he walks out there he’s terrified … and yet, when you watch him on stage, you see this genius comedian.”

In “The Friends I’ve Made,” Feinstein says he was looking for unique stories to tell, and he certainly found one with Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. As a player, Kerr won five NBA championship rings — three with Michal Jordan, who he fought with his first day in practice, and the Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs.

It was an NBA career beyond Kerr’s wildest imagination, which continues now in charge of the Warriors, where he earned three more championship rings. Through his journey to NBA success, Kerr has carried emotional scars. While Kerr was a freshman at the University of Arizona, his father, then president of the American School of Beirut, was assassinated by members of a Shia Lebanese militia.

“Steve is one of those people (that) when I get through talking to him, I feel a little smarter because I’ve listened,” Feinstein said. “He’s very outspoken politically, and needless to say, he has strong feelings about gun control.”

Feinstein also believes a common thread among the people featured in “The Friends I’ve Made” is that they are even greater on a personal level than on a professional level. As the men’s basketball coach at Michigan State, Tom Izzo has a resume brimming with success, including eight Final Four Appearances and one NCAA title.

In 25 seasons with the Spartans, Izzo’s program has produced 22 NBA draft picks, including guard Cassius Winston, who was selected by the Washington Wizards in the second round of this year’s draft. Winston was able to flash a bright smile as his NBA goal was achieved because Izzo helped him through the darkest period of his life — the suicide death of his brother Zachary.

“Tom had to start last season trying to figure out a way to not just help Cassius, but his parents and the rest of his family through this horrific tragedy,” said Feinstein. “It’s not one of those things where you can say that it’ll be better next time. It’s a loss that it’s never going to go away.”

As Feinstein notes, many Maryland fans would like “to think of Krzyzewski as the devil” because he is the head coach of Duke, but he knows firsthand nothing could further from the truth.

After the Blue Devils beat arch rival North Carolina in a close game in 2006, Krzyzewski still made a point to call Feinstein. An emotionally-drained Feinstein had watched some of that Duke win after a funeral earlier in the day for his father, Martin.

“He said, ‘I just wanted you to know that when I stepped into the last huddle with 30 seconds to go I looked up at the sky and I said Martin this one’s for you,’” Feinstein said.

“I didn’t even know how he knew my dad’s name was Martin. He thought after a win like that to take the time to call me figuring I’d still be up not sleeping, to let me know that he was thinking about me. That’s the kind of friend Mike Krzyzewski is, not just to me, but to everyone.”

Feinstein is the author of 42 books, including “A Season on The Brink,” and “A Good Walk Spoiled,” both No. 1 New York Times bestsellers.

“The Friends I’ve Made” is his first book in an audio-only format.

“I really enjoyed it, and it was because I was just having conversations with people I genuinely like and who I learn from,” said Feinstein. “I think there are things in the book that I didn’t know as well as I know these people. I had a list originally of 20 people, and I hope we’ll sell enough copies that I’ll get to go to six through 10 and do another one of these.”

We can only hope “The Friends I’ve Made” is the start of many more conversations by John Feinstein. In sports, few have friends like Feinstein, and even fewer can carry a conversation and tell a story like Feinstein.

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

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