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Wednesday, September 27th, 2006 at 11:40 am  |  22 responses

Interview: Chuck Klosterman

CK on LeBron, Wade and why he doesn’t hate the Phoenix Suns.

by Ben Collins

Chuck Klosterman sits in the corner of a Cambridge, MA theatre, flipping his frazzled dirty blonde hair out of his eyes as he feverishly scrawls his signature in a stack of his two-week-old Chuck Klosterman IV. The opening chapter of the new book is the first (and to-this-day, only) profile and sit-down interview to publicly defame Britney Spears. Minutes ago, he finished up a Q&A in which he debated that the bands Foghat and Yo La Tengo are one and the same. This Q&A was cut off because some of his audience was waiting for that night’s screening of a movie about a fictitious set of siamese twins, joined at the head, who were groomed since infancy to join a ’70s metal band.

This man should know nothing about basketball.

“LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Nowitzki, Garnett.” He spews out his version of the NBA’s top-five like it’s his social security number.

“Oh,” he jumps. You’d think he omitted his sixth child. “And Duncan. If he’s healthy.”

OK. This guy knows everything about basketball. (He does write for ESPN.com, after all.)

For those unacquainted, Klosterman is the definitive voice of Gen Xers, or the Real World Generation, or whatever back-of-the-book critics call today’s pop culture. They dub him things like “strikingly self-aware” and “magnificently post-modern,” which basically means he has the innate ability to sift through an Entertainment Weekly, pinpoint the next LFO and the next U2 and make sure to only interview the next U2.

He brought to light the trashy family aspect of the aforementioned Britney Spears long before she ever married Kevin Federline, revealed her nasty smoking habit and gave birth to/almost killed her baby. He profiled Steve Nash before he was a two-time MVP and surefire Hall-of-Famer, and talked to him about the merits of socialism. He interviewed Mike Skinner from The Streets when the idea of British rap was considered adorable.

He’s not psychic; he’s just good. He can either predict or help create what sticks in today’s culture. But, of all things, this guy in faded jeans who was just answering questions about Twisted Sister would much rather talk about basketball.

“I don’t know if this is the new ‘Golden Age of Basketball,’” he says, “but it’s easily the best its been since the middle-80s.”

Klosterman is one to talk about the subject, too. He’s been following the sport since childhood and always finds a way to mix it into his prose. In his 2003 collection Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Klosterman devoted an entire chapter to NBA officiating. It even helped him get a job once. He won over a potential employer, a Scott Skiles fan (the point guard, not the coach), by filling an interview with nothing but Michigan State Spartans facts.

“People overestimated the idea of the ‘team concept’ (in this year’s playoffs), so when it got to Wade and Shaq (in the Finals), you get to that last tier, and it’s who has the guy that the other team can’t stop,” he says, then takes a pause for effect, as good writers sometimes do. “Miami had that guy. The best teams in the East next year are going to be Miami and Cleveland — two teams with guys no one can stop.

“And I kind of like it that way, don’t you?” Klosterman asks, always engaging.

In his recent book, along with that Steve Nash profile, he interlaces Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas with George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton, Mia Farrow and Phillip Roth, and Batman and Superman to help you narrow down your exact arch-enemy. But doesn’t that setup run-and-gun teams like Nash’s Phoenix Suns to be Klosterman’s basketball arch-enemy?

“No, I’m not anti-Phoenix,” says Klosterman. “I actually love Phoenix and they’re the same in a weird way. I like watching Nash because Steve Nash is everything to that team. Amare (Stoudemire) has a lot of bang; Nash is that one guy you can’t stop.”

In fact, for a guy who is supposed to be the voice of a generation, this beard-stroking proselytizer thinks this New NBA should be a part of it. Whatever this generation is.

“I don’t think that there’s ever been a time that there were so many players bordering on transcendent,” he says. “Kobe could be the second best player of all-time, or he could be the third best player in the league. Nowitzki could be the second best player or the seventh best player.”

But can’t some of them be overhyped? Is it possible they’re just faking a couple of seasons of greatness? Isn’t there a chance one could be a Mitch Richmond, or a Glen Rice, or an LFO?

“Naah, it’s not really hype. They tried to do that in the mid-’90s. You can tell,” says Klosterman, with another dramatic pause. At this point, whatever he says next will be right. This guy knows how to pause. This guy knows the future. Most importantly, this guy knows basketball.

“When somebody’s the real deal,” he says, “you can tell.”

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  • http://slamonline.com Sam Rubenstein

    He was pretty insightful about Van Halen’s mass appeal and why Iron Maiden was able to cross over with the metal and punk fans in England in the late 70′s. He was on some Vh1 special called “Heavy” the other day, where I learned such things from him.

  • http://slamonline.com marcel mutoni

    klosterman is one of my favorite people to read. i’m not a fan of heavy metal by any stretch of the imagination, but i gleefuly plowed through Fargo Rock City (his first novel). he’s the real deal.

  • Derms

    CK is the man, and he is hilarious too!

  • http://slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    I’m not sure if one magazine/book writer name-dropping another (admittedly much better-known) magazine/book writer actually counts as name dropping, but if so, allow me to name-drop. Chuck is a neighbor of mine and we’ve known each other through a mutal friend for about five years now; ironically or not, we actually first met when I went to Akron to interview a then-HS-sophomore named LeBron James back in 2001. Chuck was working at the Akron Beacon Journal at the time with one of my best friends from college. Anyway, our aquaintance has led me to be occasionally harrassed by my co-workers for hanging with the “Hipster Pied Piper” or whatever the hell people seem to think he is. Mostly, though, Chuck is a cool, intelligent dude whose basketball knowledge is no joke, as Ben correctly pegged. It’s through Chuck that I also (briefly) met Malcolm Gladwell, another well-known, populist-appealing culture critic who also happens to be a huge and knowledgable hoop fan. Short of competing with my man Myung for total word count (a losing battle, I know) I’m not sure why I felt compelled to share this. I just guess to say that these guys are sort of casual friends of SLAM, which is pretty cool, even if we can’t afford to actually have them write for us.

  • http://slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Oh, and Mutoni, Fargo Rock City isn’t a novel. It’s non-fiction. You’re fired.

  • http://slamonline.com marcel mutoni

    ryan, at least let me keep my red stapler…

  • http://slamonline.com Sam Rubenstein

    Ryan, ironically or not you used the word “ironically” when referring to Mr. Klosterman. I think he receives a royalty check every time that word is used.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    I wish Gladwell could write for us so that he could figure out a way NBA officiating is related to something it’s completely unrelated to, like dog food or iPods or something.

  • http://slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Sam, your ignorance, much like the Giants’ lack of pass defense, is showing. Chuck really doesn’t work much in irony, even if it’s a religion for a good percentage of his readers.

  • http://slamonline.com Sam Rubenstein

    Oh yeah? Maybe he doesn’t work much in irony to be ironic. The Giants defense is as leaky as Joe Paterno’s bladder.

  • http://slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    I don’t think Joe’s bladder was the problem on Saturday, homie.

  • albie1kenobi

    fantastic intreview. the fact that this post pratically became a SLAM staffer-only thread can only show this guy’s the real deal. (sorry for butting my head into this “exclusive” SLAM staffer discussion)

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ben Collins

    Fifty things:
    1) Sam, I seriously had ‘ironic’ in the article at one point (en lieu of the siamese metal band movie, I was going to talk about how they were ‘ironically’ showing Total Recall in that theatre tomorrow night), but I figured a good eight people would realize the homage.
    2) I played the Giants defense in my fantasy league this week because a) I’m a Giants fan, b) I don’t HAVE another defense, c) I didn’t think it could possibly be as bad as last week. Sweet God was I wrong.
    3) This interview was precluded by a, “You work for SLAM? Do you know Ryan Jones?” It was reciprocated. Name drop validated.

  • http://slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Ben, I guess we’ll have to meet now. Nice work.

  • http://slamonline.com Sam Rubenstein

    Yeah, nice work Ben. Sorry we hijacked the comments section to argue back and forth with Ryan making sure he gets the last word in everytime.

  • http://slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    That’s not fair, Sam.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Oh, you crazy kids.

  • Young C

    Yeah, hes right about them hypin dudes up way too much in the mid-90s. Remember Bryant Reeves leading the uprising of the Vancouver Grizzlies…and Shawn Bradley being the white Wilt Chamberlain?

  • http://slamonline.com marcel mutoni

    um, not really, Young C.

  • http://sideways8.wordpress.com Mike Lewis

    I think he has a real talent as a writer. It is sometimes frustrating to read a series of essays in a book and i actually found the beginning and final story in IV to be the best parts.

    And i wrote more about his 3rd book (Killing Yourself to Live) here:
    http://sideways8.wordpress.com/2006/08/01/the-power-of-a-concept/

  • Froggiestyle

    Fellas! ____________________________ Now that it’s official ……….. Slam writers really are the Mystery Men, which one is the Sphinx? …….”If you doubt your powers, you only give power to your doubt” “If you quote ironically, is your irony quotable?” I got my money on Russ for the Blue Raja (how’s grama’s forks holding up B?)

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