Update: Thomas Lake started a fundraising page for Pop Herring at IndieGoGo.com. Here's the link: click.
Back in January, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Lake profiled Pop Herring, the man who purportedly cut Michael Jordan from his high school team in Wilmington, NC, way back when. It was a fantastic story, and Tom was even kind enough to let me interview him about it. Tom had also hoped the piece would get Jordan’s attention, as Herring had not in fact cut Jordan and had even been incredibly kind and generous, opening the gym early for Jordan to work on his game, giving him rides and even loaning him his car, and the like.
Well, Jordan never responded, and Herring, who’s suffered from a debilitating mental illness, went from bad to worse. He recently landed in jail. Lake went back to Wilmington to check it out. What he found was that Herring had been drunk when police came looking for someone else, and that got him locked up. He’d stayed in jail for weeks because he simply had nobody to bail him out. Lake ultimately decided to bail Herring out, and then when he sat down to write about about Pop's latest developments, it took the form of an impassioned and powerful open letter directed at Michael Jordan, imploring him to help the man who in his most formative years helped him take those all-important first steps toward becoming the basketball player he is today.
The reaction has been loud and mixed. Lake (@ThomasLake on Twitter) has been equal parts praised and blasted. When I initially read his piece, titled “A letter to Michael Jordan: Shame on you for refusing to help Pop,” I thought what Lake had done was, on a human level, awesome. As a journalist, I was torn. There’s a fine line we journalists have to walk when it comes to advocacy, and it’s a safe argument to make that Jordan doesn’t really owe Pop anything. One could even argue that Lake overstepped his bounds as a journalist, as was argued fairly and thoughtfully by, among many others, Wilmington Star-News sports editor Dan Spears.
I’d planned to ask Lake if he wanted to come on the blog and talk a little bit more about the situation, maybe explain some of his thinking behind these decisions and all that, but radio talk show host Scott Hennessee (@ScottHennessee) got to him first. It was a to-the-point 10-minute talk, and Lake was thorough in his explanation. You can listen to it by clicking here, or if you prefer to read, I’ve transcribed it for you below. It's a quick read, and well worth the time.