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Q&A: ESPN's Mike Greenberg takes a write turn with novel

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Perhaps the last thing fans of Mike "Greeny" Greenberg expected from the co-host of ESPN's popular "Mike & Mike in the Morning" sports talk show was an endearing "chick lit" novel told through the voices of three quite believable women.

Then again, Greenberg's climb through the ranks to become one of America's favorite sports commentators owes as much to serendipity as the writing of his debut novel, "All You Could Ask For," which was inspired by the funeral of a close friend.

MIKE GREENBERG, AUTHOR,
'ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR'
Q&A with personal finance author Farnoosh Torabi

Psych Yourself Rich

Mike Greenberg is best known as the co-host on the ESPN "Mike & Mike in the Morning" show, but the death of a family friend pushed him in a new direction: novelist. His book "All You Could Ask For" debuted in April 2013.

It's a measure of the 45-year-old husband and father of two that he's donating the proceeds from his labor of love, which reached No. 17 on the New York Times best-seller list, to find a cure for the disease that too soon claimed his family friend.

In fact, there's a lot you don't know about Greenberg -- including one particularly flashy credit card weakness.

Q: What's a guy's guy like you doing writing "chick lit?"

A: Yes, a lot of people were certainly taken aback by that. It was a departure in every conceivable way.

Q: How did it come about?

A: When my wife's best friend Heidi Armitage died at 43 of breast cancer in 2009, I was sitting at her memorial service and I was overcome with this idea that I needed to do something about it. My first idea was that I was going to run a marathon and donate the proceeds to (the late Jim Valvano's) V Foundation for cancer research. Then I got the idea to do the book and ultimately that's where it went. We created a foundation called Heidi's Angels in Heidi's memory, and it's through that that we're donating all of the proceeds to the V Foundation. I never would have done this particular book without that element to it.

Q: What does it mean to you?

A: For the first time in my life, I really feel like I'm doing something that's important. When you make a decision to be a professional sportscaster, you recognize that you're not saving people from burning buildings and you're not finding a cure for cancer; you're doing a job that's fun and on some level provides a public purpose, but you're not really doing something important. In this case, I feel like I'm actually doing something important.

Q: You have what many guys would consider a dream job. Were you a born sportscaster?

A: Yes. This is how foretold it was: my mother will tell you that when I was 5 years old, she would sit me in front of the television and I would announce the football games. When I was a kid, at whatever age it was that I figured out I was never going to be good enough to be a player, I made up my mind that I just had to do something in sports, though I didn't know exactly what. I've always been a passionate sports fan. My whole family is. To this day, the way my parents and my brother and I related to each other probably better than anything is through sports.

Q: At what point did a broadcasting career seem within your reach?

A: I don't know. I started out as a news production assistant; I worked the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift at WMAQ radio in Chicago and I didn't love the hours but I loved the job. I never really thought of doing anything else.

When you make a decision to be a professional sportscaster, you recognize that you're not saving people from burning buildings and you're not finding a cure for cancer ... In this case, I feel like I'm actually doing something important.

Q: Did you have a plan B?

A: Not really. In all candor, I'm really not good at anything else, unlike my partner Mike Golic, who is one of these strangely talented people, even at insignificant things like he's a good dancer, he's a good athlete. I'm not good at practically anything except talking, so I needed to find a way to make a living by talking. Thankfully, I did.

Q: Once "Mike & Mike" came along, your income popped. Was that an adjustment for you?

A: I like to spend money. I don't know whether this is a blessing or a curse but I have relatively expensive taste, so that requires a little bit of will power. But because I lived as an adult for so long without making a lot of money, I know how to live within my means. As my means have grown, I've allowed myself to live better, but I would never live outside of my means. I'm well aware that I've got a long life to live and it's possible that at any time, the money I have will have to last me for the rest of my life.

Q: What's your biggest spending weakness?

A: Definitely clothes; I spend a lot of money on clothes. My partner, the first time we went on Letterman, wore a shirt that said Dr. Pepper on it because he had received it at a golf outing. I wore a suit made by Prada. So we have very different tastes in clothing. I would say over the years that my wardrobe budget verses his wardrobe budget -- and I don't think this is an exaggeration -- would be a thousand to one, literally. And it's going increasingly in that direction.

Q: What's been your best money move? 

A: What I did that was smart was, I know what I don't know. I don't know how to invest money or handle money but I know how to hire people who do. So I think I have exceptionally good people who handle all of my money for me and I feel very confident in them and follow their advice without hesitation. That's been critical.

Q: Ever find yourself in credit card trouble along the way?

A: No, I never did, but I once had a major problem where someone got a credit card in my name and it took me years to get that taken off my credit record. Someone had gotten a Brooks Brothers store card in my name and charged a couple thousand dollars on it. I remember once being declined for an apartment because I had this on my credit. It was a terrible experience.

None of the things that have ever happened to me in my career were things I planned.

Q: How old were you when you received your first card?

A: My parents gave me a credit card when I was young and taught me how to use it. I always joke around that my brother had it much better than I did because when he was in college, his credit card bill went to my dad, who wouldn't even look at it, he'd just write a check. My credit card bill went to my mom, who wanted to know what every single charge on it was. So I learned from a very young age -- "No, Mom, that was a haircut; I needed a haircut. I couldn't see!" I definitely got the short end of that.

Q: You're often around professional athletes who earn phenomenal salaries. Does it skew their judgment?

A: Yes and no. If the way LeBron James views $1,000 is the way I view 10 bucks, then going out and buying a mansion doesn't seem like that big a deal. I don't have a full comprehension of what it would be like to be that kind of uber-wealthy, but I think by and large, guys in sports are doing a better and better job of handling their money.

Q: Some argue that betting has gotten out of control in sports. Do you agree?

A: Yep. Sure. It is the ultimate necessary evil. I don't know what percentage of the popularity of pro football you would attribute to gambling, but it's not 5; it's a heck of a lot closer to 50 (percent) than 5. I think the growth of March madness in this country is directly tied to the sheets. Every single person who has never heard of a single player on any of these teams all of a sudden has a significant rooting interest in almost every game in the tournament, which is why you see the (TV) ratings go down in the years of bigger upsets. Everyone thinks they want upsets, but once your bracket gets busted, half the people who were paying attention stop paying attention. That's gambling, or at least a form of it. So to me, gambling is an overwhelmingly important part of sports and the popularity of sports, and increasingly so.

Q: Do you object to gambling?

A: I don't have any problem with it. I certainly think that most of it is benign, or at minimum, irrelevant. You have to be careful with instances like the (referee) Tim Donaghy situation in the NBA and point-shaving scandals that crop up now and then, but those things are very few and far between and would probably happen even if gambling was illegal. I don't personally view gambling as a scourge or a major threat to sports as we know it.

Q: You have a knack for storytelling. Do you aspire to write more fiction?

A: Yes, absolutely. That's my goal. I'm almost finished writing my next one already, which I started last July. My goal would be to try to write a book a year for the rest of my life. That's what I really like to do and I hope to get better and better at it.

Q: What lies ahead in your broadcast career?

A: I have no idea. None of the things that have ever happened to me in my career were things I planned. Every significant thing that's ever happened to me, including this show, came when my phone rang one day when I wasn't expecting it and someone offered me something I hadn't thought of, so that's really my answer to this. I'm not pursuing anything else. I'm very happy doing what I'm doing. I don't have any immediate intention of doing anything else. But you know, if the phone rings and someone has a really good idea, I'm always willing to listen.

See related: Facing off with NHL great Derek Sanderson, Q&A with Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson

Published: June 6, 2013



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