This article is the first in the Guru's new Insider series.
By Nicholas Churchill
All is quiet on the western front. It's almost 4 o'clock am and I'm standing outside the open bedroom door of former NBA player and Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles. The room and everything in it is midnight black and the only thing I can hear is Skiles' laborious breathing. Skiles suffers from sleep apnea, a condition he earlier attributed to to "an overstrengthening of neck musculature, from an early age" Skiles, like so many of his generation, lifted weights pre-pubescently. I tiptoe toward the door, peering in. Skiles doesn't know I'm here. He gave me the keys to his house so I could gain exclusive access to him for the biography I'm writing. He told me not to tell him when I was coming, so that I could get a true picture of him when he wasn't awake. "I'm a different person, then," the NBA all-times assists in a game (30) leader said. Even in his loud breathing, I notice an uncanny slowness, a calm over Skiles. He is at peace.
That ends now, when his alarm-clock goes off, at 3:59:59. I jump at the cacophony of sounds.
Whistles blowing, sneakers squeaking, nets swishing, clips of Skiles himself yelling, point guards barking plays, big men slamming dunks, buzzers going off. Sounds of the game. For Scott Skiles, wakeup time is game time. He flips on the lights. Next to the alarm clock on Skiles' nightstand is a 1st edition autographed copy of Wilt Chamberlain's epic, A View From Above--"The Bible," Skiles says with a wistful look. "The greatest player to ever play the game, on and off the court."
Skiles brushes his teeth, flosses twice, lathers his face vigorously. One thought pervades every corner of my mind: Scott Skiles is a man of discipline. He still hasn't spoken to me.
As he exits the bathroom, he clears his throat and says, "Good morning," and heads toward the kitchen in his slippers. On the way, I can see his energy building with every step. Skiles makes a sharp right and shows me his trophy room. In addition to his many gleaming gold, silver, bronze and brass awards, Skiles has a great photo of his Hoosier high school days, when a shaggy-haired boy took a no-name high school to the Indiana State Basketball Title. "Back then it was all one tourney, not that 4-class BS they have now. We slayed the dragon that day, and that's not all I slayed," pointing to a cheerleader in the background. "Man that was a great day, but this is the real trophy," he says as we walk into his garage. "This, my friend, is a 1981 Dodge Stratus. I stole this car the night we won it all, back in high school. This was a car of conquest for me--sexual conquest. Obviously, I'd conquered everything else Indiana had to offer by that point."
At first glance you wouldn't think of Skiles as a ladies man. He's a shade under 6 ft, balding noticeably, and his regimented coaching style carries over to his life, even with the ladies. "Women, you have to understand, they need to be smacked around once in a while. I learned that from my Granpappy Skiles down in Terra Haute, IN. He was born in to a polygamist sect, and well, sometimes, the best way to a woman's 'heart' is with the back of your hand."
Kissing the hairy back of his own right hand, Skiles chuckles. "I gave Shaq some of this back in '93. And he won't ever forget it, don't let him tell you otherwise. Larry Krystowiak, my good friend, who I'll probably be replacing as Milwaukee Bucks coach next year, tried to break it up. Nothing doing. Shaq was a boy back then, and I could make him a boy now. I still don't know why I was the second Magic player on NBA Jam. That game didn't even showcase my skills. Boom-shaka-laka?!?! You couldn't even run a help defense, the guys wouldn't switch. It was like the Bulls this year. What a joke. Although I did like that special code-player, Mark Turmel. I believe his intials that you entered were TUR. I guess he was a designer, and he wrote himself into the game along with P-Funk. Who would've thunk it? That's genius."
The garage opens onto the kitchen. "Skiles makes way for a cabinet and pulls out an industrial sized jar of Metamusil. "That's the stuff. IBS always plagued me as a player, until I met Kareem, and he told the benefits of a healthy diet, with plenty of fiber. I'm a guy who needs regularity in every aspect of my life. Naturally, that includes the can." Skiles claims that he's had "Nothing but one wipers," since his 1992 appearance in NBA Jam. "Being in that game really cemented my legacy as a star. And a true NBA star is always in control, especially a white point guard. It starts with your bowels, and then you go from there.""
"I mean back at MSU, we'd a get a little crazy, but not like that game design guy--Turmel. We'd get a little booze, a little white, you know the usual, maybe jack a couple cars. Back then it was good clean fun. These guys now, I don't get it. Players on their phones all the time. Would you believe Ben Wallace is always texting? Neither could I, but it's non stop. Texting women, never closing the deal. It's the same on the court, he can never finish at the rim."
It's late afternoon, our interviews are done for the day. Skiles shows me his court out back. We play a couple of games of PIG and then lace em up for a little one on one. Skiles insists on lowering the rim to 8 ft so we can both dunk. Needless to say, the thrown downs keep coming and coming. Skiles, though, doesn't talk any smack. He keeps it cool until the end, giving me open jumpers and a few easy buckets, keeping me in the game. "I'm playing you like the Bulls, you see, playing down to your level. Now you're seeing what I had to deal with day in day out."
It's 10-10, Game Point. I post Skiles up, give him a little chin music with my elbow. He ducks and then reaches down to his shoe, like he's twisted an ankle. "Scott, you OK?" After rolling down his old gym socks, he makes a rush at me. There's something twinkling in the sun. Swoosh. It's a switch blade. "What the fuck was that," the Coach says, pointing the knife at me. I block it with the ball which he jabs. That's NBA leather, tough as nails, tough as Scott Skiles." He turns to the other hoop and throws the knife full court, swish. "Game." But just for good measure, he steals the ball and dunks it on the near hoop like Woody Harrelson in White Men Can't Jump, a primordial scream echoes around the Skiles estate.
Inside, Skiles chugs prune juice by the bottle. "Kareem?" I ask. He nods between gulps.
I use the guest shower and Skiles hands me a leather jacket as we head for the garage. Night is falling. He puts on sunglasses and points to the '81 Stratus. "Let's roll."
This text was excerpted from author Nicholas Churchill's forthcoming biography, Scott Skiles: White Noise, due out from Simon and Schuster later this spring. Churchill is a 13 year veteran of The New Republic and a Founding Editor of Sports Illustrated for KIDS.