Editor’s Note: It is my absolute pleasure to present an interview with Dossie Bee Greenberg, my mother. She and her four sisters grew up on the West side of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. Her life journey has taken her from the inner city of Chicago to Santa Rosa, California, where she moved after marrying her husband (my father) in 1980. She is now a classroom aide and math tutor, as well as a wife, daughter, mother, grandmother, and best friend. I hope you enjoy this interview about basketball, and its greater meanings in her unbelievably eventful and interesting life.
She’s also the best mother and the strongest woman in the world. But I may be biased. Let’s get to it.
I’ve been looking forward to this. I hope none of the questions offended you or anything.
No, none of them did. Thank you for asking.
No problem. Well, why don’t we just jump into it, then?
Let’s start from the beginning. Who are you? Where are you from?
Well, my name is Dossie Bee Greenberg, born Nesbitt, originally from Chicago, Illinois. I’ve been in Santa Rosa, California, since 1980. So, more time spent on the West Coast than in the Midwest at this point.
Crazy. Well, at one point, you were in Chicago. Was your house a sports house growing up? Was Grandaddy a fan of the Bears, or the Bulls, or the Cubs, or the Sox? Anybody like that? Do you have any memories?
Well, yeah, I do. And to some reasonable degree, my father was a sports fan. We didn’t watch football. We didn’t watch any football. I knew about people like Walter Payton. I mean, I heard of him. But we never sat down — or at least I didn’t, with my dad — we never sat down and watched football. But we spent many, many afternoons watching the Cubs on TV.
And really got to know the players, and really got to love those players you know. Ernie Banks and Ron Santo were, you know, what was happening. Randy Huntley on the Chicago Cubs team. No White Sox. But I watched the Cubs, and really enjoyed it. Growing up with my dad, we didn’t watch basketball. That was something I did later. But when I was a high school student, I did play. I played myself in high school.
Well, that’s a good transition into the next question. I know you, and I know playing basketball played as important of a role, if not a more important role in your childhood, than watching basketball. So describe to me, and our readers, Dossie Bee Nesbitt, the basketball player.
Well, I started playing basketball on the streets of Chicago. We played what we used to call H-O-R-S-E, where you would have to make free throws, or mimic the play in front of you…
They still call it H-O-R-S-E.
Well, but that primed us to where you could stand on the court, and what your strengths and limitations were. And taking that into high school, as part of my P.E. courses, I had to take a sport. And I chose basketball, not because I thought I was any good at it, but more that it was something that I wanted to do. And then I found out that I was actually pretty good at it! Our team — I don’t recall us having a name, and we only played teams within our school [district] — but we were good! I can’t remember what position I was.
I’m going to guess at 5’3”, you were a guard.
[Laughs] At 5’3”, I probably was a guard. It didn’t feel like it was very defined, you just kept the people from the other team from shooting and making points, and if you had to guard another position to do that, you did. So they let us get away with that. But I found out that I had a knack for making the long shot. I would stand pretty far from the basket and I would jump shoot, and more times than not, make the basket. It was pretty awesome.
That is pretty awesome. Would you say you were more of a scorer, or more of a passer?
I probably scored more points than I prevented. But I was a little guy; I was little. I was very short; when I entered high school, I was only 4’9”. I grew into my adult height of 5’3” over the coming years. So it was pretty amazing that I was playing at all. One of the biggest compliments anyone paid our team was when the other team would be leaving the court after we would win, they’d say, “these bitches play like men.” And you couldn’t say anything better than that, because we played to win, and we did win. And it was nice. So that’s how I got my taste of basketball as a player in my high school years.
Well, real life ended your basketball career somewhat prematurely, and in somewhat dramatic fashion. Do you mind retelling the story about you and your coach, and what ended your basketball career?
I found myself, in my junior year, pregnant with my eldest child. I was very young, but it wasn’t evident to anyone that I was pregnant. So my parents realized that, and it was confirmed by a doctor that I indeed was pregnant. So that Monday, I went to school and suited up to play, and my coach pulled me off the floor. She said, “Nesbitt, you’re sitting this one out.” And I looked at her, and I said, “well, why?” And she just kind of looked at me, and said, “you know why.” So I guess even though I didn’t share the information [with her], it was known that I was pregnant, and could not play. It wasn’t the same as it is now. Then, as soon as a girl became pregnant, she’s yanked out of the school, and sent to another facility where she could continue to go to school while she carries her baby, and then deliver, and then after some time, be put back into her regular school. So that was the end of my playing for any high school team. The unfortunate timing of my first pregnancy brought that to an end. And it was sad to me, because I really enjoyed playing.
Well things turned out okay. I like my older sister (Happy Birthday, Shavon)!
Yeah, things did turn out okay. It was just early. It was early for everybody. Early for me, early for her. Early for my family. But I have no regrets that I continued that pregnancy.
Do you think you would’ve continued to play competitive basketball had things been different?
You know, sort of knowing that this question was coming, I thought about that. There was no doubt that I was smart enough to go to college. As a matter of fact, you know, I had been kind of groomed to to go on to college. I had a very high ranking my senior year in terms of GPA, and likely I could have been picked up to go to college. Maybe not necessarily on a scholarship, but with some nice financial aid package. And knowing that I had a liking and a talent for the game, I probably would have continued to play. I probably would have played for a college had that route been left open to me.
But college was out of the question. I had a child I had to take care of, and no other means but myself in which to do it. So I knew that I couldn’t pursue my educational career, and I knew that I certainly couldn’t go and play ball. I had to turn to real life — I had a year of high school to finish, and I had a child to take care of, and that meant employment. So that was the end of any of those other…aspirations.
You’re very strong mom.
Thank you, Jake. Thank you.
Well, let’s sit on that for a minute.
So the Bulls started playing in 1966. If I’m doing my math correctly, you were 13 then, right?
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, I was 12 most of that year.
Okay. Do you have any memories of pre-Jordan Bulls?
None. It’s so interesting. No. None. None at all. Kind of sad, considering it’s a city that’s lucky enough to have a professional franchise. But, you know, at 12 I was busy trying to survive other aspects of my life, and sports was not anywhere on the radar. Certainly not basketball anywhere on the radar. So no, I have no perceptions of the pre-Jordan Bulls.
So the names Johnny “Red”Kerr, Bob Love, Chet Walker or Jerry Sloan, they don’t mean anything to you?
Jerry Sloan. You know, I hear Jerry Sloan, and all I can think about is that he was the coach for somebody else.
The Jazz. He coached the Jazz in the finals [against the Bulls].
That’s right! That’s why I remember his name. I guess that was put in as the red herring.
No, Jerry Sloan was a Bulls great. His number is retired by the Bulls organization.
I feel so ashamed.
Don’t. I mean, most people didn’t know the Bulls were a franchise until Jordan arrived.
So I fall in the majority with that, huh?
I would say you do. I mean, I don’t know anything about these players. There are just guys I looked up on Wikipedia.
Okay, okay, good. Because I knew that name was familiar, but I wasn’t sure why.
Yeah, I mean, it’s for reasons against the Bulls. But let’s get back to you and Dad. You said you got into professional basketball watching with Dad. You mind talking more about that?
Well, when we first got married…now what’s really interesting, I need to just jump back a little bit, but in Super Bowl…I was to say…which one did we just have? Super Bowl what?
Oh, I have no clue. But are you thinking about the Super Bowl that the Bears won?
The Bears won two months after you were born (in 1985), and that was the year that I actually did follow professional football, but I can’t tell you who they won against.
Sure. Super Bowl shuffle, etcetera.
But it was marked by a very memorable event, which was your birth. It was Super Bowl something-five.
Okay. Good story?
But when Stan and I got married, we used to watch college basketball, and we were really into it. We would kind of know some of those players’ names because they were going through their little elimination rounds, and, you know, getting down to the Final Four. But then after college ball ended, it seemed like a natural transition to start watching pro ball. And we watched, and we followed teams, and we used to really, really enjoy watching some of the greats in their heydays.
I mean, we watched the rivalry between the Lakers and Boston, of course. You know, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar against Larry Bird and all those guys. So we just fell in love with basketball because it seemed like a pure game then.
And then suddenly, the Bulls were contenders. I don’t think the Bulls were ever contenders pre-Jordan, and so suddenly there’s this team with this young man with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, literally flying from center court to the basket and dunking effortlessly. We were hooked. Instantly. And so we watched the games on TV, and we admired the talent the Bulls had then. But there were so many other teams. Detroit had a strong team during Michael Jordan’s heyday. He had competition. He wasn’t out there playing a game against no-talent players. I mean, he had to earn his titles, and earned they were, because he played against strong competition.
It would be hard for me to ask you about specific Jordan memories because, you know, I was there. I know he played a huge role in all of our lives, at least during my childhood. But, what does Michael Jordan mean to you?
Well, you know, what he did kind of represent, not so much for me because it was getting late…but you know, I was working for the City of Santa Rosa during Jordan’s heyday.
And you know, I had my office plastered with his posters. I had Michael Jordan posters everywhere.
Do you remember the “Hare Jordan” poster?
Yeah! I think if I dig around my closet, I might still be able to come up with those posters. So, I mean, I’ve never been a sports fan groupie, so to speak. But Michael Jordan represented, for the home team, hope that you could really be something. I mean, watching him inspire the youth was something that was more amazing for me to behold that to watch him, per se. Watching little kids, knowing that they could really get plucked from inner cities and become a legend, like Michael Jordan did. That’s what he gave me, to see that he could become such a positive role model for so many kids on desperate means, and resorting to desperate measures. It didn’t always have to be like that.
So for me, no much. But his story could be repeated by any child living in inner city Chicago as something awe-inspiring. So that’s what he meant for me, and for a lot of people. He meant hope. You can have a talent and you can be successful.
Well, he played a huge role in my childhood, and I have very fond memories of watching the Bulls in the playoffs right when summer break would start. During elementary school, it always seemed like the Bulls were playing against somebody.
I remember watching games with you and Dad, and you would go nuts. You’d go absolutely nuts. When they’d hit free throws, you would jump up and cheer.
Is there any particular moment you remember from either of those dynasty runs?
You know, it’s been awhile. But I distinctly remember just feeling…I don’t know, just a euphoria settles over you; just kind of snatches you up, really. Watching the team play…I mean, Jordan wasn’t hamming for the crowd. I think he had the well-being of the Bulls franchise in mind, and he would always congratulate a good pass. He would pat the player on the back, and tell him, “job well done” if they set him up for a good play. And vice versa; if they didn’t make the play, he’d clap them on the back. To me, he was truly the star who shared the spotlight. He didn’t hog it for himself. Watching him and Scottie Pippen, and BJ Armstrong…he was a little guy on the team! And Horace Grant.
Horsey Grant! He was the man.
With his big glasses. But I’m thinking about a little guy. There was another little guy.
You’re thinking of Steve Kerr. Little white boy who’d hit threes. He was on the second dynasty team.
That IS who I’m thinking about! I am thinking about him. They did play together, right?
Oh yeah. That was Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, Long Legged Loose Limbed Luc Longley. Jordan retired, took two seasons off, and then came back and started winning championships again. So we have those two different dynasty periods.
That’s right. And you know, the fact they sort of blend together for me makes me think that I was inspired by both dynasties, as you term it. Because when the Bulls absolutely had to fill the gap that Jordan left, they did. They really did.
The Bulls were still a good team when Jordan retired (in 1993). Scottie was a great player, and Kukoc became a good player too. And when Jordan came back, Kukoc went to the bench, and they won three more championships. That 1996 team won 72 games, remember?
I don’t remember the numbers, but I do remember feeling that I hadn’t been cheated while Jordan wasn’t playing. The power and the determination and just the way they came together. That was a team that just congealed with one mind, and just merged together.
Well, that mind was Phil Jackson. Any thoughts about him?
I’ll say — and this will sound weird — but, God bless him. He was an awesome coach. I don’t think he showed any favoritism, I don’t think he showed any bias, I don’t think he did anything that hurt the Bulls in any way. But of course, I can’t speak as any pro on the game. I’m sure he did some stuff that other people must of thought was pretty bad.
Well, I think six championships speak for themselves.
It was just an awesome team. Such an awesome team. Long-legged-loose-lipped-long-limbed-Luc Longley…I used to love watching him play. And Dennis Rodman, without a doubt. And watching little B.J. Armstrong; they guy wasn’t much bigger than me, and he was all over the court. And they did it as if their lives depended on it. There was nothing lackadaisical about that team in any way. It always seemed as if they were giving everything they had on game day.
Well, let’s think about some of those players, then. Do you have a favorite player not named Michael Jordan from those teams? You mentioned a lot of names — Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper, Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley, Steve Kerr, BJ Armstrong, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc — there were a lot of memorable players. Does one stick out for you?
The fact you can say all those names sort of says something, doesn’t it?
I mean, those were fond childhood memories, Mom. It was this team that got me into basketball because the Warriors were awful, and, you know, it was those summers sitting around and see how pumped you and Dad would get about basketball. It would make me want to go outside and play.
And you did play! It was fun watching you develop as a basketball player, and you really did develop into a basketball player.
Well, I didn’t really develop into a really good basketball player, but I did develop into a really good basketball fan.
Well okay. We used to have some fun shooting baskets, doing our plays.
Yes, we did.
But to answer your questions, no one player really stands out as most memorable for me. I just think that I loved the team as a whole. I particularly loved it in the nineties. But when Michael Jordan left (the Bulls) for good, my love of the game really dissipated. I tried to watch, but I couldn’t do it anymore, which is really sad. Now I could not name a single Bull player. Not a single one.
Well, that’s an interesting thing, Mom, because the Bulls are good again. They’re championship contenders.
That’s what I keep hearing.
What is it about the Michael Jordan championship contending years, and now the Bulls are good again, and you don’t watch…what is it that separates those two? Is it just the presence of Jordan?
You know, I think that there’s just so much hot dogging going on now. It’s, “so-and-so, and the Chicago Bulls,” or, “so-and-so, and the Miami Heat.” It’s like a guy and his backup group. That started happening right as I started losing my taste for professional basketball. And it happened with players like, I don’t know, Sprewell.
You know, bad boys starting coming in. And it’s not like there weren’t bad boys before that.
I mean, you watched the Detroit Pistons back in the day.
Yeah. Those Pistons teams were filled with nothing but bad boys back in the day. But it seems like the boys now, they’re just so good that they don’t have time to be part of a team. They just have to tolerate the fact that they have teammates.
Or, it’s more about what type of contract they can get. Perhaps these things were happening when the Bulls were my team, and I was just unaware. But now it seems like those things have moved from conference rooms to TV cameras, and you’re more aware that somebody is whining because they’re only going to earn $15 million over 3 years instead of $20 million.
In other words, it’s less about what’s happening on the court, and more about the politics and drama off the court.
Exactly. And that takes away from the game. I just kind of shut down when that became more important than the entertainment of the game. And that’s probably why. But I’m happy to hear that the Bulls are doing well. I might have to check them out and learn a crop of new names, and see those new skill sets.
I actually think, Mom, that you’d really enjoy the Bulls’ current superstar. His name is Derrick Rose. He won the MVP last season. He’s a quick, dynamic point guard who’s praised for his selflessness and his sort of quiet, collected nature. He’s sort of the anti-star, in a way.
And you know, that’s the type of star I’m drawn to. So this is going to sound silly, but pro ball’s going on right now, right?
Yep. We’re in season.
So I could probably catch some good games at this point?
Yeah, I’d say the Bulls are going to make a deep run into the playoffs.
Well, maybe I’ll start watching the Bulls again, and in a year, you can do a follow-up interview.
I’d love to.
Well, let’s make a date to do that.