In the National Basketball Association, the Los Angeles Lakers claim celebrity endorsement with Jack Nicholson as their courtside jester. Across the country, director Spike Lee offers similar service to the New York Knicks. The small market Portland Trail Blazers and the rebuilding Chicago Bulls may not have many resident celebrities to sit courtside, but they are not without notable endorsement.
“My Fractured Life” a new novel by celebrity author Rikki Lee Travolta, sports a red, black, and white cover in demonstration of both the author and main character’s dedication to Travolta’s two favorite teams, which just so happen to share the same team colors – the Bulls and the Blazers.
“I personally insisted on the colors,” says Travolta. “It’s important to me to actively show my support for the things I believe in.”
Travolta is more than a casual fan. As a youth, he played for Hall of Fame coach Dr. Jack Ramsay during a summer basketball camp. Ramsay played for the American Basketball League’s Wilmington Blue Bombers before entering the NBA coaching ranks with the Philadelphia 76s where he led his team to the playoffs three times in four years. As the coach of the Blazers, he guided the team to an NBA championship in his first season and nine playoff experiences in ten years.
Travolta was a member of the School of Glide – the fan club of All Star guard-forward Clyde Drexler. A ten-time NBA All-Star who was named one of the 50 greatest players of all time, Drexler led the Blazers to multiple NBA playoff appearances and two trips to the NBA finals before winning the title with the Houston Rockets in his twelfth season alongside former college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon. Known at University of Houston as “Phi Slamma Jamma,” Drexler and Olajuwon teamed with forward Larry Micheaux to win two straight NCAA Final Four tournaments in the 1980s. As a member of the original Olympic “Dream Team” in 1992, Drexler brought gold to the U.S. alongside Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, and John Stockton, under coach Chuck Daly.
When Travolta visited Chicago to star in the city’s top box office comedy “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” he dated one of the Chicago Luvabulls – the cheerleaders of the then championship basketball franchise. The relationship gained him special access the team’s workout facility and scrimmages and opened the door for several friendships.
“The championship Bulls will always hold an exciting place in world history, and in my own memories from the experiences I had,” says the author. “But the new breed Bulls are also exciting in their own way. Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, and Jay Williams are amazing talents on the verge of bursting into the real deal. You can’t succeed in the shadow of past glory, you can only succeed by creating a new identity.”
Chandler was profiled by 60-Minutes while a freshman at Dominguez High School in Compton, CA and selected second overall in the 2001 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers before the 7-foot, 1-inch forward was sent to the Bulls in a draft day deal for Elton Brand. Former Illinois Mr. Basketball and Parade magazine High School Player of the Year, who had previously played with Darius Miles; 6-11 center Curry was the hometown selection of the Bulls as the fourth pick of the 2001 draft. As the starting point guard of the Bulls, rookie Williams posted his first NBA triple-double in just his fourteenth professional game (against New Jersey Nets All Star guard Jason Kidd) after being selected with the second pick in the 2002 draft out of Duke, having been named College Basketball Player of the Year by ESPN Magazine, Associated Press, and CBS/Cheverolet.
Travolta also has an extensive personal memorabilia collection. Included in the collection are multiple replica jerseys and the rookie cards of all-time Bulls great Jordan and legendary Blazers center Bill Walton.
Walton was a member of two NCAA championship teams while at University of Southern California Los Angeles, while winning the personal accolade of NCAA player of the year 1972, ’73, and ’74. As the number one pick of the Blazers in 1974, he led the team to its first championship in 1977. Nine years later he earned his second championship ring as a member of the Boston Celtics, a campaign for which he won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Following his on-court basketball career, Walton turned to sports commentary for CBS, NBC, Fox, and Turner Sports. In 2002 he became the lead analyst for ESPN/ABC’s coverage of the NBA.
“I think Bill Walton’s color commentary on television games is great,” concedes Travolta about the player turned outspoken announcer. “I hardly ever agree with him, but that’s what makes it entertaining.”
“Bill Walton is like the villain in professional wrestling,” laughs the sports fan novelist. “He wants you to dislike him. He wants to get you riled up. And, you just have to respect him and love him for it, because he does such a good job.”
Travolta has first-hand knowledge of the intricacies of the pro-basketball broadcast booth. He handled play-by-play duties for the Chicago Skyliners of the short-lived 2000 revival of the American Basketball Association (ABA). The Skyliners were guided by longtime DePaul Blue Demons coach Joey Meyer. Over 13 seasons at DePaul, he won nearly 60 percent of his games (231-158), including six 20-win seasons, seven NCAA Tournament appearances, and three NIT bids.
“I was in Chicago performing as Sir Lancelot in the musical ‘Camelot’ along side the Bruce Wallace of the Chicago Lyric Opera. The Skyliners had me in to sing the National Anthem and boost ticket sales,” recalls Travolta.
While the fans were cheering Travolta’s performance, team officials received a panicked cellular call at courtside – the missing-in-action play-by-play announcer was still in transit…from Italy. Team representatives approached Travolta and asked him to pinch hit.
“It was a real honor,” says Travolta, who let his wacky sense of humor shine as he inspired fans to chantingly urge highflying guard Ronnie Fields to perform the ‘Rikki Lee Dunk’ in his own honor. Fields, who has a 46-inch vertical leap, was recognized in SLAM magazine for one of the top 50 dunks of all time. He played at Chicago’s Farragut Academy and was expected to jump straight to the NBA ranks along side friend and teammate Kevin Garnett until a car accident sidelined him.
“I love this game. I would have put on a uniform and taken the court if they asked,” says Travolta of filling in for the team and general love of professional basketball.
Taking the court was actually once a realistic dream for the performer in a “White Men Can’t Jump” sort of way.
“I’m a six-foot guy with bad knees and a streaky outside shot. I figured I was perfect for the Washington Generals,” says Second City-trained Travolta with humor, although not joking. For years the Generals traveled with the Harlem Globetrotters as the straight men to the kings of hardwood comedy, who always kept the game close only to fall to the Harlem champions in the end.
“I thought it would be a cool way to be able to honestly say I played pro-basketball. Unfortunately the Globetrotters got rid of the Generals as their designated loser,” says Travolta.
The star had one other run at a pseudo professional basketball career. Travolta conceived a series based on the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) – then owned by former two-time MVP NBA All-Star Isiah Thomas. Team captain Thomas was the key ingredient in the Detroit Piston “bad boy” championships of the late 1980s and early 1990s. A product of Bull’s hometown Chicago, Thomas played high school ball at St. Joseph’s High School. After leading the U.S. team to a gold medal at the Pan American games, he played college ball for coach Bobby Knight at Indiana University, eventually leading the Hoosiers to a 1981 NCAA championship.
Thomas’ agent Mark Permitt at William Morris contacted Travolta about developing the CBA series with Thomas and Travolta as co-producers and Travolta as the star.
“The premise was to paint the CBA as a league where dreams can come true. I would play the star of a fictional CBA team, but we would splice the fictional drama segments with real game footage from the other teams,” reflects Travolta. “Then Isiah got the job offer to coach the Indiana Pacers, and NBA league rules required him to end his association with the CBA.”
The interweaving of fiction and reality he conceived for the CBA television series is reflected in Travolta’s novel “My Fractured Life.” Readers will recognize a lot of real celebrity names from headlines, gossip pages, and Travolta’s own career. The author’s concept is to make the setting of the book as realistic and believable as possible, to let the reader get lost in the story.
The book’s link to the NBA does not end with the cover art. “My Fractured Life” includes reference to the author’s basketball obsession within its pages, despite being the story of a Hollywood star’s troubled career and his highly publicized romance with one of the hottest divas in the Pop Princess chart battles.
“There’s a lot of me in the book. You could call it autobiographically-inspired fiction,” explains the actor turned author. “So if the character is based on me, and I’m a die-hard basketball fan, it made sense to make the character knowledgeable about the NBA as well.”
‘Knowledgeable about the NBA’ is a more than adequate description of the narrator of the book. At one point the character openly ponders naming a pet after his favorite player and offhandedly touts trivia facts about former NBA world champion teams.
The Bulls and the Blazers are not the only heroes the leading man supports. Half of what he earns on the sale of each book, the author donates to the Rikki Lee Travolta American Hero Foundation. The foundation was established following the September 11th tragedies.