The Winner for Best Sports Fan/Actor ...

Special to the Times

Here it is from one man who can handle the truth, a conversation with three-time Academy Award winner and Laker fan extraordinaire Jack Nicholson.

The second of two parts:

Question: Do you have a favorite player or a favorite athlete to watch in any sport?

Answer: Oh, I got a few favorites. There’s always been something about Nick Van Exel that has delighted me. But as far as actors go, there’s probably not a better actor than Gary Payton. But, you know, it’s like anything else: Vlade [Divac] is a horrible actor and an over-actor, but I like watching him. Sure, I’ve had players that I like to watch in every sport, all the way along. I mean, I love Pernell Whitaker as a fighter, you know, because he had every move.


Q: Are you a big boxing fan?

A: Yeah. I like boxing when it’s good. It’s really something to see. With boxing, you’ve really got to be able to watch and concentrate, because it’s so fast and, you know, once again it requires skill as a spectator because you can miss a fight if you’re not watching real close. One punch, and if you’re talking, or eating your hot dog, or doing anything but watching the fighters, it can end and then you’ve missed the whole thing.

Q: Do you participate in any sports?

A: I enjoy skiing, and I’m intermittently an OK golfer. You know golf, that’s probably the toughest game there is. All athletes will tell you this, it’s tough to say you’ve gotten anywhere near getting that game under control. But I had a few stretches where I played real good, but ... you have to play three, four times a week and practice or there’s a level you’re not going to get to.


Q: I understand that among many others, you have played golf with President Clinton and Michael Jordan. Have you played with Tiger Woods as well?

A: No. I never played with Tiger. I try not to play with the pros too much. It rattles ya.

Q: What was it like to play golf with President Clinton when he was in office?

A: Well, we chatted a lot. I sort of try to stay out of that celebrity politics thing. I’ve never really been able to control how people speak of me in public, but even with that being the case, I wasn’t trying to give him my views of this and that. So, I have a kind of a more man-to-man relationship with President Clinton. I see him every once in a while.

Q: So here’s the guy who, at the time, is the leader of the world, and he’s out there with you, trying to stroke the ball and make a putt, or engaging in conversation with you in the cart. You know and he knows there are a lot of things going on around the world and you guys are just out playing golf. Was it amazing to you with all that was on his mind he could concentrate on the game?

A: Well, golf’s that way. I mean, you can’t really do anything else if you’re going to play. I think men in that kind of position, they have to have something where their mind rests. You know, you can’t say, “All right. It’s 6:30. I’m going to go home and I’ll check in with our plans for war now and the economy tomorrow night.” You know it’s there and you have to find a different place in your mind to do something, rather than try and rest by doing nothing.

And I think probably golf has done that for President Clinton. He enjoys the game. He’s like a regular golfer. He gets mad when he hits a bad shot and he’s happy when he hits a good one.

Q: Would you like to play a round with President Bush?


A: I’ll play golf with any president that wants to play.

Q: Are you a competitive person by nature?

A: Well, I was a very competitively inclined person. I’d have to say that. And I’ve had to rebalance with it in various ways as life goes on.... You can’t be up out of the dugout like Eddie Stanky every time you get crossed.

Q: With your new movie, “About Schmidt,” you play the role of a 66-year-old recently retired man named Warren Schmidt. For this performance, you may have an opportunity this spring to win another Oscar for best actor. Is this something you’re competitive about and something you think about?

A: The Oscars are good for everybody that’s involved. ... I was fortunate enough to be involved in it when I was very young, and it was pretty much just fun for me to go out and see that whole community of people together. And I always took it as an occasion to have fun.... I don’t know if it’s competitive.... I don’t feel competitive about it in the way I think you’re asking. But, you know, it’s something that’s in your nerve system. Somebody places you in a situation and ... you’re not crazy about losing.

Q: How nerve-racking is that moment when they have read the names of the nominees and you’re sitting there, waiting to see if you are the one who wins?

A: Well, I’m not necessarily expecting to ever be in this situation again or not.... You just kind of let the chips fall where they may. But, you know, I’m not fond of public speaking, as all of you in the sports business know. It’s just a quirk of mine.... You’d think an actor would be delighted about it, but it’s always nerve-racking for me. So, most of the time you got to have a feel for whether you’re going to win or not. It’s the times when it’s kind of up in the air, where the tension gets you -- and it does get me. About the time I get in the limousine, if I’m lucky enough to be going down there as a nominee, I start sweating pretty good.

Jim Gray is host of “Monday Night Football” on the Westwood One Radio network. He works for Showtime and is a contributor on NBC’s “Today Show” and ESPN.