When Dallas goes up by six with 1:46 to go, McCain becomes dejected, muttering under his breath. But then Johnson sinks a 16-footer with 4.7 seconds left and Phoenix goes ahead. "Yes! Yes!" McCain yells, practically jumping out of his seat. Shawn Marion blocks a last-second layup, the buzzer sounds, and Phoenix wins it. "We did it! Marvelous!"
Because you're such a big sports fan, it's got to be frustrating for you to see all these revelations about steroid use recently. What do you think of all that?
I believe baseball is the national pastime, and I think steroids are doing great damage to it. I'm deeply disappointed about it. What's more, I was told by the commissioner of baseball that the punishment for a first offense was a 10-day suspension. Now we read the fine print and find that it could also be a $10,000 fine! Actually, it says, "up to a $10,000 fine," which means a guy could have, like, a $100 fine. They totally misrepresented it. Ten thousand to some of these guys is a tip to their limo driver, you know?
How did you realize how big the problem is?
It was about three years ago, when I was talking to Curt Schilling. I'm friends with him and his wife, and he was good enough to go down to Yuma, Arizona, to the marine base there and welcome the marines home after they came back from the initial phase of the war in Iraq. He's very patriotic. His father was in the army. By spending time with him that day I got to know him better, and we started having conversations about steroids. Really one of the things that grabbed my attention was his statement in the big 'Sports Illustrated' article a couple of years ago where he said some of these guys look like Mr. Potato Head. Frankly, I had not known about steroids changing the size of your cranium.
What should be done about steroids?
Simple. They should be banned – not because of the athlete in professional sports but because so many high school athletes in America think that the only way you can make it to the major leagues is to use drugs. That's a terrible thing. The ideal fix is to have a regime like they do for the Olympics. That is, the first offense, you're banned for two years – and there should be a vigorous testing program.
Should there be some sort of demarcation for records that may have been broken by players on steroids?
If there is ample evidence, like BALCO grand jury transcripts, I think there should be some kind of a caveat. But some of these other guys, where there's no real evidence, I'm not sure you should judge them guilty until proven innocent. Speaking as a fan, I think it's going to be a very tough thing to handle.
Why are you such a fan?
Because I was such a mediocre high school athlete. I love all sports. Cindy used to say I would watch the thumb-suckers play the bed wetters. I'll watch rugby. I'll watch Australian-rules football.
Is there any sport you won't watch?
Golf – it's too slow.
What about the amount of money in sports? How do we avoid things like what's happened to hockey?
There's nothing you can do; it's capitalism. But sooner or later I think there's going to be a backlash against baseball. You know, how are the Milwaukee Brewers, with a $20 million or $30 million payroll, ever going to compete with the Yankees, with a $200 million payroll? Eventually people are going to figure that out and want to go more in the direction of what the NFL does.
So much of being a sports fan is about having heroes, people to look up to, isn't it? Who are your heroes?
Mike Christian. Bud Day. Billy Mitchell [all three of whom were war heroes]. Teddy Roosevelt. My grandfather [the first of four generations of John Sidney McCains was a four-star admiral and a hero in World War II]. Mr. Ravenel, my teacher from Episcopal High School. And Pat Tillman. I think a lot about Pat Tillman. He gave up so much. He had a nearly $4 million contract with the NFL and he said, in his words, "I haven't done a damn thing for my country." He joined the army, became a Ranger, fought, and was killed. I've said it before, a lot of us will live longer lives than Pat Tillman, but very few of us will live better ones.
You've mentioned Roosevelt twice now. Why has he been such a role model for you?
Because of everything he did and said and achieved. He had, first of all, a vision of greatness of America and the role it had to play in the world. He was the one who believed we had to have a navy, and by building one, he enhanced America's strength as it emerged as a world power. He knew the influence of sea power on history. My father and grandfather admired him. [McCain's father was also a four-star admiral.] All naval people admire him enormously.
Second of all, he was a great conservationist. He loved the outdoors and he loved America's treasures and he had a large role to play in the national park system, making it one of his priorities. If you go to the El Tovar Hotel, which is on the rim of the Grand Canyon, the first person to sign in the guest book was Roosevelt. And he said [paraphrasing]: This is a great national treasure; it is your obligation to preserve it for future generations; do not mar it.
Third of all, he believed that everyone should have a "crowded hour," as he called it. And that meant: Do as much as you can during the time you have. I have lived my life that way.