We knew he could write. What we didn't know about staff writer Michael Silver when we hired him—but found out when three dozen or so SI staffers overran an Orlando karaoke bar during a company outing last March—was that he could sing. Silver's microphone-swinging cover of Jumpin' Jack Flash packed the dance floor and received some of the loudest applause of the night.
That was just one of the ways Silver has surprised us since he joined SI last November. He earned his first byline for a cover story on the Pittsburgh Steelers and followed that with a succession of scoops: He went bowling with theretofore reclusive San Francisco 49er wide receiver John Taylor, who told Silver about his problems with drugs and alcohol; spent a day sipping wine with Joe Montana in Napa Valley, where Montana detailed his retirement plans for Silver; and most recently tagged along with Dennis Rodman on a four-day odyssey of partying, gambling and club-hopping that resulted in Silver's revealing May 29 portrait of the controversial San Antonio Spur forward.
Not bad for a 29-year-old who, two months before joining us, had all but given up on journalism as a career. Frustrated after six years as a newspaper reporter, the last 4� as the 49er beat writer and columnist for The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif., he had taken the law school admission test and plunked down a small fortune in application fees. "I was just frustrated," says Silver, whose parents, Stephen and Susan, are Los Angeles labor lawyers. "I thought if I applied to some law schools—even if I decided to defer for a year—something good might happen, in a karmic sense."
Like many who drop the word karmic into conversation, Silver is a native Californian. He was born in San Francisco and, as an infant strapped to the back of his father's Schwinn, attended Jefferson Airplane concerts in Golden Gate Park. At the age of four, while attending an anti- Vietnam War rally with his aunt Shari at Cal—his eventual alma mater—he was sprayed with tear gas.
Silver's family moved to the Brentwood section of Los Angeles ("We now refer to it as 'world famous Brentwood,' " he says) before his eighth birthday. As his journalistic success with Taylor and Rodman indicate, he is particularly adept at building rapport with athletes thought to be unapproachable. The main reason for this, believes Silver, is his upbringing in star-studded Southern California. "The celebrity thing doesn't faze me," he says. "I tend not to hold people in awe."
Silver has no qualms about asking tough questions either. His wife, Leslie, may have something to do with that. She is in the fourth year of a five-year doctoral program at the California School of Professional Psychology in Alameda, near the Silvers' Oakland home. "Leslie works extensively with clinically depressed patients," says Silver. "She's dealing with people who can be really tough to approach. It's good perspective for me. I don't have a problem going up to some guy who's sulking because he dropped a touchdown pass."
Silver confesses that one celebrity he does hold in awe is Mick Jagger. We can't fathom why, since they both do a passable rendition of Jumpin' Jack Flash.