Michael D. McClellan is a lot of things. He’s a husband and a father. He’s a professional with experience in energy and health care. He’s a tennis player, a patron of the arts and a total basketball nut.
He’s also a prolific interviewer and writer, and his combination of experience and
interests makes for some of the most insightful interviews you’ll ever read.
Michael grew up in Montgomery, West Virginia in the ’70s and ’80s. The state had
a well-developed basketball fever by then– and Michael was raised a stone’s throw
from the home of Jerry West. He naturally grew to love the sport.
He attended college at then West Virginia Tech as a business major. Before graduating
in 1987, he met his future wife Melanie there. After college, Michael put his degree
to work at Columbia Natural Resources, a company founded and run by Tech grad and
1990 alumnus of the year, Henry Harmon. He and Melanie, a commercial real estate
broker at Real Estate Resources, put down roots in Charleston and started a family.
He put in 15 years with CNR until the company sold its Mountain State business
to Chesapeake Energy in 2005.
It was then he published his first book: “The Boston Celtics – Where Have You Gone?”
At the time, the work was a culmination of his fascination with basketball and
the Celtics. A fascination that had, two years earlier, driven him to put together
a series of interviews with notable players, coaches and staff. It was a high point,
and it turned out to be the first entry in what would become a massive and varied
body of work.
Michael spent a decade with Chesapeake, which took him to places all over the country.
He lived in Oklahoma City for a few years. He dug into that community with the
same passion and enthusiasm he had for his home. A lifelong fan of the performing
arts, he served as president of the Oklahoma City Theater Company and was a member
of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Associate Board.
He put together another set of interviews during that period for the second volume
of “Where Have You Gone,” and published the work in 2012. He launched a new website
a year later – FifteenMinutesWith – that would explore his other loves: art, music,
dance, literature and film.
In 2015, Michael returned to West Virginia. He began a new job as the Manager of
Desktop and Telecommunications at the Charleston Area Medical Center. He also continued
his passion for supporting athletes, mentoring at schools in Charleston, staying
active in tennis and serving as a Charleston Area Tennis Association delegate.
He put out another book on the Celtics, which debuted at number one in Amazon’s
basketball category (he was up against renowned coaches Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheimand
Through all this, Michael has been a close ally and supporter of WVU Tech basketball.
Anyone who’s met Michael recognizes right away that the man’s got heart. His friendliness
is contagious. He speaks with enthusiasm for the sport and the people in it, and
you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s caught him without a smile on his face.
His nickname is “MentorMike” for a reason, and basketball players still keep in
touch with him years later.
Now it’s our chance to spend fifteen minutes with this multi-talented Golden Bear.
Let’s start with the sport. You’re aCeltics fanatic. Where did that begin?
McClellan with Celtics legend, Bill Russell.
My older brother was a
fan, and as a young boy I would hear him tell stories of how great
a player he was, and more importantly, what Bill Russell meant to the Civil Rights
Movement. It fascinated me at an early age, so when I finally got to meet him I
was very nervous and intimidated. Not because he played in the NBA and is one of
the greatest players in history, but because of what he has meant in terms of civil
You’ve published three books on the team. Run us through them.
My first book was titled “The Boston Celtics – Where Have You Gone?” and
it was published in 2005. It is a collection of player interviews that I did for
the team. Jeff Twiss, the VP of Media Relations, has become a great and dear friend,
and he was very helpful in getting me started.
My second book was a second volume of interviews, “The Boston Celtics – Where Have
You Gone?” published in 2012.
The third book, “The Boston Celtics: Larry Bird, Bob Cousy, Red Auerbach, and Other
Legends Recall Great Moments in Celtics History” tells the history of the team
through the player interviews, arranged chronologically. Essentially, the Celtic
legends tell the history of this great franchise through their interviews. It includes
everyone mentioned in the title, and also includes Bill Russell,
, among others.
That’s a lot of history from a legendary era in the sport. Between the books, you’re
still gathering all you can from players. You developed the popular Celtic Nation
blog. How did that come
is home to my interviews with Boston Celtics players and coaches.
It came about in 2003 with one interview, which was with Hall of Famer
, and it just mushroomed from there. I started Celtic Nation because
I wanted a place to share the stories of these amazing athletes. I’ve been posting
the interviews there ever since. At some point I plan to hand these over to the
Boston Celtics organization, so that they can maintain the content for future generations
of basketball fans.
You’ve interviewed hundreds of players and published multiple books on the team.
That’s passion. So why the Celtics? What drives you to dig so deep into that
Legends like Bill Russell and Larry Bird. When I was going to Tech, Larry
Bird was in his prime. I fell in love with his work ethic, his leadership and the
way that he did so much with not a lot of natural athletic talent. When I think
about Larry Bird, I immediately think about growing up in Montgomery, and going
to class at Tech. There is great association of memories in that respect.
In the years you’ve been working on this, you’ve been sitting down with people
you really admire. What’s it like to spend time with some heroes in the sport?
It’s always exciting, even after all of these years. They are just people, too, so
I try to keep that in mind and treat them like anyone else. My parents raised me
to be respectful and courteous, so I think I’m able to make them feel comfortable
talking to me.
And you got to hit the court with some of these giants in the sport, right?
Michael got a chance to shoots hoops in Vegas with Magic Johnson.
Yes. In 2007, Bill Russell held a fantasy basketball camp in Las Vegas.
Melanie reached out to Bill Russell’s management, and the next thing you know I’m
embedded in the camp and writing about these great basketball legends. It was a
great experience. I’m very thankful to have been able to play basketball with people
, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was
a great experience, and one that I don’t take for granted.
You’re in demand when it comes to Celtics history. Where have you shared your
expertise on the subject? I know you’ve been featured on Celtic Talk Radio
quite a few times.
I was in Boston in November 2018 for a series of book signings and was
a guest of the Celtics at a game while I was up there. I was able to share this
experience with Melanie, and I’m very thankful for that. She is an amazing person
who has supported my writing from day one, and to have her there with me made it
very special. I’ve also been featured on several radio broadcasts out of the Boston
area over the years, the big stations being The Sports Hub and WEEI.
What’s your fondest memory from your work on these projects?
Being able to give my mother a copy of my latest book. She passed away
in August, and I dedicated the book to her. She was a very special person who always
supported my writing, so to be able to hand her a copy of the book and give her
a hug was a special moment.
What’s the craziest thing to happen during your meeting with athletes, coaches
Getting trash talked by Larry Bird! He’s the “Hick from French Lick,” and the first
time he called me the cell phone reception was really bad. He could tell by my
Appalachian accent that I wasn’t from Boston. He asked me where I was calling from,
and when I told him I was calling from West Virginia, he said he understood why
the reception was bad – because there is only one cell phone tower in the whole
state! He was kidding, of course. I think he liked the fact that I was something
of a hick like him.
What’s your next big project?
I’m working on an outline for a documentary. I would like to get into film, and I
would like to bring some of this material to life in video form. The power unleashed
by smartphones and social media levels the playing field and allows independent
artists to create and share a wide range of content. I can see opportunities for
both Celtic-Nation and FifteenMinutesWith. That’s the next frontier for me, as
far as creating content.
Who’s your all-time favorite baller?
A tie between Russell and Bird! Russell because he’s Russell, and Bird because of
the part he played in helping to resuscitate an NBA that was on life support in
the early ’80s. People forget this now, but the 1970s NBA was battling a drug problem,
which hurt the league from a marketing standpoint. Fans didn’t want to go to NBA
games. Dr. J kept people interested, and then Bird and Magic came along. Then Michael
Jordan comes in behind them, and the league explodes. Today it’s a global brand
with fans all over the world. Bird played a huge part in that.
Let’s talk about your blog FifteenMinutesWith. How did you come up with the idea?
It was 2013, Melanie and I had just dropped off our son at Marshall University,
and on the way back we collaborated on the concept. She is my best friend, so we
naturally started talking about doing a project that was fresh and different. We
came up with the name, and by the time we got home I’d started leveraging my Boston
Celtics connections to reach interesting people outside of basketball.
Your subjects run the gamut from athletes to artists and just about everything
in between. How do you land on an interviewee?
It depends. Melanie and I frequently brainstorm together. She is very
well-versed when it comes to music, film and theatre, so there are a lot of times
when she will suggest a subject to interview, or she’ll help validate my thinking
on a topic that interests me. It could be someone very well known, like my interview
with Pharell Williams, or someone not well-known at all, but who has an extraordinary
is a great example of that. He’s from Ripley, West Virginia,
drives a UPS delivery truck, and yet he’s very much in demand because he’s a world
class mandolin player. He’s friends with everyone from Huey Lewis to Brad Paisley.
And he’s self-taught, which makes his story even more extraordinary.
You’ve spent time with some heavy hitters in music, art, theater and film.
Michael with country music superstar, Vince Gill.
I love interviewing interesting people. Pharell Williams is one of those, and not
because he’s a big star. He’s extremely eclectic. He’s into music – in 2003 he
was responsible for approximately 43% of the music on pop radio – but he’s also
into fashion and art. Doing interviews with people like Pharrell challenge you
to learn something new.
The way you structure your interviews is a powerful way to capture the spirit and
personality of these folks. Why capture these moments and reflections in this
I love long-form format writing. Anyone can write a paragraph and say, “Okay, let
me welcome you to the Mario Andretti interview,” and then finish it off with a
series of questions and answers. That really isn’t storytelling. I enjoy my method
because I’m a storyteller at heart, and this gives me the chance to write in a
way that isn’t straight cookie-cutter.
What’s your process for coming up with questions? You have one shot at capturing
these stories, so how do you decide what makes the cut?
Lots of research, because it usually involves a person that I’m not very familiar
with. I’ll be interviewing racing legend Mario Andretti and Nobel Prize Winner
Art McDonald this fall, so I have to read a lot. Andretti is sports-related, but
I wasn’t big into NASCAR or Formula One growing up, and he is a giant in his field.
I’m currently doing a lot of homework on him. McDonald won the Nobel Prize for
Physics, which is an entirely different sphere, and will require an entirely different
thought process. I’ll not ask a lot of questions about the inner-workings of quantum
mechanics, but I’ll try to pull out the human side of what makes him so special.
Even geniuses have friends, mentors, favorite stories about what led them on their
Do you get nervous?
A little bit, but I like the rush. Once you get started it’s not so bad,
as long as you’ve done your homework and you know your subject and subject matter.
It’s like being an investigative journalist.
You have to have some stories from these interviews that stand out to you.
I was able to interview a gentleman name Shaul Ladany. He has the most amazing story,
and I was humbled to speak to him. He was a world class speed walker, and he set
a speed walking record in the 1970s that has never been broken. That is interesting,
but the thing that makes it truly interesting is that he survived a Nazi concentration
camp as a child, and later was a member of the Israeli Olympic Team in Munich.
He was able to escape when the terrorists attacked. I can’t begin to imagine what
he when through, and I’m very nervous about telling his story. I don’t want to
mess this up.
Any favorite interviews?
Pharell, Bill Walton, Ne-Yo and
were all great because they made you feel good about being there.
I’m sure it isn’t easy to make every interview feel like it’s their first. Those
four were very friendly and accommodating.
Who’s your dream interview?
I would like to interview Rafael Nadal. He is my favorite tennis player, and he is
someone that would top the list. Not sure how I’m going to break through to him,
Let’s talk about the craft. You’re a great writer. How did you hone such a clean
and concise voice in your writing?
I try to listen to the voice in my head, and depending on the subject I get
a feel for how to write the feature. The feel dictates how I write the piece. If
it’s someone from the hip-hop community, like
Big Daddy Kane
, I might go against type. By that I mean, the reader might expect
something written with a looser vibe. But just because Kane made his name in hip-hop
doesn’t mean he’s not interesting in other ways. Kane’s a guy with a lot of talents,
and that’s how I wanted to write his feature. It’s those decisions that keep it
Many great writers are also voracious readers. What are you reading these days?
I do like to read. I enjoy non-fiction, books like “It’s Your Ship,” which is a management
book written about a captain who takes over the worst-performing ship in the Navy
and completely transforms it by empowering his crew.
Last question. Is there anything else you want folks to know?
I’m excited about Tech’s future! I want to get involved and help make a difference.
Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to connect with my Tech fam!
You can pick up all three of Michael’s books on Amazon. To read more of his interviews
with Celtic legends, visit
celtic-nation.com. And be sure to checkout
fifteenminuteswith.com to see his latest interviews.