August 22, 2012

'Take a Shot!' Chronicles Major League Lacrosse's Crazy Origins

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter

MLL co-founders David Morrow (left) and Jake Steinfeld, of Body by Jake fame, have written a new book "Take a Shot!" that details MLL's start.
© JAG Entertainment

How and why did a fitness television personality and a Team USA men's lacrosse member partner to create the world's first professional outdoor lacrosse league?

"Take a Shot!" a 170-page book written by Jake Steinfeld, of "Body by Jake" fame, and Dave Morrow, the former three-time first-team All-American Princeton midfielder in the 1990s, explains Major League Lacrosse's origins.

Released to the public for sale Aug. 15, the book ($24.95, Hay House) details the challenges of finding funding, settling disputes among potential inaugural ownership groups and early squabbles with players, much of which was still happening just weeks before MLL debuted in the summer of 2001.

The subtitle of the book is "A remarkable story of perseverance, friendship, and a really crazy adventure," and that proclamation is not false advertising. There are some celebrity cameos along the way and lacrosse star power as well, like Casey and Ryan Powell.

Told mostly through the voice of Steinfeld, with timely contributions from Morrow, the founder and CEO of equipment company Warrior, "Take A Shot!" offers a glimpse at roots of the crazy brainchild of Steinfeld that grew into a partnership with Morrow, and eventually corporate sponsor New Balance, which has led to 12 seasons of MLL play. The most recent season concludes this weekend at Harvard Stadium, where the Denver Outlaws, Chesapeake Bayhawks, Boston Cannons and Long Island Lizards will compete for the MLL title.

So how did it start? As an idea. Steinfeld, having recently sold his start-up TV fitness channel, FitTV, was looking for a new challenge. "I had freedom," he wrote, meaning financially. Steinfeld was in Detroit trying to sell advertising for his new magazine, "Body by Jake" and was in the same meeting with John F. Kennedy, Jr., and David Lauren — son of Ralph Lauren — both of whom were looking for ads for their own magazines from General Motors and Ford.

After one meeting, Steinfeld was leafing through Lauren's magazine, "Swing," and read an article about Morrow, who started Warrior out of his Princeton dorm room and was marketing the lacrosse as a high-octane game. Steinfeld, a Long Island native, was familiar with the sport but stopped playing after his freshman year at Cortland State in New York.

"When I read the article about Dave, I remembered how much fun playing lacrosse was, and I got all fired up about the sport again," the book reads. "That's when a crazy idea popped into my head."

Steinfeld cold-called Morrow ("Dialing for dollars," is what Steinfeld has called these types of phone calls throughout his career), introduced himself and pitched his idea.

"Dave, is there such a thing as professional outdoor lacrosse?" Steinfeld said after a few minutes.

Morrow told him there wasn't.

"There is now," Steinfeld said.

Morrow later flew out to Los Angeles to meet in-person. The pair was ying and yang. Steinfeld always on-the-go, a gregarious kind who wasn't afraid to yuck it up with Hollywood and corporate elite, and Morrow is a laid-back, mellow personality. But right there they agreed to "go forward with this crazy idea for a league," Morrow writes.

The duo later meets with Family Channel CEO Tim Robertson — the son of televangelist Pat Robertson, with whom Steinfeld founded FitTV — who agrees to put a stake in the MLL at breakfast the morning after watching Team USA (and Morrow) battle Canada at the 1998 FIL World Championship at Homewood Field in Baltimore.

From there, the book chronicles how the league came to be (finding investors, the Summer Showcase that served as a pre-cursor to the MLL's first season) and how close it came to never happening (constant bickering, usually via conference call, among the owners that agreed to invest and having no contracts from ownership the day of the first MLL draft). At the last moments before the first season, Steinfeld also put in $400,000 of his own money, having already invested his own before that, to ensure the league would get going.

Throughout the book, Steinfeld mentions how important it was the league finished that first season, even if it did have to scramble to find a place to play its first MLL title game, which ended up being next to a jail in Bridgeport, Conn.

After the first season, the league was again out of money and set up a meeting for Sept. 11, 2001 to regroup with the ownership and ask for re-investments. That conference call never happened. Fortunately though, for the league, New Balance chairman Jim Davis was interested in purchasing Warrior from Morrow. Morrow declined initially, but Davis said "What can I do to help?" and ended up investing in MLL.

A few years later, Morrow finally agreed to sell Warrior to New Balance. Steinfeld often strikes an inspirational tone and references his "Don't Quit" motto throughout the book, one that Morrow references when explaining his decision to sell his company. Morrow says he had a "Jake moment" when he proposed a number to Davis in an impromptu one-on-one meeting with no formal paperwork in front of them.

"Storming into meetings without lawyers and accountants is exactly the kind of thing Jake does all the time," Morrow writes. "His way of thinking just seeped into my brain. I would have never dreamed of doing that if I hadn't met Jake."

That's just one of the scenes from "Take a Shot!" — a fun, quick read that provides a look at MLL's creation through those who created it.

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