TODAY   |  May 11, 2013

Connors on gambling: ‘I needed that rush’

Tennis legend Jimmy Connors has opened up about life on and off the court in his new memoir “The Outsider.” He reveals much about his relationship details and personal struggles, including a gambling addiction. TODAY’s Lester Holt interviews Jimmy Connors.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> jimmy connors won some hard-fought battles on the tennis court throughout his career but off the court was also fighting personal battles struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, gambling addiction , and ups and downs in his relationships. he writes about all of that in a candid new memoir called "the outsider." good morning. great to see you.

>> a pleasure.

>> a guy for so long at the top of the game writes a book called "outsider." how could that be?

>> well, i guess i wasn't really in on everything that was going on especially involved in the tennis. from the very beginning it was traveling across the river to be able to practice when i was younger and find some games and once i got into the professional ranks i wasn't really a part of joining the associations and being involved with a lot of the other players.

>> when i sat down with you a minute ago i said, you open up about a lot in this book. you said it doesn't do any good to write just the good things.

>> no it doesn't. life isn't always perfect along the way and some of the other things i got into was just all a part of that.

>> well, part thaf was your relationship with chris evert , fellow tennis star and fiance and you've gotten a lot of attention in this book for a few sentences. i'll read a part of it. an issue has arisen as a result of youthful passion and a decision had to be made as a couple. i was perfectly happy to let nature take its course and accept responsibility for what was to come. chrissee however had already made up her mind that the timing was bad and too much was riding on her future. we're talking pregnancy here and the suggestion there was an abortion. why go there? was there a bitterness?

>> no, not at all. we were young. it was 40 years ago and it was part of my life. we had to get together. we made a decision. we spoke about it and we had to take a direction. and it was. there was so much involved and so much riding on that period of time. we were both coming into being our best at the top of the game and, you know, had futures involved and so it was a decision that was made.

>> you called it a personal decision. you noted it was 40 years ago. chris put a statement on it, it was 40 years ago, it was private. this was released without her knowledge she says. she hopes everyone can understand i have no further comment is what she says. do you regret writing this and have you heard from her or her representatives?

>> no. we spoke. but, you know, it was part of my life and i didn't talk to anybody about what i put in the book. that's why i put it in as an issue and very subtle and just went on. i mean, there are 400 pages in the book, so, you know, this was --

>> it was a small part. another part that caught a lot of attention, you were a gambler, serious gambler.

>> well, you know, i bet you were going to talk about that.

>> i bet that's not the first time you used that joke.

>> the first time actually. but yeah. it's -- it was very difficult. i've been around gambling my whole life and my grandfather at one time told my mom, she says, you got to watch your boys. he says, they like doing things like that.

>> but you bet on yourself on your performance on the court.

>> i did.

>> did that help you?

>> well, you know, my records of winning wimbledon is when i did that. if you look at it i only won two. it wasn't so good. you know, but i needed that rush. i needed that feeling that, you know, and i had it. i thought i had enough of it while i was flying and i did even though i was involved in it at that time. once i got away from the tour and had so much time it started to really grab on to me and it was a problem that affected a lot of things that went on in my family.

>> one thing we also mention and you mention in the book, you were almost took pat sajak 's job on " wheel of fortune ."

>> that would have been fun. would have been great. it was at a time in my tennis career when i was looking to do other things. i was in my 30s and mr. griffin was a friend of mine. he said come on down. i'd like you to try out for " wheel of fortune ." i went down and had a great opportunity and fortunately or unfortunately i continued on with my tennis career but pat sajak stayed with the show and had his success. but it would have been a great time.

>> we should note, we're out of time now but in the book you discuss your competitors and, jimmy connors , thank you for coming on and talking to us.

>> a pleasure.

>> the book is called "the outsider."