The Bittersweet Science, Part Two: Getting Acquainted with the Late George Kimball (Revisited)

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Every so often there is a confluence of events that, if you’re lucky or perceptive enough, leads to a revelation. Other times there are just the happy accidents that function like electrical storms, intense and unforeseen. Back in December I saw a story on Deadspin, a site I do not frequent, about a man called George Kimball. If I had not checked that site, it’s possible I never would have seen the piece, (an excellent piece of journalism by Alex Belth, entitled “The Two-Fisted, One-Eyed Misadventures of Sportswriting’s Last Badass.” It’s highly recommended and can be read here.)

Kimball passed away (another casualty of cancer) last December. Google him and you’ll quickly see that everyone adored this dude. So much that it makes you think: “How could I not have been familiar with him, and what the hell is wrong with me?” That moment passes and is outweighed by the gratitude you feel for finding him, finally. Here’s a representative sample from fellow Boston scribe Bob Ryan, who knows a thing or two about Beantown, sports and writing:

But the reason why so many of us will miss George Kimball is, shall we say, his off-the-field self. If one were to conduct a poll of local writers, broadcasters, team officials and even players who have worked in Boston during the last 35 years or so, the question being, “Who is the most absolutely memorable personality you have encountered in the writing business?” the runaway winner — perhaps even the unanimous choice — would have to be George Kimball.

That is, unless you know of some other bearded, one-eyed, chain-smoking, beer drinking, pot-bellied (I say this lovingly) vegetarian writer friend of Hunter S. Thompson who never saw a party he didn’t like. (more here.)

The more you read about him the more you ask yourself: How in the fuck was this guy not on ESPN’s Sports Reporters every week? And then you remember, it’s ESPN, and the reasons are self-evident. (In case you think I’m being too oblique let me put it this way: the reason a man like Kimball was not on ESPN’s Sports Reporters every week is the same reason a man like Mike Lupica is on every week.)

I was, obviously, sad to think that we were robbed of another few decades, or even days, of this man’s writing, but the pain was significantly mitigated when I discovered he had written an in-depth study of an era many consider the pinnacle of the sweet science: the ’80s and the ceaseless rivalry that existed between Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, a rivalry that produced some of the best fights in boxing history. That book is called Four Kings.

I have read the book, and not since I enjoyed the fascinating story of Percy Fawcett’s life (in the enthusiastically recommended instant-classic, The Lost City of Z: read my review here) as well as the indescribably awesome Hellraisers (the trashy, sensationalistic, poorly written masterpiece by Robert Sellers, the full title of which is Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed. My giddy celebration of that tome can be found here) have I known, while reading, that I not only would write about the book, but quote extensively from it. An entire post, coming soon, will be dedicated to some of the funniest, most enlightening and unbelievable sentences I encountered. And that should only be a taste, a teaser of the goodies that await you when you get hold of it and see for yourself why this guy (Kimball) and these guys (the boxers) are so universally beloved.

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The Bittersweet Science, Part Two: Getting Acquainted with the Late George Kimball (Revisited)

Every so often there is a confluence of events that, if you’re lucky or perceptive enough, leads to a revelation. Other times there are just the happy accidents that function like electrical storms, intense and unforeseen. Back in December I saw a story on Deadspin, a site I do not frequent, about a man called George Kimball. If I had not checked that site, it’s possible I never would have seen the piece, (an excellent piece of journalism by Alex Belth, entitled “The Two-Fisted, One-Eyed Misadventures of Sportswriting’s Last Badass.” It’s highly recommended and can be read here.)

Kimball passed away (another casualty of cancer) last December. Google him and you’ll quickly see that everyone adored this dude. So much that it makes you think: “How could I not have been familiar with him, and what the hell is wrong with me?” That moment passes and is outweighed by the gratitude you feel for finding him, finally. Here’s a representative sample from fellow Boston scribe Bob Ryan, who knows a thing or two about Beantown, sports and writing:

But the reason why so many of us will miss George Kimball is, shall we say, his off-the-field self. If one were to conduct a poll of local writers, broadcasters, team officials and even players who have worked in Boston during the last 35 years or so, the question being, “Who is the most absolutely memorable personality you have encountered in the writing business?” the runaway winner — perhaps even the unanimous choice — would have to be George Kimball.

That is, unless you know of some other bearded, one-eyed, chain-smoking, beer drinking, pot-bellied (I say this lovingly) vegetarian writer friend of Hunter S. Thompson who never saw a party he didn’t like. (more here.)

The more you read about him the more you ask yourself: How in the fuck was this guy not on ESPN’s Sports Reporters every week? And then you remember, it’s ESPN, and the reasons are self-evident. (In case you think I’m being too oblique let me put it this way: the reason a man like Kimball was not on ESPN’s Sports Reporters every week is the same reason a man like Mike Lupica is on every week.)

I was, obviously, sad to think that we were robbed of another few decades, or even days, of this man’s writing, but the pain was significantly mitigated when I discovered he had written an in-depth study of an era many consider the pinnacle of the sweet science: the ’80s and the ceaseless rivalry that existed between Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, a rivalry that produced some of the best fights in boxing history. That book is called Four Kings.

I have read the book, and not since I enjoyed the fascinating story of Percy Fawcett’s life (in the enthusiastically recommended instant-classic, The Lost City of Z: read my review here) as well as the indescribably awesome Hellraisers (the trashy, sensationalistic, poorly written masterpiece by Robert Sellers, the full title of which is Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed. My giddy celebration of that tome can be found here) have I known, while reading, that I not only would write about the book, but quote extensively from it. An entire post, coming soon, will be dedicated to some of the funniest, most enlightening and unbelievable sentences I encountered. And that should only be a taste, a teaser of the goodies that await you when you get hold of it and see for yourself why this guy (Kimball) and these guys (the boxers) are so universally beloved.

Share

The Bittersweet Science, Part Two: Getting Acquainted with the Late George Kimball

Every so often there is a confluence of events that, if you’re lucky or perceptive enough, leads to a revelation. Other times there are just the happy accidents that function like electrical storms, intense and unforeseen. Back in December I saw a story on Deadspin, a site I do not frequent, about a man called George Kimball. If I had not checked that site, it’s possible I never would have seen the piece, (an excellent piece of journalism by Alex Belth, entitled “The Two-Fisted, One-Eyed Misadventures of Sportswriting’s Last Badass.” It’s highly recommended and can be read here.)

Kimball passed away (another casualty of cancer) last December. Google him and you’ll quickly see that everyone adored this dude. So much that it makes you think: “How could I not have been familiar with him, and what the hell is wrong with me?” That moment passes and is outweighed by the gratitude you feel for finding him, finally. Here’s a representative sample from fellow Boston scribe Bob Ryan, who knows a thing or two about Beantown, sports and writing:

But the reason why so many of us will miss George Kimball is, shall we say, his off-the-field self. If one were to conduct a poll of local writers, broadcasters, team officials and even players who have worked in Boston during the last 35 years or so, the question being, “Who is the most absolutely memorable personality you have encountered in the writing business?” the runaway winner — perhaps even the unanimous choice — would have to be George Kimball.

That is, unless you know of some other bearded, one-eyed, chain-smoking, beer drinking, pot-bellied (I say this lovingly) vegetarian writer friend of Hunter S. Thompson who never saw a party he didn’t like. (more here.)

The more you read about him the more you ask yourself: How in the fuck was this guy not on ESPN’s Sports Reporters every week? And then you remember, it’s ESPN, and the reasons are self-evident. (In case you think I’m being too oblique let me put it this way: the reason a man like Kimball was not on ESPN’s Sports Reporters every week is the same reason a man like Mike Lupica is on every week.)

I was, obviously, sad to think that we were robbed of another few decades, or even days, of this man’s writing, but the pain was significantly mitigated when I discovered he had written an in-depth study of an era many consider the pinnacle of the sweet science: the ’80s and the ceaseless rivalry that existed between Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, a rivalry that produced some of the best fights in boxing history. That book is called Four Kings.

I have read the book, and not since I enjoyed the fascinating story of Percy Fawcett’s life (in the enthusiastically recommended instant-classic, The Lost City of Z: read my review here) as well as the indescribably awesome Hellraisers (the trashy, sensationalistic, poorly written masterpiece by Robert Sellers, the full title of which is Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed. My giddy celebration of that tome can be found here) have I known, while reading, that I not only would write about the book, but quote extensively from it. An entire post, coming soon, will be dedicated to some of the funniest, most enlightening and unbelievable sentences I encountered. And that should only be a taste, a teaser of the goodies that await you when you get hold of it and see for yourself why this guy (Kimball) and these guys (the boxers) are so universally beloved.

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Hot Fun in the Summertime, circa 1984

The clothesline heard ’round the world 

 

Twenty-five years ago. Long enough to officially make it a classic. But, of course, it was a classic even as it was being played. Sports writers and fans can be forgiven, in this one instance, to invoke words like “war” to describe the NBA finals that year, a seven game masterpiece ultimately won by the Celtics, in the old Boston Garden.

Bob Ryan,the estimable dean of Beantown sports scribes, deserves kudos for his invocation of the series in today’s Boston Globe. He focuses on the (truly) pivotal Game 5, played in the infamously un-air conditioned Garden in the midst of an unseasonably scorching East coast heat wave. To a fourteen year old Irish Catholic altar boy (who worshipped at the altar of Larry Bird), it was as though God was proving that He was a Celtics fan and was providing some Old Testament fire and brimstone to test the mettle of the two teams; epitomized by Larry Bird’s blue collar grit and Magic Johnson’s L.A. cool: forget about facile Hollywood facsimiles of ancient Gladiator combat; this is as close as we could legally get to emulating that barbaric crucible of competition. (Did I mention that I was fourteen?)

Each team had already made statements; the momentum had swung at least three times. It was now a best of three, and as is invariably the case in a series like this, the outcome would likely be swung to the favor of whoever could secure a game five victory. Who was going to step up? Keep in mind, in the ’80s you were either a Lakers fan or you were a Celtics fan. There were other teams in the NBA, obviously, but for a long stretch of that great decade, it seemed like each season was an extended formality: we collectively bided our time until everyone else got out of the way and let the two teams go hammer and tong for the title. A couple of months ago, I recounted what this rivalry was like for a fan in the prime of his formative sports-loving life here.

I’ll happily step out of the way and let Ryan remember it best; he was there, after all:

Referee Hugh Evans had to leave at halftime, a victim of dehydration. Robert Parish sat out a stretch of the second half with leg cramps. But there was one player who applied mind over matter better than everyone else, one player who not only overcame the circumstances to play a good game of basketball, but who so took to the conditions that he played one of the great games of his life.

As my mother used to say, I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

“I play in this stuff all the time back home, ” sneered Larry Bird. “It’s like this all summer.”

“I’ve never seen (Bird) as intense as he was tonight,” said Kevin McHale. “Never.”

The other great force that night was the crowd, which turned what could have been a negative into a complete positive by celebrating the absurd conditions. Rather than bemoaning the heat, those savvy people celebrated it, realizing that the Lakers were feeling sorry for themselves because they were used to the creature comforts of the palatial Forum.

Here was the message: Watching a game in an old, cramped, steamy building and sitting on those hard seats, why, that’s what we do here in New England. We don’t need your cushioned seats and we don’t need no stinkin’ air conditioning. We leave that stuff to you West Coast wusses. And, by the way, your team is soft.

What he said.

Give up it up for the Garden, and old school:

Best series ever.

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