Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Momma Said Knock You Out!

Bert is an iconic sports journalist I idolized as a youth.

I made a promise to myself a year ago that I would visit the Boxing Hall of Fame.

(scribble, scribble)

That's the sound of me scratching that off of my bucket list. A year ago, I got a phone call from my boss. He told me that he was chillin' at a bar with Bert Sugar near the Boxing Hall of Fame and proceeded to put Bert on the phone with me for a brief conversation. One year later, my boss is introducing me to Bert in-person. Not only did I meet him, I actually hung out with him. In fact, Bert ended up catching a ride with us from the Boxing HOF event to a nearby sports bar. In a year's time, I'd gone from talking on the phone to one of my favorite sports personalities, to riding in the back seat with him to a bar. It doesn't get any better than that.

Bert Sugar is an iconic sports journalist who has been around the sport of boxing for 50 years. I first saw him being interviewed when I was a kid. I remember the hat that he wore and how cool I thought that it was. Over time, he became my favorite TV sports personality and eventually led me to think for the first time in my young life, "I would love a job in sports."

I was probably around five years old and boxing was my second favorite sport after football. Growing up in the 70's as a black male, you wanted to either be one of two things when it came to sports: heavyweight champion of the world or an Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meter dash. Sure, football was a lot of fun, but it didn't have the allure of boxing and track & field did. And don't even mention the NBA. It was an after-thought until Magic and Bird hit the scene in 1979.

I spent many Saturday afternoons watching boxing with my father on ABC's Wide World of Sports. It was a program that would show a variety of sporting events every single Saturday. Back then, there was no Pay Per View for every major boxing event. Many of the championship matches were on broadcast TV until the mid-70's when HBO stepped into boxing.

At that point, money and corruption started to ruin what I thought was one of the best sports on the planet. But, before all of that came about, I got to enjoy some of the greatest boxing champions known to man. I saw Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, "Sugar" Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Haggler, and more fight live on ABC on Saturday afternoons.


It's one thing to see some of the greatest of all time on TV. It's another to not just see them in person, but actually talk and hang out with them. I won't bore you all with the details, but I'll share some photos:
Marvelous Marvin Haggler (left) was a great Middleweight champ

Julio Caesar Chaven (yellow) was Mexico's greatest fighter.
(SN: what is the guy on the left wearing!!!???)

Ken Norton, Sr. defeated Ali and had a son win two Super Bowls.

Leon Spinks defeated Ali in only his 8th fight. Biggest upset of the 70's.
So, I had a great time interacting with some of boxing's Hall of Fame fighters. We spent the evening at a local bar in Canastota, NY, listening to Bert Sugar tell stories of athletes from the past. From Joe DiMaggio to Larry Holmes, Bert told us stories of so many people he's come to know in his 75 years on the planet.

But, that's not what makes Bert extraordinary. You see, in today's time, being famous requires little thought or planning (see How to Get Famous 201). Back in Bert's day, you didn't just settle on being good... you had to be better than good. He wasn't just a boxing sportswriter. He became publisher and editor of Ring Magazine. Aside from writing over 80 books, Bert also covered baseball, created the jingle for Nestle's chocolate, passed the bar exam, appeared in several movies (Rocky Balboa was his last film), and is currently working on a children's book about Easter for his grandkids. That is what making the most of your talents is all about. This is the guy who influenced me to become a sportswriter back in '98 for the Clarion-Ledger newspaper.

So, I enjoyed spending an evening cracking jokes with the guy in the cool hat that I remember from my childhood. For the record, I asked Bert for his hat. His reply? "(Bleep) that!"

Classic Bert.

5 comments:

  1. That totally rocks that you got to hang with one of your idols!! I'm not big into boxing, but I'm guessing that would be like me sittin' in the press box with Keith Jackson listening to him call a Michigan game (I wouldn't even need to bug him by talking to him - I'd just like to sit next to him and listen to him call a game!).

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  2. My high school spanish teacher used to box, and would show us old boxing videos. One day, I found a vid of his last fight, getting knocked tha fuck out by Sugar Ray Leonard. He only lasted two rounds, and by the end, leonard was just playing with him.

    He didn't like the fact I found THAT vid, and threw me out of class. I told him I'd box him to get back in, but he declined. Oh well.

    Great post! I haven't commented in a while (for some reason) but have been reading about all of your adventures!

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  3. Very cool! Bert Sugar was one of the best boxing commentators ever, when he was asked to give an opinion, buddy you got one!

    That's just too cool! (funny you mentioned Sugar Ray Leonard... I just put up a post about breaking my own windshield moments after Duran's "No Mas!" moment against Ray... Timing is everything.
    Too bad Bert didn't give you the hat!

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  4. How wonderful that you were able to enjoy a fun evening out with your hero. What's next on the bucket list?

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  5. @ Reck - I was just like that. I didn't talk much at all for the first 20 minutes. I just listened. He shook my hand and then told me a joke.

    @ LiI - No worries, it's cool. I know you're always around. He fought SRL? He should be honored to be one of those KO's. I wonder why he got so upset? It must have been an ugly KO.

    @ Squatlo - I thought about taking the hat and running, but Bert is in pretty good shape. He still played rugby up until early 2010.

    @ Empress - Getting out West. San Diego, Phoenix, or Vegas.

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