Vol. 49, No. 4 • May 2012 • .pdf version
• John Akers: Entering uncertainty, we need each other
• Joe Mitch: Basketball gala to feature USBWA awards
• Lenox Rawlings: Bob Ryan honors us all

We honor Bob Ryan because he honors all of us

Outgoing USBWA President Lenox Rawlings provided the following introductory speech in special recognition of longtime Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan at the organization's annual Monday morning breakfast at the Final Four:

My greatest pleasure in doing this job is coming here today to pay tribute to Bob Ryan, who will stop working fulltime for the Boston Globe after the summer Olympics. This is his 29th Final Four. The first was in College Park, 1970, UCLA over Jacksonville with Artis Gilmore, Pembroke Burroughs, Vaughn Wedeking and Rex Morgan. Bob will fill in the rest of the guys later, because he can.

We honor Bob because he honors all of us. He honors all of us by bringing it every day, in every sport and arena you could name – 180 college venues so far, and there will be more.

This is the rhythm of his daily life, going to the ball game and running it through his incredible mind and telling us what he thinks.

He started going to the ballpark regularly in 1950, to see his hometown Trenton Giants, farm club of the New York Giants. His father had season tickets, and Ryan had a perfect view of Willie Mays, probably the best ballplayer in our lifetimes. We were at dinner the other night and Dick Weiss asked him if Mays was the greatest minor league ballplayer he had ever seen. Ryan kind of shrugged and let the question slide. "He hit .353," Ryan says. "You can look it up." But Hoops wasn't taking maybe for an answer, so he pressed on a little harder. Ryan says: "In the considered judgment of my 4-year-old eyes, yes."

Bob eventually went to BC and fell in love with Boston and never left. He got his dream job at the Globe on June 10, 1968. He and Peter Gammons started the same day, which has to be the greatest bonus baby double-signing in the history of sportswriting.

He wrote great stuff. Two years ago, he wrote a column in the Globe about how Al Skinner got fired at BC because he was perceived as a rather casual pro coach who came in a little late and stayed a little while and avoided grinding it out on the recruiting trail. Bob figured Skinner wasn't going to change for the simple reason that "Al is Al is Al is Al."

Well, the column comes out and Bob goes to the airport with Elaine, headed to the Final Four in Indy. They're sitting at the Dunkin' Donuts stand, 6:20 in the morning, and here comes Al Skinner. Bob thinks, "Good, let's get this over with." They talk about 20 minutes and it's done. That's the way he works.

Ryan brings it in all sorts of places. In 1972, he used his vacation time to research a book on minor league baseball, traveling from Quebec to Montana to Kinston, N.C., then the home of the very young Cornbread Maxwell.

He got to know the Kinston GM, Hyman Bizzell. Bob says that "Hyman's idea of promotion consisted of printing the schedule."

Bob has been in my backyard and he has probably been in yours, and unless you've done the legwork, he probably knows more about your backyard than you do.

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He made his name covering the Celtics, and even today he keeps running on these long scoresheets with Boston Celtics Basketball Club printed at the top.

He pays attention to detail. The research comes naturally. He is intellectually curious. He wants to know, and by knowing, he has the facts to support his beautifully written opinions.

When I was preparing this tribute, I asked our friend Mark Whicker (of the Orange County Register) for some of his thoughts because he has covered lots of events with Ryan. This is some of what he wrote back:

"We were at the Vancouver Olympics, and when I showed up at men's speed skating, Ryan was there. He looked up from his computer and said, ‘Butler beat Siena by 21. They've won 19 in a row now.' A couple of months later Butler was playing for the national championship.

"That was the same Olympics in which Ryan got fired up because the U.S. won some Nordic Combined medals for the first time since Sonja Henie, or thereabouts. He knew nothing about Nordic Combined but, by God, he was going to learn something about it because he instinctively knew what it meant. That is what makes him special. He has context. You can't blog or tweet it, but it's there.

"He's an enthusiast, not because he's looking to write a book or buddy up to somebody or get on TV, although he managed to do all those things effortlessly, but because he truly is curious. He's never jaded, bored, world-weary or above it all. It is fashionable these days for certain members of our profession to take pride in how little they know about sports they aren't covering. Ryan would be ashamed if he didn't know the name of every coach in every sport.

"He was a natural columnist, even before he became one. He wrote from the heart, and he did it fast and always with emphasis. He championed the NBA when it was quite unfashionable to do so. I realized the NBA had lost its moorings when, at a writers' meeting, Ryan told David Stern that it was wrong to move the writers into the rafters. ‘David, the problem is, I can't see the game,' he said. Stern made it known in so many words that he didn't care. David forgot how well Ryan saw the game, and how he made his readers see it, too.

"Beyond all that, Ryan is generous with his knowledge, his opinions and his time, and it doesn't matter if you're from the New York Times or the Winston-Salem Journal. He's The Commissioner. Very few writers get that honor."

Those insights are from Whicker, and I agree with every one of them.

So here we come to the end of the last Final Four on Ryan's Hyman Bizzell schedule card. He tells me that, and I react like he did yesterday when he was questioning John Calipari: "I don't believe a word you're saying."

But whether it's the last Final Four or not, Bob considers this a great day. "Two heavyweights going at it," he says, with that twinkle of ageless wonderment in his eyes. We can feel his energy, still. That's why honoring Bob Ryan gives us special joy, because Bob is Bob is Bob is Bob.

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