A Front-Row Seat with the Sportswriters Who Sat There

Sit down with host Todd Jones and other sportswriters who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first-hand some of the biggest sports moments in the past 50 years. They’ll share stories behind the stories -- some they’ve only told to each other.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify

Bill Livingston: “We were fortunate. They sent us everywhere.”

Bill Livingston: “We were fortunate. They sent us everywhere.”

Bill Livingston’s goal as a writer was to put readers at the scene. Hear about the memorable places he took them, and characters they encountered, during his nearly 50 years of covering sports. Bear witness to the all-time basketball artistry of Julius Erving and LeBron James. Sit courtside as free-spirited Darryl Dawkins, hailing from the planet Lovetron, shatters a backboard. Feel the emotion of Cleveland clinching a long-sought baseball pennant in ‘95. Even take a ride down an Olympic bobsled track. Listen to this and more from “Livy,” as he’s known in the business.

Livingston grew up in Dallas wanting to be a sportswriter like his idol Blackie Sherrod. Livy went on to live his childhood dream for 47 years, spending the final 34 as senior sports columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer from 1984 until his retirement in January 2019. His award-winning career, which included twice being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, began at his hometown Dallas Morning News in 1971. Two years later, he moved to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he covered “Big Five” college basketball, Penn State football, and the NBA. Livy spent six years as the paper’s reporter on the Philadelphia 76ers beat. He chronicled the Sixers when they lost the 1977 NBA Finals to the “Walton Gang” Portland Trail Blazers, and he was there when Dr. J finally got his lone championship as Philly swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the ’83 Finals. A year later, Livy moved to Cleveland to become a columnist. He was there for The Drive, The Fumble, and The Shot, as well as when James led the Cavaliers to the ‘16 NBA title for the city’s first major sports championship since 1964. Livy also served as the Plain Dealer’s longtime columnist on Ohio State football and men’s basketball.

Besides the NBA Finals, Livy covered five Summer Olympics, two Winter Olympics, the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, NCAA Final Four, all major college bowl games, all four golf major tournaments, the World Cup, the U.S. Open in tennis, and heavyweight championship fights. His work has appeared in the Sporting News, Basketball Digest, Cigar Aficionado, and more. He was a regular guest on Time-Warner’s Plain Dealer Round Table show in Cleveland, and he made numerous appearances on local and national radio and TV.

Livingston was enshrined in the Cleveland Press Club Hall of Fame, as well as the Vanderbilt Student Media Hall of Fame. He graduated cum laude in 1970 with an English degree from Vanderbilt, where he attended as a Grantland Rice Scholar, awarded every year to a high school senior who is “a promising sportswriter.” Livy has finished writing a yet-to-be titled book about former international track and field star Butch Reynolds, which is scheduled to be published in early 2022, along with an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary film. This will be his fourth book. Livy is also the author of “George Steinbrenner’s Pipe Dream: The ABL Champion Cleveland Pipers,” as well as “Above and Beyond: Tim Mack, the Pole Vault, and the Quest for Olympic Gold.” He co-wrote “The Great Book of Cleveland Sports Lists” with Greg Brinda.

Todd Jones

It’s so great to talk with you again.

Bill Livingston

Good to see you again too, Todd.

Todd Jones

I don't know about that. I don't know about that. This is audio now. You don't have to see me. That might be a good thing, Bill. 47 years in a newspaper business, 34 years at the Plaindale were in Cleveland, and you're retired. But you're not really retired. You're still writing. You're writing a book. I hear of working on a book about Butch Reynolds, the great international track star, former high state Buckeye. So you're still writing, right, Bill?

Bill Livingston

Yeah. He actually he called me out of the blue. Oh, gosh. I guess it's October of 2019 and said it's been 30 years since the botched drug situation with him that really wrecked his career. I nearly wrecked his life and he was ready to tell his story. And he said, I'd never heard this word. I'd heard Salacious, but he said you wrote some hellified columns about it.

Todd Jones

Hellified like that?

Bill Livingston

Hell, yeah. So we talked in the pandemic came and we talk some more and the book will be out sometime next year.

Todd Jones

Well, I'm really looking forward.

Bill Livingston

It's an advocacy book because I truly believe he got totally host.

Todd Jones

Yeah, it's a great story. And you're a perfect writer to write about that because you covered track and field at the Olympic level. And, you know, Butch's story inside and out. And I'm really looking forward to reading that you've written. What is is your fourth book now?

Bill Livingston

Yeah. I actually wrote another book about field, so I covered both of them.

Todd Jones

There you go.

Bill Livingston

This is Tim Mac on the pole vault and Athens. That's right. With him.

Todd Jones

Cleveland's finest. Well, the thing is, it's great is that even though you're retired from the newspaper industry, you're still writing because I think live all the years that we are in the same press box together, there's an image that sticks in my mind. I used to show up at the highest at football games very early to try to beat the crowd. You are always there before me. And when I would walk in, you would be at your press box seat reading a good book.

Bill Livingston

Right. Right.

Todd Jones

And I always said to myself, Why didn't I bring a good book? Livy always has a good book.

Bill Livingston

Phil Jackson would pass out books to his players when he coached the Lakers, most of which went unread. But I know, the assistant coach when I covered the 76 years as the beat man for the Philadelphia Enquirer was Jack McMahon. And he read and Chuck Daily read, too, later became the Pistons coach. He was the other assistant coach. And Jack said, on a flight, nothing passes the time like a good book.

Todd Jones

He's right.

Bill Livingston

It takes you to adventures in your head. My dad was a reader. Thank God, because he's the one who made me a reader.

Todd Jones

Well, I want to ask you about that because another thing, Bill, about your career. I always respected you because the words matter. You were what I thought of as a sports writer, you know? And I think today we have sports media. But when I was getting into the business in the mid, I got in it to be a sports writer, right? And I always loved the guys who valued the written word. And you were one of them. You just kind of grew up that way, right.

Bill Livingston

I grew up in Dallas, Texas, and my dad took the Dallas Times, Harold, where Blackie shared was the sports columnist. And my dad didn't think a game was truly over until you read what Blackie had to say about it.

Todd Jones

Right.

Bill Livingston

And the earthquake World Series, the late great Bill Millsaps. It was one of my mentors said, let's go to eat. We'll go down to the mission the day before the bridge fell in, before the earthquake had series had started yet. So he pulls up in front of the hotel I was staying in, which was not a Marriott. That's stop depress.

Todd Jones

Wait a minute.

Bill Livingston

Yeah, it was a diet. But in the car were Besides SAPS, Edwin Pope, Jim Murray, and another guy that was the third. Well, anyway, Edwin Pope, Jim Murray. Well, of course, Blackie, Edwin Pope, Jim, Mary and Blackie. And we went out to eat and I had enough sense to keep my mouth shut and listened to the great stories by and large. But after a couple of adult beverages or more, I told Blackie that I took the paper when I was in College at Vanderbilt by mail, and that I virtually memorized his story on the big shoot up game, the 1969 Texas Arkansas game.

Bill Livingston

And he said, really? And I said, Old hidebound, Texas Yank, the seldom used sword called the forward pass from a rusty scabbard and with it stabbed Arkansas to death. Yesterday, when the chips reached impossible heights, the champs went for broke. And what they broke was the back end heart of a magnificent Razorbacks challenge. Last until these Ozark Hills have turned to gravel. There was a stun pause, and Mary said, they don't write them like that anymore.

Todd Jones

Wow.

Bill Livingston

All these years you still remember that I have from fellow Texans. I have one drinks at the bar, being able to recite that that's the next day I called Samson said, Did I embarrass him? And he said he loved it. Are you kidding me, right.

Todd Jones

Blackie shared and Ed Pope and Jim Murray. I mean, you were hanging out with Titans and absolutely.

Bill Livingston

Absolutely.

Todd Jones

I wanted to ask you when you came to Cleveland in 1984, you're 35 years old. You're a guy from Texas. How did Cleveland end up being the place that you decided this is where I'm going to spend the bulk of my career?

Bill Livingston

Well, it became her where I moved because I was blocked at the Inquirer from getting a column. Frank Dolson and Bill Lyon were we're both in their early 50s, both good columnist, different types. Lyon was a beautiful writer. Frank was a hard edged opinion guy, and they would take vacations at the same time. And so the sports editor asked me and Jason Stark, who went on at ESPN and one several baseball writing awards to fill in as guest columnists. And I was to do the first one.

Bill Livingston

And I wrote the first one about in the NBA playoffs, about the Seattle SuperSonics. To editor of the paper, the great Jean Roberts, who led the paper to several Pulitzers, came down and said, We're going to spike this column. We're not going to have any part time columnist. So then I started looking and Tom Greer, who became the editor in chief of the Plane Dealer, had worked on the staff and was coming out to Cleveland to be sports center. And he told me, I want you to be my columnist out there.

Todd Jones

Well, I think about Cleveland, obviously you think the Browns, the Indians, the calves. But really, throughout your career, you've had a chance to write a little bit of everything. Is that something that kind of kept you in this market and made a good fit for you and what you wanted to do with your writing?

Bill Livingston

Well, part of it, I think, was I got to do pretty much the Primo assignment for a long time. Yeah. Coverthe only thing I didn't cover were in my scholarship to Grantland Rice to Vanderbilt was sponsored by the Thoroughbred Racing Association. They were covered horse rates. But then again, as Jason pointed out, those horses don't say much. I covered all the major sports, all the major bowls, the World Cup, all four golf majors. I did us open tennis with North Lovin Edward and Bore those people in figure skating.

Bill Livingston

Five Summer Olympics, two Winter Olympics went down the Olympic bobsled run.

Todd Jones

Wait a minute. You went down to Sled Run?

Bill Livingston

Yes. I went over on a pre Olympics trip, mostly with TV writers, and they told us the town was called Hemar or something like that. That's where the bobsled run was. They told us we weren't going to run and jump into it. They had a driver and a break man. But we could sit in this. If you were goofy enough and sign the release, you could sit in the sled and someone would push you off and you go down this thing.

Todd Jones

And you were goofy enough.

Bill Livingston

Well, Bill Sullivan, who then was what the Houston Chronicle, has retired. Now he was going to be my buddy and I, we were both pretty big boys. And so we're going to generate some speed and sucker once you get pushed off, I said to say, I said, Sally, we can write about it. We can brag about it forever. It's not like we're going to get a chance to do this tomorrow. And Sally said, Lily, I don't plan to jump out of a burning airplane tomorrow either, but he did exceed to it.

Bill Livingston

And they told us to hold your breath on, take a peek. And when you saw a turn coming up, hold your breath and try to hold your breath all the way, well, you just couldn't do that. It's the reverse of a roller coaster. Instead of feeling like you're floating crushed down by the GS generated in the terms. And on the last turn, I'm told we were pulling more than then the space shuttle. It take off, really. And I came back and Mike Johnson and and Clay Matthews for roommates kind of Ebony and Ivory thing.

Bill Livingston

And they said, Well, there's the Bob letter. I said, I heard you might have broken a world record. I said, Well, Sully was a big boy, too, but I had all them at ten times to write about it in the paper. I probably have exceeded that. Well, it's just something you can always talk about.

Todd Jones

Well, you were willing to try it. Right.

Bill Livingston

Right.

Bill Livingston

Okay, I'll pass.

Todd Jones

But when you think about it, we're going to talk about some of the specific beats and event you covered. But in general, for a boy, grew up in Dallas and love the written word. When you think about the places that it's taken you through your decades in the business, when somebody says, what was it like to be a sports writer, what do you tell them?

Bill Livingston

Well, it was a life I never would have dreamed of. Both of my parents were depression. Are Eric kids? My mother didn't finish high school. My dad didn't go to College. He was a dust bowl. Okie. Who went out to California and became a cop in San Francisco for a while. And excuse me, my takeaway from that when I found out what you mean. I could have grown up in San Francisco and not Dallas. What were you thinking about? It was people I met places I went.

Bill Livingston

I would not go out my last year and do career day things at high schools because what was I going to tell them? The business, it left us. We didn't leave the business. It was changed so much. What would I tell them? I had a wonderful career, traveled all over the world, covered, blah, blah. All of this stuff that I went through. But you're not going to have that. And I wasn't going to tell these kids there.

Todd Jones

Yeah, I wasn't going to give them false. Yeah. They used to send writers everywhere in sports. The newspapers were philosophy. Cash is how people got their news for the most part. And sports writers, we were fortunate. They send us everywhere.

Bill Livingston

And it was such a camaraderie. Even your rivals. It was just a wild ride. And you felt like you were on the inside of big events. And, you know, you could you could associate it and rub elbows with very famous people and cover glamorous events. And I didn't see too much of a downside other than how much time you on an airplane and gone from your your family after I got married and I've been married 43 years now.

Todd Jones

Congratulations. Your wife's a Saint.

Bill Livingston

My children said, Well, I think he told his wife the keys were made pretty good money and was gone a lot.

Todd Jones

Gone a lot is good.

Bill Livingston

She did all the heavy lifting, raising the kids.

Todd Jones

Well, let's talk about some of these things that you've done in your career. Like you said, fortunate. And we're going to talk a lot about Cleveland because that's where the bulk of your career was. But I really wanted to ask you about your time in Philadelphia, which started in 973. You were there for eleven years and you covered various things there, particularly what I was interested in was the Philadelphia 76.

Bill Livingston

Yes.

Todd Jones

You were the beat reporter for what, six years?

Bill Livingston

Yes. Five with Dr. J. Six with McGuinness came one year earlier. They had been a team that won nine games, and now they were 73 wins. That's when I was recruited and I was still enough to go on.

Todd Jones

They turned around when you showed up one of your own high schools.

Bill Livingston

And then we'll give you the NBA beat.

Todd Jones

But the NBA in the 1970s, that had to be a much different experience than what we think of as the NBA today in 2021. Tell us about what it was like on a day to day basis to be around the NBA.

Bill Livingston

You could go to an event when you can't now and you could get a read on the players better. They traveled commercial. That's right. Think about that on commercial flights with the players. Of course, on seniority, they would get first class. And of course, Julius Irving got first class. He's a doctor in the League.

Todd Jones

Right.

Bill Livingston

And the coach and the trainer sat at the back of the plane, Billy Cunningham and Al DOMINICO smoking cigarettes and playing cards all the way to the coast. If it came to it.

Todd Jones

That'S a lot of smoke.

Bill Livingston

And they would play up in first class because I went up there once to ask about something. I needed some ice. I'd fallen and hurt my elbow getting to them.

Todd Jones

You need some ice for a drink.

Bill Livingston

And a lot of them are sitting on the floor playing. I guess it was poker and you could not believe the amount of cash laying on the floor. Thousands. This is in the is not the money they made.

[00:17:32.360] - Todd Jones

Now.

Bill Livingston

They were risk takers. And it was a much more kind of media friendly League and more characters. I think in in the characters on those six or teams really crazy.

Todd Jones

But those were the days in the NBA. Anything could happen. I mean, I think even there was a time as a beep reporter, you even ended up in handcuffs at a Sixers game in San Antonio, right?

Bill Livingston

Well, they were on a bad streak before the three pointer. They blew a nine point lead in the less like a minute and a half and lost and double over time. And so we're just right up against the deadline now and everything is going to have to be scrambled and redone because it looked like a win for so much of the night. And we're all standing there sweating outside the locker room door. And the first guy I ever saw was a mini Cam TV guy on his shoulder comes up and this Guardian at the door in a uniform let him in.

Bill Livingston

And I said, you can't let him in and not let the press in too. I said, you can't let him in and not let us. And he says he's TV. And I said, Get out of the way. And I shoved him thinking he was rent a cop. He was in fact a San Antonio policeman who quickly took out his handcuffs and slapped the one. We put them in front of me and it went through my head that I could still type. I could still write my story and standing looking at a way, trying to be inconspicuous inside the corridor near the locker room and Billy Cunningham coach comes out, sees me, burst out laughing and says, don't look to me to bail you out.

Bill Livingston

So the guy, the other writers get the PR guy, Wayne With, who comes down and says, I've talked to the owner. It was Angelo Drose. Mr. Rose says, Take the handcuffs off him and we'll talk about it. And the cop says, I'm not making this up, Todd. I don't have the key like Barney Fife with his bullet. He didn't have a key. So they had to get a superior and they take them off. And you ashamed. I called the plane. Well, I went back to the hotel after I wrote my regular game call game story with no cups on the no cups on.

Bill Livingston

Alright sat right by the door waiting for the other writers. And as they came in, I said, you read anything about that? And two of them wise. And I guess it was Frank Brady. I don't know. They said, Well, we called the desk and they said, We're any charges filed and we said no, and they said, and so then Heisler can my buddy, Heisler comes in. He said I had to Billy Bob. He always called me Billy Bob because I was from Texas and now my chest, my chin is on my chest.

Bill Livingston

So I called the inquiry in kind of do a little dictation on it. And when I got home, I found first of all, when I got home, the headline was in a box on the page of Sports with the headline, Hold That Tiger Exclamation Point, and we got into New Orleans, which was the next stop. The Jazz was still there, and I walked in, checked into the hotel, and he said, sir, you have a number of messages from a Mr. Pat Williams, who is the general manager.

Bill Livingston

So I had no doubt what this is about. But I called him and he said, I got to tell you, I almost fell out a bad laughing, laughing. When I read that, I said, Well, my name is to Amuse and everything was okay until my uncle took Sports Illustrated and sports illustrator proved in scoreboard card. Remember that? And so he called in and basically inform my mother, and she calls me and says, what is this I hear about you being arrested in San Antonio. And I said, I was not arrested.

Bill Livingston

Mother, I was. I was released at no charges for file. This failed to modify her sufficiently.

Todd Jones

Mom wouldn't happen.

Bill Livingston

No, mom wasn't having a lot of that either.

Todd Jones

How did my sports writing son end up in cuffs? Yeah, well, there's quite a few characters on that team. I mean, even the writers are characters. But you think about some of the players were on that team, George McGuinness and Ribby World be free. Doug Collins, of course. Doctor Jay, there's two guys, one guy I wanted to ask you about. First of all, who was called, Well, Jones, because he has one of my favorite lines of all time. He asked me. He said, what was your favorite seafood?

Todd Jones

And he said, Saltwater Taffy.

Bill Livingston

Right.

Todd Jones

But the other big guy.

Bill Livingston

Well, the stories should be Dawkins and Auto McGuinness.

Todd Jones

That's right. So those are the two I wanted to ask you about was McGeorge. Mcginnis was a great, great player in the 70s. Tell me a little bit about George.

Bill Livingston

Well, when Dot came first of all, they lost a mini series of the old Buffalo Braves and George, in my estimation, and off the record. And certainly in some of the players estimation found out because he couldn't take the pressure. He just reached in and slapped John Shoe mate for his for his 6th foul with about four minutes left in the game. Fred Carter probably won't admit it now, but he said, you were right. He wanted out. Cunningham thought he wanted out, but I didn't write that then.

Bill Livingston

But the next year, Dot comes, and it's just obvious. As a leader, I practice and has a game peak performer in games. Judia serving is just better. And they were both the same type of player. The last guys back except Julius, could at least block shots on defense. But the last guy back on defense had to have the ball a lot, and they weren't going very well at the time. And candidly, they had lost two games. They lost in Chicago and then lost in Kansas City.

Bill Livingston

We took the usual. 05:00, a.m. Wake up call 07:00, a.m. Flight back through. Always seen data transfer, glorious light. And I was in the middle seat both ways. So that kind of put even an extra sharp edge onto my anger. So I got home and it got into my apartment and I banged out a beat column and an analysis that made the same case. I've said here that they were similar type players. And I drew an analogy between when it was Rick Berry and Cassy Russell with the warriors, and they were going bad and they benched Cassy.

Bill Livingston

And it wasn't because he went to Vanderbilt and was a God there. I graduated when I was a senior in high school. Clide, they put Clide with Barry Clyde, could box out a box car, as they said, and didn't need the ball a lot. Could hit an open shot. So it's just a better fit. And so I made that argument in the paper.

Todd Jones

George wasn't happy, though.

Bill Livingston

George was not only unhappy, but he scored 44 points. And so I knew that's part of the code. You don't rip a guy and run, but I was taking my time buffing my running story buffing and polishing. And the AP guy comes running back from the locker room to do is quick lead. And I said, how is it in there, Ralph? Ralph Bernstein. He said, He's waiting for you. So I go in there. And here he comes across the locker room.

Todd Jones

George was a big man, though.

Bill Livingston

George was six, eight, about 245.

Todd Jones

Yeah.

Bill Livingston

And George, with every other word, he would jam me in the chest. And he said, Every time I read that shit, you right. I just consider them fucking source, and I'm just taking it, you know, sometimes you just have to take and, you know, I come back out. And Ralph said, how he go? And I said, pretty rough.

Todd Jones

Did you and George ever make up? I mean, not a relationship.

Bill Livingston

Not really.

Todd Jones

Not really. Okay.

Bill Livingston

He just started thinking I was a dock guy, which I was right, you know.

Todd Jones

Alright. Well, before we talk Dock the great Julius Irving, I did want to ask you about one more sixer. And that's one of my all time favorites from afar. And that's Darryl Dawkins, the late great Darryl. Dolkins I want to ask you, were you ever at Love Tron?

Bill Livingston

Did you ever travel Chocolate Paradise?

Todd Jones

The planet that he said he was from you never went to Love Tron.

Bill Livingston

And Chocolate Paradise was at Suburb.

Todd Jones

Oh.

Bill Livingston

He broke two backboards. And the second one actually was one of my better leads. I thought of what was it? Remember the Dela Rise commercial or Elephant Cheryl Or Notes and the trees? It was it Memorex or or Carol Dawkins? Because then they played the Memorex type and if it still explode, right. Got it.

Todd Jones

I want to ask you about this. So you're sitting courtside, right?

Bill Livingston

Yeah.

Todd Jones

And a guy shatters a backboard. Darryl Dawkins shatters the backboard. What the hell was that like? What were you thinking?

Bill Livingston

I've never seen anything like it. They put the snap down rims because of that, you know, a reaction he came up with. He named all this stuff. But as I best recall, it was Bill Robins in who has passed two was the defender who was just basically ducking and covering like it was an atomic drill in the fifties. In school, it was, let's see. Glass flying. Robin Sean crying, rump roasting bun toasting high flying hard jamming, lamb Bam. I am Jam. The guy was just irrepressible. And Darryl was a guy who spent a lot of his money back to his family.

Bill Livingston

He really was a very decent man.

Todd Jones

I went to the NBA right out of high school.

Bill Livingston

Right out of high school. He had a call first. Only black guy ever saw that.

Todd Jones

We hear of guys doing that all the time now. But in the 70s, that was crazy.

Bill Livingston

He was not the first. But no, not many right now.

Todd Jones

Well, Dawkins, when I think of Darryl, I think of the fight in the 1977 NBA playoff NBA Championship finals. Maurice Lucas, the great, heavy man for the Portland Travelers, the Walton gang, and Darryl squared off in game two at the Spectrum. And you were there wasn't much of a fight.

Bill Livingston

That was no. And it was very scary because people ran out of the stands on the floor. I remember a guy I had my box score on my little Royal typewriter. And to think about that, he landed. He left a sneaker print on the box score right next to where I was working. But they bobbed and weaved around for a while, and Julius tried to grab Darryl and pulling away, and Darryl through it, trying to get loose through an elbow and pop Julius in the mouth. So Julius then went and sat down in the center jump circle.

Bill Livingston

When all these fans running around everything, Doug Collins jumped in to try to stop it. He got hit by Dawkins to a glancing blow. So then, you know, as Doc said, I tried to stop it. Doug tried to stop it. So then it was time for Daryl to fight. Well, Darryl didn't really want any part of you saw him, Bobby.

Todd Jones

They didn't really fight a lot on loan. App was love Tron. It wasn't fight Trump, right.

Bill Livingston

So he went into the locker room after he was tossed from the game, right and broke a sink off the wall, just tore it off the wall. That's how strong it was. We walked in there to see why we're pushing in the everywhere, but yeah, it was one of the more amazing things I've ever seen.

Todd Jones

It really. That was kind of pardon expression, but turn of the tide there.

Bill Livingston

Yeah, because I lost the next four.

Todd Jones

Lost the next four to Bill Walton trailblazer.

Bill Livingston

And the 6th game. George finally came out of his wherever he was, flap doodle Ness or whatever. And they were in the game. And the best play I ever saw was the second best play. The best was another one. But Dock, as I said, was always one of the last guys back on defense, and he's going back. And all of a sudden I don't even know what happened, but there was a deflection or something, and the ball comes loose and Julius picked it up just past half.

Bill Livingston

Cord and Walton also had not come up court kit. And Doc comes in on Walton like, like a hockey thing. Like the shoe out in a hockey one on one and goes up. And he did use his elbow to push off a little bit, but he threw it right in Walton's ear. It was just a stunning yeah.

Todd Jones

It'S an amazing on YouTube.

Bill Livingston

It's an amazing done greatest thing ever saw him do was the reverse layup.

Todd Jones

Yeah. Let's talk about Doc because Joy is serving was one of those special guys. And I think the thing for me when I think about Irving is that he was right before the NBA. He's the tail end of his queers when the NBA started blowing up with Burns Magic. So for a while there he heard about Dock. But you didn't really get to see Joya survey. It was almost like a mystery about him. You got to see him every day. What was it like covering Dr. Jay?

Bill Livingston

Well, we went out there prepared, not expecting to be prepared to possibly see something you had never seen. Another human being. Do is like when Olga Korbut did some of the first things that become routine and gymnastics, the reverse lay up. I think he went around.

Todd Jones

You're talking about the 1980 finals against Game Four.

Bill Livingston

He went around. I think it was. Or anyway, at one point, he took off from the College falling marker on the right side of the basket, went around one guy. At one point on the replay, he was out of bounds. He swoops back in with those huge, really rangy long arms and that enormous hands he had flips it up off the back board, drops in. He lands crashes into Jim Jones, who is with the Lakers. They both fall to the floor. Years later, Jones told me as I was getting up, I said to duck, oh, come on, Doc.

Bill Livingston

That's not fair. We got out to La for Game five, and everybody was talking about that shot. And I said to the guy when I was checking in, he said, yeah, everybody's watching it in the bar, on the TV, in the lobby. I said, what was it like when Julia hit that shot? And he said, even though it was against the Lakers, it was like New Year's Eve when the ball dropped.

Todd Jones

It's one of the most famous shots in NBA history.

Bill Livingston

Really.

Todd Jones

So what was dock like on a day to day basis? I mean, Besides the amazing player that he was, you got to know him, covering him. What was one of the all time great joy serving like?

Bill Livingston

He was very conscious of his image. For one thing, some players when they you never saw any. It was news to us when it was revealed that he had had a he had a daughter by sports columnist Samantha Stevenson. I had known in Dallas. You never saw him with other women on the road. Some guys have they had a good looking girl on the road. They just Prominade him through the lobby so you could be envious. He was he would fall in love with words that weren't words once.

Bill Livingston

I guess it might have been Mark Wicker. Ask him how crucial this loss was. And he said, Well, I don't know how you would assess the crucial ity of it. And he liked it. And he kept using crucial ity. And he used to say afterwards.

Todd Jones

Yeah, I might start using that cruise.

Bill Livingston

Yeah. One time. I know friend Library, who was another one of the beat guys. It was, I think, the 80 election presidential election. And he was taking a survey in the locker room. And clearly, Carter was beating Reagan in the locker room. And he starts talking to Julius. And he said it soon became obvious that Julius not only had not voted, was not going to vote in person, had not voted absentee and had not followed any of the issues or anything like that. And he said it got so embarrassing.

Bill Livingston

He said, I told him I'm not even going to write this because this is just unbelievable.

Todd Jones

There's no reality.

Bill Livingston

There's no Creality to it. Yeah. He also once ducted commercials for Chapstick, and he talked about the amounts and with a big smirk on his face, Francis. So what are he made? He didn't know. Bran didn't know either.

Todd Jones

But men or selling it just that's right. Moving product, right. Well, Doc was such a great ambassador for the game. I mean, he came from the Aba, helped to transition into the MDA and again towards the tail end of his career. The six was finally when one not just for Philly, but for Doc. And he finally got it in 83.

Bill Livingston

And the really sweet part of it was we had a lot of the papers that took place in La. It was a sweet game. Four was three and four. Are there a lot of the papers? Figured they were not going to win game four and didn't send extra people out. We sent the La Bureau and send other writers from Philly. We had pre arranged sidebars and I had I had Dock. I said, I don't want the MVP if they went, that'll be Moses. And you couldn't understand Moses anyway.

Bill Livingston

But I said it'll be such a big thing for Dock. And it was like he made three straight jump shots, which was prayer for him to get that. He just got hot. And the last one was eye to eye at the top of the circle with magic about six inches away, looking at each other's eyes. And Dock went up and shot a little fade away and swished it. And they went up like six. And there was no three then. So basically the game was over and it was just so sweet that he hit the plays that absolutely put it away.

Todd Jones

And you'd like to see that right when the great ones.

Bill Livingston

Oh, yeah. Like they're just Brown in game seven against the warriors. And for that matter, although I didn't have a lot of good things to say about Cary, but yeah, I mean, it was just a it was a blessing to cover Dr. J. It really was how many people get to say they covered two of the ten top players of all time.

Todd Jones

Let's think about this. So you leave Philadelphia and you come to Cleveland and 84, and then years later, obviously, some kid from Akron shows up with the calves and falls into the lab. Here of the seasoned NBA rider columnist. You got to see Dr. Jay day to day. And all of a sudden, you pick up this kid named LeBron James.

Bill Livingston

Steve Mix and I are friends on Facebook, and he still he doesn't believe that early in LeBron's career, maybe two or three years in it might have been before Facebook. But at one point in his first day in Cleveland, Mix said, we don't think he's better than Doctor. I said, yeah, I said he's bigger, he's stronger. He's a great passer. And, you know, Julius wasn't a selfish player. But Doc was up there with Bird. I mean, LeBrons up there with Bird and Magic as a pastor password.

Bill Livingston

And that's how you make your teammates better. And it's how you play basketball.

Todd Jones

You know, you saw LeBron in high school, right?

Bill Livingston

I did. Sophomore year, the guy who was in our Canton Akron Bureau kept saying, you got to see this good play. You got to see this kid play. And I went down there playing Central Hower, where Nate Thurman had gone to school, and it no longer exists. But they won. And he did some exciting things. And it was just peppered with NBA Scouts and general managers at the game. It was played at Rhodes Arena at the University of A.

Todd Jones

What was your first impression?

Bill Livingston

Oh, that he was, you know, I didn't know he was going to become what he became. But a story that I always like to really enjoy telling was by a senior year, when they were touring the country, they played Oak Hill Academy had CSU, Cleveland State and a big, big prep power. And they won. I mean, Akron St. Vincent, St. Mary one and doing the game with Bill Walton and as analyst Bill Walton and Vital. And I knew Walton. I got along with Walton back before we even talked.

Bill Livingston

I got along with him pretty well. And so I'm walking back to the press room to write my story. And I see Walton and and Vital sitting out on the court waiting for to be go on camera. So I went out there and said, you got a minute adding her what it said, I got a minute, Bill. And he said, yeah, and I said, that's why did you think? And Walton says the toughest thing to do in sports is to have a game like he had tonight to produce to reach the peaks when everybody's expecting it, everybody's watching you.

Bill Livingston

And he was a big Walton's, a big, dead head fan. And he knew I was a Rolling Stone fan. He says, it's just the hardest thing in the world to do when everybody expects it. Only the truly great ones can do that. I'm talking about Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger and Bill Livingston. And of course, it wasn't on the air. And I was the factor right now, right. But if it had been said on the air, the serial thuds of people falling off their couches around Cleveland, that would have been nice to hear that's pretty funny.

Todd Jones

What was your relationship with LeBron like during your career?

Bill Livingston

Well, I was very just entranced by him. His first day at the time. One of the greatest things I may have ever seen was the year he took a team of handbags and glad rags to the finals, where they got swept by San Antonio. He scored 48 points and double overtime game at Detroit to get them home court advantage. It was game four and then the game five, and they closed them out in game six. Back then, the queue, it was called. And not only do you score 48 points, he scored their last.

Bill Livingston

He scored all 18 in the two over times. You scored all 25, he scored the last 25 and 29 of their last 30. He had the winning shot. He was exhausted. I mean, he had been carrying him. Yeah. And I had never seen anything like it. So I was extremely called. I compared it to when Bob Petted had 55 points and the Hawks knocked out of Boston, the one of the years that Russell's teams didn't win it. And some other inside basketball great games. But I did.

Bill Livingston

Pistons were such a great defensive team. And I think Flip got fired because he didn't double team him. And it was just incredible. Why would you let him have the ball a Sidebar to this is. Oh, I'm sorry. It wasn't that game once that came. Remember Sasha Pavlovich? Okay, well, he went over forward one of the older times, and here's LeBron just sizzling hot, and they're walking to the it's a timeout and they're walking right. Press press table. And Danielle Marshall turns to Sasha as, what the hell are you doing?

Todd Jones

Good question. Very good question. So you were in transit LeBron early on as everybody was. And then LeBron makes the decision. And you weren't shy about being critical of him, too. Was one thing I always respect was that you weren't just going to coddle to whoever was the man in the spotlight. And so you were critical. What was your relationship like at a time when he left?

Bill Livingston

Well, it became very antagonistic. I mean, I wrote a one of ad campaigns for one season was Witness, Witness, the great LeBron and all this and the biblical references or subtext. And so I wrote a column about Witness Day. And it wasn't you couldn't quit something that was good. That was bad for you, like smoking. But it was like on Witness Day, you should go to the grocery store and fill your basket up three, four full and then just leave it. You should move half your lawn and just bag it and it's some other stuff like that.

Bill Livingston

And one time I wrote a little they were going to the finals. The Heat was going to play. Oh, they were everybody thought they were going to play the Lakers in the Finals in Orlando, beat them and beat the calves instead. And Nike had these commercials of Manikin, LeBron and Kobe, you know, and they were talking to one of them. They were sitting there. So I wrote a little dog or a poem about I don't really remember how it went, but it was something like the little King sat on a tuft.

Bill Livingston

But anyway, that said he could stuff it or something like that. And I kind of pure Al. But, you know, there was real bitterness toward him because he was a he was from just down the road, and no one felt that he would do that to a Cleveland team or an Ohio team. He was a big Ohio State fan and was just kind of God in Akron. And, you know, when he came back, I respected that. He wanted to make amends. He knew he had made a mistake, and if he was willing to let go of the grudge, I certainly needed him more than he needed me.

Bill Livingston

I wrote a column that it was not a time to hold onto old grudges, and I came to not only like him, but to really respect him because he spoke out on social issues and social injustice. Jordan was famous for saying Republicans by sneakers, too.

Todd Jones

Michael was so insured.

Bill Livingston

And I came to have a great deal of admiration for him and and to get along with him pretty well.

Todd

So LeBron comes back to Cleveland and he gets that Championship for Northeast Ohio. And so I think that's the thing that I think about when I think about LeBron and you were here all those years, you came in 84, you experience the shot with the cash, Michael Jordan. And he has you experience the fumble and the drive at the Bro.

Bill Livingston

The cast had just been not even on the on the radar screen until LeBron came because it had a serious flirtation with with it with the price. And Dority teams with the miracle Richfield team. But that's generation in the past by then, right.

Todd Jones

And then the Indians had to heart ache. So you knew the heartache. So when LeBron finally delivered for the city, you knew what the context was.

Bill Livingston

Well, I knew it was just a release, maybe relief as much as joy for a lot of people. But the one that the only time I ever almost cried at an event was when the Indians won the pennant. They didn't win the World Series in 1995. They be Randy Johnson and Game Six up in the King Dome. Nobody thought they would beat Johnson. He was an incredible picture. And I went down to the locker room and they were guys the champagne. They were shooting champagne. Dick Jacobs, the owner, and I got to thinking about the boat accident the year before that, I killed just totally sank.

Bill Livingston

The season killed large of 93 almost used how much it meant to the people back home in Cleveland and that, you know, for 41 years, they had been a joke. They were out of the pennant race from 1959 until 1995. Mostly they rather pennant race by the 4 July, if not Memorial Day. And I had to walk out into the corridor and kind of compose myself because I was about to start crying. And then I went back in and wrote down what I saw. I went back and wrote it.

Bill Livingston

But that's the only time I ever felt that way.

Todd Jones

When you think about all those years in Cleveland, writing for such a passionate fan base, you know, obviously the Browns and the Indians and the case.

Bill Livingston

I'll tell you when the Browns came back and I quickly saw what a mess it was going to be, I had already in the in REM lobbied my way into doing every Ohio State game. And even though there are no home games, really and truly, lots of those years, I didn't have to be part of that mess and write the same story week after week. Yeah, I was writing the same story at Ohio State, too, but they're always a happy story.

Todd Jones

It's a little different, different.

Bill Livingston

Plus, I was a big Texas fan as a kid, and I'd covered Penn State for three years. When I was at the Inquirer, I was very used to colossal successful, sorted major College football.

Todd Jones

And the Hio State coach was Jim Trussel, who was from Northeast Ohio.

Bill Livingston

Right.

Todd Jones

So you had a local angle, and they have always have a lot of place coming from the Cleveland area.

Bill Livingston

Well, and I have a personal thing that the guy who kind of recruited me for the school paper, Chuck Offen Burger, who he did the Iowa Boy column at the Demon Register for years, one of the most beloved people in the state. He was fighting cancer and had received stem cell transplants at the University of Iowa Medical Center, which was right across the street from Kennex Stadium. And I sent Trust in an email and explained a relationship with my relationship with Chuck. And I said, Is there any way you could just get a piece of memorable or something and signed it?

Bill Livingston

I'll be happy to pay for it. I just like to give it to Chuck. So I had to come back down for the Monday press conference because Iowa is going to be a big game that year. And he came in and stuffed a bag under my chair. I didn't look at it until I put it in the car. And when I was going home and it was an Ohio State baseball cap and on the bill he had written, Chuck, The Buck Eyes are cheering for you, which was nice.

Bill Livingston

And I gave it to Chuck. And I understand he still keeps it by his home computer and enjoys people saying, Why are you plan the world? Do you have that Ohio State cap? But he called me before kickoff and he said, I've got to tell you, this Ohio State cap is creating a furor on the floor. Said the head nurse, came over and said, do you understand that we're playing those people in a couple hours? And his wife, Carla, who passed away recently, was there and she said, Does it say the Hawk guys are cheering for you?

Bill Livingston

So I never forgot that with Threshold, I knew he couldn't overcome flying to the NCAA. But, you know, I always have a higher opinion of him than many of my peers do.

Todd Jones

Well, Trust understood what it meant to people.

Bill Livingston

Absolutely.

Todd Jones

I think from my perspective, the sports in in Cleveland really changed with the Indians in the 90s. Jacobs Field. That place was just rocking and rolling and they had that great offense. I mean, these guys were just made. They scored 1000 runs and that was such a fun team to be around and covered. And I think the flip side is the Browns didn't get their Stadium and ended up leaving.

Bill Livingston

Right.

Todd Jones

So you had like that, that counterbalance of emotion, like this expression, the hatred of the Browns leaving. And on the other side, you had the Indians lifting up the downtown and city. And I just think there's a lot there to write about. Right.

Bill Livingston

Right. And again, the I never really trusted Model. And I had a very scornful view of some of the older columnists who took his word as gold. I was right about him. We're talking or model the Cleveland Browns owner who moved the team right and lied about it all the way. And, you know, when he when he died, I I actually took it nicer than people thought I would. I remembered when they lost the second of there are three games to Denver to go to the Super Bowl when Biner fumbled at the goal line after playing this magnificent game.

Bill Livingston

They're not in the game as in or making so many plays. I finished my quick column and I get down there and I'd already sent my story. So my column, I didn't have to run back with quotes like Tony Grossy and Beat guys did. Biner still hasn't come out. And I waited around and Biner didn't want to talk. But he came out with a towel around his waist and Models Ernest camera and he came over and he put his arms around him and he hugged him.

Bill Livingston

And I thought that was one of the most generous things I've seen in the absolute devastating heartbreak of defeat to do for an employee athlete. I was really impressed by that. And I wrote about that and was pillared for it by the readers. You know, how come because they didn't want anything nice to be said about Model. They wanted to celebrate that he died. I can understand if you get that embedded right.

Todd Jones

When you're a columnist like that in a big, passionate city, you're going to get your slings and arrows if you're doing your job or how did you do your job? What was your approach to be in a columnist in Cleveland all those years?

Bill Livingston

Well, I usually tried to have an idea when I went to a game. I wasn't, you know, wetted to it. But if I was going out to an Indian game and maybe a pitcher, especially with Omar, who was my favorite player if he'd been going hot, I had some lines already about him when I was hoping it'd work out, and sometimes I could still keep it anyway. But I kind of had an angle I wanted to take. Sometimes it all just you turned on you and those late night games when you're just trying to Band Aid and patch your way to the finish.

Bill Livingston

But I tried not to go out there with just an empty head. Then you're writing a game story, and the column is supposed to have a take. I supposed to have an angle. Urban first year, they beat Indiana 52 to 49, and they had been ahead 52 to 34. And the beat guy, Doug lame reason he's already down on the field to get the quick quote and Indiana scores. Kicks the extra point. It's 52 41. Recover the onside kick score again. Go for two. It's 52 49.

Bill Livingston

Now they're still, like 40 seconds or so left, and it's too late to fix it. I've got a I'm standing there frozen, standing up, frozen and absolute fear, and they overloaded to the right, kicked off a bloop onside kick to the other side. They really had Ohio State outmanned on that side, but I've forgotten who it is, who it was, but some buck. I fell on it and didn't have it squared out from under him. And I just.

Todd Jones

Read the Cyber. Thank God it was always your root for your column. What's best for me right now?

Bill Livingston

Well, exactly. Yeah, you do root for the column, basically, as we joke, but to some extent, it's true on deadline. It's all about us.

Todd Jones

That's good for me. You think about all those years, all the places when somebody says, what was your career like, what do you tell them?

Bill Livingston

It was things I never imagined as a guy who likes track and field and also the Olympics, to some extent, not the Winter Olympics so much I don't know much about hockey. It wasn't much pond ice in Texas when I went to the ancient Olympia for the shot put and went out and saw the obelisk that says, in French, here lies the heart of bear and peer to cope. Tan. That was the neatest trip ever made on the company money. It was 5 hours each way on a bus, and Greece was 7 hours ahead of us.

Bill Livingston

And I was riding, finishing it off at four in the morning in Greece because everything had to be done in by nine here for the Olympic package. So 04:00 a.m. It's tough to be at your best, but I wrote a good one that day because it was just so special to me. That was one of my great highlights.

Todd Jones

Yeah. When you think about it, you took the reader with you there, right? You got all that. And you went those 5 hours and you painted a scene to put the reader who wasn't fortunate enough to be there. We don't like to be there.

Bill Livingston

We sat on a dirt Hill side like they did back in in the ancient world, you know. And I remember a mutual friend of ours, Michael Lopresto, and we were so tired. Mike had a a pillow he had with him to sleep on the bus, and I wasn't smart enough to bring one. And he had been laying and he was on it and he was about to fall asleep. And I said, Mike, wake up. They're about to have them. Whoever the leaders were about to throw and he gets up.

Bill Livingston

And when it's over, he's just got third all over him and dirt in his pillow and everything. And somebody said, what do you got there? A little Presty. And he said he used he dumps more dust off into the sack of his pillow, the pillowcase inside it. And he said, just sorting out my souvenirs.

Todd Jones

Well, we all pick up a lot of those over the years, right. And it's like small moment, small anecdotes. Yeah. I think that's what the writers that we're speaking with, that's the treasure trove that we're capturing is that that's the treasure trove capturing that do these little anecdotes, these things, that these memories that people have because all those years you were putting the reader the air with you.

Bill Livingston

I tried to and I was very competitive. But I also had a lot of respect for almost everybody else who did that because city side and they had a different task, obviously. But the night of the Mayor or presidential election, they had sent out for pizza and be telling our stories about the dead. Every night was election night in the Tabs playoffs are the Indians World Series. They had no more day games in the World Series knowhow much how much pressure we were under my best man in my wedding, our wedding, he said, Well, all those days of writing term papers the night before Vanderbilt paid off.

Todd Jones

Exactly right.

Bill Livingston

He also said, I can't believe the guy who panicked and saw campus cops coming and through a six pack of beer. Some can still open into a mailbox is being honored by the school.

Todd Jones

All right.

Bill Livingston

But they didn't know it at the time so.

Todd Jones

Well, Bill, they should be proud of you down there in Vander. Bill has quite the career.

Bill Livingston

And I was honored to go into their Student Media Hall of Fame and also the Cleveland Press Club Press Club Hall came here in Cleveland and again.

Todd Jones

Dallas, Philadelphia, Cleveland, for three decades been one long, strange trip, is Bill Walton would say.

Bill Livingston

Well, I worked in three different parts of the country, you know, sampled all of it.

Todd Jones

Well, live, it's been a great time. Just catching up and covering so many different things in your career. It's been a real honor. And I always enjoy talking with you on the road and at different games. And we got to cover a lot of events together. It's been fun. Reminiscent.

Bill Livingston

Newspaper people are the best. Best conversational is right about as much reverence as Buggy Whip factory these days.

Todd Jones

That's why we're talking to each other now.

Bill Livingston

Precisely.

Todd Jones

All right, live. Thanks a lot.

View Less

Recent Episodes

View All

Bonnie Ford: Viewing humans through a sports prism

Evergreen Podcasts
For Bonnie Ford, being a sportswriter is about more than covering games and knowing statistics.
Listen to Bonnie Ford: Viewing humans through a sports prism

Tim Smith: “That’s a two-mile cookie.”

Evergreen Podcasts
Details always caught the eye of Timothy Smith during his three decades as a sportswriter.
Listen to Tim Smith: “That’s a two-mile cookie.”

Dick Weiss: He’s called “Hoops” for a reason

Evergreen Podcasts
Dick Weiss is synonymous with college basketball. This season, he’ll work his 49th Final Four.
Listen to Dick Weiss: He’s called “Hoops” for a reason

Bob Kravitz: Not Afraid to Go There

Evergreen Podcasts
Bob Kravitz has been fearless in his 36 years of writing about sports.
Listen to Bob Kravitz: Not Afraid to Go There