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.

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Bob Ryan: “Larry goes up to Magic and says . . . ”

Bob Ryan: “Larry goes up to Magic and says . . . ”

What was it like inside the old Boston Garden? To smell Red Auerbach’s victory cigar? To see firsthand Bird’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers battle for basketball supremacy? Bob Ryan knows as well as anyone, and he puts you there when the NBA was a fledgling pro sport in the late ‘60s, and takes you all the way through its growth into a world game. He shares behind-the-scenes details from his illustrious career of more than four decades at the Boston Globe. He’s known as “the quintessential American sportswriter” for good reason. Few can match the sporting events – hoops and so much more – that Bob has chronicled, and done so with indomitable enthusiasm. You can still hear it in his voice. Listen to Bob, and you’ll feel as if you’re courtside with him, seeing Havlicek run, Cowens roar, and Jordan fly.

Bob Ryan is one of the best-known and respected sports journalists of the past half century. He began writing for the Boston Globe in 1968 and still contributes an occasional column for that paper despite retiring from daily work in 2012. He has been a regular guest on ESPN shows such as “Pardon The Interruption” since first appearing on “The Sports Reporters” in 1989. And he’s still cranking his monthly column for Basketball Times, as he has since 1976.

Ryan became an NBA expert as a beat writer covering the Celtics for 13 years on three separate occasions throughout three decades. Later, he served as one of the Globe’s general sports columnists. Ryan covered 21 NBA Finals, 29 Final Fours, 11 Olympics (six Summer, five Winter); 11 World Series, 11 Super Bowls, five BCS championship games, eight US Open championships, six British Opens, four Ryder Cups, three Masters, and two PGAs. He also covered the World Basketball Championships in Toronto, Athens, Indianapolis and Tokyo, many major college football bowl games and numerous baseball playoff series.

Ryan was the 2015 APSE Red Smith Award winner, presented by the Associated Press Sports Editors to a person who has made “major contributions to sports journalism.” That same year, he received the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing. He’s a four-time winner of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association’s National Sportswriter of the Year award, and the AP awarded him “National Sportswriter of the Year.” Ryan has received the Dick Schaap Award for Outstanding Journalism and the Curt Gowdy Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s a member of the National Sports Writers and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and he has been enshrined in the Halls of Fame for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and New England Basketball.

You can read about Ryan’s career in his book, “Scribe: My Life in Sports.”

He is also the author of many other books, including:

· “Drive: The Story of My Life, By Larry Bird with Bob Ryan

· “Forty-Eight Minutes: A Night in the Life of the NBA”

· “The Four Seasons, Wait Till I Make the Show: Baseball in the Minor Leagues”

· “The Boston Celtics: The History, Legends, and Images of America’s Most Celebrated Team”

· “Cousy on the Celtic Mystique”

· “The Rivals: The New York Yankees vs. The Boston Red Sox – An Inside History”

· “The Road to the Super Bowl”


Read his latest columns for the Boston Globe: https://www.bostonglobe.com/about/staff-list/contributor/bob-ryan/

Check out Ryan’s top columns from throughout his career at the Boston Globe: https://www3.bostonglobe.com/sports/specials/bob-ryan-retirement/?arc404=true

Grantland feature story about Ryan: https://grantland.com/features/the-commissioner-bob-ryan-nba-career-boston-celtics-boston-globe-larry-bird-new-book-scribe/

Ryan can be heard on The Sports Reporters Podcast along with Mitch Albom and Mike Lupica:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-sports-reporters/id127783658

You can also hear him on Bob Ryan’s Boston Podcast: https://bobryanbostonpodcast.libsyn.com/

Come on back on May 12 when we are getting more great stories from Dennis Dodd!


Follow Ryan on Twitter: @GlobeBobRyan

Follow our very own host, Todd Jones on Twitter @Todd_Jones

You can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Press...

Contact us at [email protected]

Todd Jones:
He's been the called the quintessential American sports writer. He's been writing about the NBA for more than 50 years. That's 50, 5-0. He's an icon in Boston and a longtime national voice of wisdom on ESPN shows Around the Horn, and Pardon the Interruption. He is Bob Ryan, and he's kind and generous enough to share stories with us on Press Box Access.

Todd Jones:
Well, Bob, thanks a lot for joining us on the show.

Bob Ryan:
You're welcome. Nice to be here, as they say.

Todd Jones:
Yes. The only thing I was thinking, I wish we were at The Fours in Boston.

Bob Ryan:
Oh, I'm sad already because it's closed. And I have very, very fond memories of it, of course. And it's so symptomatic of what's going on all over the country. Hardly the only failed business or the only casualty of all this, but this one hits home for me, yes.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. The Fours, though, was a great watering hole across from the old Garden, and a lot of the world's problems were solved by sports writers in the Fours. And by the way, as we get started here, we've got a lot to cover, but I hear you're a good tap dancer. Is that right?

Bob Ryan:
Well, I don't know how good I am now, but I can tell you right now that I was the best damn tap dancer in the [crosstalk 00:01:13] Little League. And the [crosstalk 00:01:15] Little League the year after that.

Todd Jones:
Well, you're a better writer than me and I'm sure you're a better dancer, because I was just known for the white man over by the lawnmower, the sprinkler. Not a tap dancer, but hey.

Bob Ryan:
Yeah. I had the opportunity to be trained, and I actually performed with groups in [inaudible 00:01:33] and enjoyed it. And anyway, so that was a part of my youth.

Todd Jones:
Well, you were tapping on the keyboard for 50 years and seen so many amazing things and sports, obviously, you saw the whole evolution of the NBA, the growth, and then the Olympics, baseball, golf... You name it, you've covered it. So we got a lot of ground to cover. I think it would be great to start... We're going to talk about a lot of people, but one thing I wanted to ask you about was the old Boston Garden itself.

Bob Ryan:
It was modeled after not the original, but the second Madison Square Garden, the one that older people know, the one at 48th and 8th in New York that lasted until 1968. That's the one I grew up on. You needed poles in those days, and when you had poles, and both in indoor arenas and outdoor stadia meant you could have better proximity to the action than having them set back. That's just why there's no baseball park today that has a view comparable to Tiger Stadium. You were right there on top of the action. And of course, when I first started going there, they were literally smoke-filled because [crosstalk 00:02:43]-

Todd Jones:
Yeah, right. Exactly. Right.

Bob Ryan:
There were no smoking restrictions. It was a far more smoking society. That was part of the... And of course, each featured an organ. That was the musical background in Boston, the most famous main guy was John Kylie who famously played at Fenway Park and Boston Garden, so there was an intimacy, there was a charm, it wasn't built for comfort all. Good wooden seats. I got my old last seats from the building, I have. Literally have the right ones too. We were able to pick out the seats before they demolished the building. It had a charm that not possible to replicate.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. When I was at the Cincinnati Post in the early '90s covering college basketball, Zader played at the Cincinnati Gardens, and it was the same thing-

Bob Ryan:
[crosstalk 00:03:34] once.

Todd Jones:
... just an old building, and they would turn the lights off except for the lights above the court, and it looked like a stage. And your feet would stick to the floor because of the spilled beer, there was cigar smoke, and it just had a much different feel to it.

Bob Ryan:
Yeah, no, it was totally different. When I was in that building once, my first year covering the lake, the Royals... Well, actually the second year, it was '70-'71, they were still in Cincinnati, they had yet to relocate to Kansas City and Omaha as they're now. And I was in there once, but I'm glad to say I was able to do that. I missed a couple of the old baseball plots that kill me I never got to Forbes Field. I never got to Griffiths Stadium. I never got to Crosley Field. Those are three that I wish I had gotten to.

Todd Jones:
One more thing about the Garden, the parquet floor became its own... It had its own fame. Was the floor really... I mean, were there dead spots that nobody saw?

Bob Ryan:
[crosstalk 00:04:24] exaggeration that takes place. I do believe that it's probably true there were certain deader spots than others, but there wasn't bad enough that you would put the ball down and it wouldn't come back up. Some of the stories people tell about that, and the mythology is that the [crosstalk 00:04:40] dead spots where it could steer ball handlers to it. Nonsense. Come on.

Bob Ryan:
But there was something. But it was made of spare parts, spare wood. That was the thing. It was made out of, originally, wood. I mean, it was out of wood, but spare wood, and put together in that fashion, in that parquet fashion, and so when they moved to the new Garden they wanted to replicate the look.

Bob Ryan:
It was a tougher place to do business as time went out, the Garden. I can understand that. And I understood that the time had come that the city needed a better facility, but boy, I mourned. And I miss it. And I'm very happy to say that the night of the last game that was played there, which was Orlando beating the Celtics in 1995 playoffs...

Bob Ryan:
The last game, I had brought my ticket stub from my first visit there, which was in October 1964 on the Saturday night, and I always carried that ticket stub, or I had it, and I brought it in and I asked the Globe photographer on duty that night: would he mind taking my picture as I sit in that seat while they were taking up the floor for the final time ever.

Todd Jones:
Oh, that's awesome.

Bob Ryan:
And when I first started going to the Garden, as a student at Boston College, we sat in the second balcony for two dollars. And so your night would be 25 cents on the MD on the T, to go from BC on the green line to downtown to the North Station, and then walk in and two-dollar second balcony seats, and of course we always... Not always, we usually [crosstalk 00:06:13].

Bob Ryan:
And one night, in fact, first game was 76ers versus the expansion SuperSonics, and Wilt set a record that still stands. And this is not hyperbole, this is not... This is the gospel truth. Still record and I predict it will never be broken. And this is: most free throws missed in one game.

Todd Jones:
How many?

Bob Ryan:
22. It was eight for 30 that night from the line, but he had 22 field goals, so he had 52 points while missing 22 free throws. I don't think that anyone's going to challenge that.

Todd Jones:
That's a great stat. There's so many with Chamberlain. That's amazing. You spent thousands of nights in the Garden, but really your sports writing career began when you were 11 years old. You wrote for the Sportster.

Bob Ryan:
I called it, yeah. I wrote a column. I typed out a column, emulating what I had been reading in the paper that the way to do it. And the column basically was an evaluation and observation on what was going on in the grammar school basketball league that I was playing in for St. Joseph's School, the Trenton Parochial Basketball League. And also some observations on the larger world, including the Boston Celtics. And I'm sure Bob Cousey would be proud to know, and I quote, "Cousey quarterbacks his club masterfully." I'm sure he would have appreciated that compliment from the kid in Trenton, New Jersey.

Todd Jones:
Well, how did you critique your own play if you were playing in the league?

Bob Ryan:
Well, my game never changed from the time I started playing, which was I was a scorer who disdained defense and rebounded on very rare occasions, and that was my game. I had it for years, but somewhere along the way in the midst of moving, I finally lost it. Obviously, I would have loved to have kept that, have that keepsake, but-

Todd Jones:
Well, I'm always curious about where writers start. Sports has always been such a part of your life, I know. So you go to Boston College, you intern at the Boston Globe in 1968 with some guy named Peter Gammons.

Bob Ryan:
Yeah, well.

Todd Jones:
You know who I mean?

Bob Ryan:
I lost track of him.

Todd Jones:
Only one of the great, if not the greatest baseball writer ever. So you show up in 1968 with Gammons at the Globe, and next thing you know, a year later, you get hired full-time and they put you on the Boston Celtics beat in October of '69. The Celtics had just won their 11th championship in 13 years. Bill Russell had just retired. You're 23 years old, you're on the Celtics beat, what the hell was that like?

Bob Ryan:
Overwhelming. I knew I could write a game story. I figured that, and I could. But there's no manual that teaches anyone how to cover a team. There's no manual. That is the ultimate OJT. And I'm 23, and I started this on a Wednesday, and it was, "Oh, by the way, you're covering opening night Friday." And I had not gone to any exhibitions, they had a new coach, Tom Heinsohn, I hadn't met him, I hadn't met anybody. First time I met anybody was when I encountered people the night of the opening game against Cincinnati Royals in 1969.

Bob Ryan:
It was overwhelming. You have to learn how to act, how to conduct yourself around these people, how to ingratiate yourself. What you are is a salesperson. You're a salesman. And you're selling yourself to the players, coaches, the administrators. And you got to present and sell yourself. They have the game credibility. So I had to... I had to get credibility from not just what I wrote but how I was day to day with these people.

Bob Ryan:
And so the first year was all expository. It was all learning about all this and getting... And finding out all these other writers, the veterans on the other beat, that knew these guys. They had all had a huge headstart on me. Incidentally, I mention this in the book, I believe, that kind of crystallizes where I was starting from as opposed to where I was and where I wanted to get to.

Bob Ryan:
About a month in, my idol, literally the guy I would like to have been, and I thought when I was 20, "This is who I want to be when I'm 30 and 40," Frank Deford, from Sports Illustrated, comes in to do a story on the post-Russell, post-Sam Jones Celtics and how they're faring and what they're like and this and that.

Bob Ryan:
One day while he's there, I look into the training room, and Larry Siegfried is sitting in the hot tub. And [crosstalk 00:10:42] over [crosstalk 00:10:43] interviewing Larry Siegfried, and he knew all these guys because he had covered the playoffs for a couple of years, including that wonderful run they had in '69 when Russell wins out the farewell, they win the balloon game in the forum and all that. And I'm sitting there going, "Someday I want to be the guy interviewing the guy in the hot tub."

Todd Jones:
I remember being that age being around the NFL beat and just feeling totally overwhelmed too.

Bob Ryan:
So opening night-

Todd Jones:
Like, "Who are these people? They don't know me." You have to earn credibility. And it was frightening many days.

Bob Ryan:
After the game, I'm making the rounds in the locker room to get the interviews, and I approach one of the players on the Royals, and as I'm doing so and he's talking, this thing came over me, "Oh my God, I'm talking to Oscar Robertson."

Todd Jones:
The Big O.

Bob Ryan:
And that was I felt... I was like, "What? I'm talking to Oscar Robertson! This is surreal."

Todd Jones:
So tell me about the NBA then, because not only is it new to you to cover a team, you're going into an NBA league that is way different than what it is today. Tell me about that first year. What was the NBA like? I think they had like eight staffers including the Commissioner. That was it, eight staff people.

Bob Ryan:
Yes. The first NBA guide... I got my NBA guides behind me on the shelf, and the one for 1969-'70, the entire front office listings are eight people. And by the way, three of whom are secretaries. You have a commissioner, an assistant, a head of officials, and a publicity, that's four, and I forget the fifth, and then three secretaries. And that was the entire league front office. The [crosstalk 00:12:30]-

Todd Jones:
14 teams and-

Bob Ryan:
14 teams. They would expand at the end of that year, with the Buffalo/Portland/Cleveland deal, but 14. Double-headers in the east particularly, but not just the east, playing neutral sites all over the place, and all teams playing games... The Celtics themselves were still playing in Providence. Later they switched that to Hartford, right through the late '80s, okay?

Todd Jones:
And they were only drawing like 7,000.

Bob Ryan:
Yeah. The Celtics were drawing about 7,000. And then maybe, if Wilt came in, they might bang it out. Or the Lakers. And that's it. And the Knicks, because the Knicks would do well because of the New York City-oriented college students would come to the Garden for the Knicks, and those were like college games because there was actually about a two third/one third cheering ratio. So there'd be a lot of cheers when the Knicks scored a basket. About a third of the building was cheering for the Knicks because there were all these New York college kids.

Todd Jones:
That's amazing. When you think about it, this stood out to me. You're covering the defending NBA champions, winners of 11 of the last 13 NBA championships, you're on the beat-

Bob Ryan:
But...

Todd Jones:
What I think it shows though is... It obviously shows the growth and explosion of basketball as a sport, the NBA as a game. I think where it came from... You were there at the grassroots of popularity for the NBA.

Bob Ryan:
I mean, sure. The league was on not the back burner, but it wasn't in the forefront at all. And that Knicks team, I'm telling you, they helped propel the league forward. And then they expanded it. Plus geographically now they're expanding. You've got 17 teams. But then again, they're in competition now with the ABA all this time. And that was a whole other story. But no, the NBA, I did watch it grow. And then, of course, the visionary aspect of moving on from J. Walter Kennedy to Larry O'Brien and then eventually to David Stern-

Todd Jones:
David Stern.

Bob Ryan:
... that jumps us three whole decade, and that's a whole other matter.

Todd Jones:
Well, let's talk about this. You did three different stints on the Celtics beat. Really, up until 1988. You also had time there where you were covering the league. So you can't talk about the Celtis without talking about Red Auerbach.

Bob Ryan:
No.

Todd Jones:
So tell me a little bit about... First of all, I want to ask you this, what was up with the cigar? What was that all about? He just-

Bob Ryan:
He smoked a bunch of cigars every day of his adult life. Now, this is before... I didn't cover Red as a coach, naturally. He retired in '66. I got to know Red and his guys as Mr. Celtic, as the president and general manager, and got to know him pretty well. But there was an arrogant thing, there's no...

Bob Ryan:
And I grew up rooting... In so far as I was interested in the NBA, as opposed to college, which was my first love in the wintertime, I was rooting for Philadelphia. I was rooting against him. And so I was one of the people that was fuming about Red and that arrogance. Yeah. The victory cigar when he thought the game was in hand. He treated himself, lit up a cigar. And it became a real big symbol and people talked about wanting to smash it in his face.

Bob Ryan:
And tell me, I don't know what other coach in what other sport, a manager of baseball, had anything comparable. And when he [crosstalk 00:15:51] he did it to signify, "Yeah, we're being [crosstalk 00:15:54]."

Todd Jones:
Well, what was Red like [crosstalk 00:15:58]? What kind of person was he? What made him successful?

Bob Ryan:
Well, first of all he was a very bright man who I think, had he applied himself, could have been a military general, could have been a CEO... He was nobody's fool. He was a smart guy. He loved basketball, period. I mean, not period, but he loved basketball. And he was brash. I mean, he was cocky. He certainly didn't lack for self-confidence.

Bob Ryan:
You know how he got started in the NBA? He was 28 years old, he just came out of the navy, the NBA, it wasn't the NBA, it was the Basketball Association of America, which was founded in 1946. One of the franchises is Washington Capitols, and he talks himself into the job by telling owner Mike Uline that, "I can get players. I got contacts." Seriously.

Bob Ryan:
He was a guy that would prep school in Washington D.C. before he went in the army. But he had contacts and he did. They won't the league! He won the regular season that first year. They got beaten at playoffs, at the first championship with Philadelphia. But he got beaten in playoffs, but he won the regular season and set a record of consecutive games that lasted a long time. He was damn good at what he did.

Bob Ryan:
One day he says to me, "Who's the greatest sixth man in the history of the NBA?" And I said, "Well, I guess Havlicek." "No." I'm thinking, "Well, okay. He's going to say Frank Ramsey, right?" "Frank Ramsey." "No." "Well, what? The only other sixth man that I even knew about in those days was Ernie Vandeweghe, Kiki's father. I said, "Ernie Van?" He said, "No. Chickie Shapiro." "Who's Chickie Shapiro?" He said, "He was the timer in Rochester."

Todd Jones:
That's great.

Bob Ryan:
Isn't that great?! And he had-

Todd Jones:
In 1980, you're in Indiana for a preseason game and you're in your hotel with the Celtics, and you get a knock on your door. What happened?

Bob Ryan:
It's new time. I had come back from the shootaround, the morning shootaround. They were on the exhibition swing, anchoring in Terre Haute at the Larry Bird Boston Connection Hotel, by the way, and going to play a game that night in Evansville, about an hour and a half, two hours down US-41.

Bob Ryan:
Played the night before in Indianapolis and Dave hadn't played very well. But he wasn't playing real well in these exhibitions. And I was a little worried about it. He just didn't look himself. So I go to the morning shootaround, and I'm back and it's noontime or so, and I'm on the phone talking to Silas, who's now in Seattle. And he's telling me about the night before, about a game-winning basket by Dennis Johnson, and how he and DJ and Gus Williams were in competition. They were trying to one-up each other all the time, and he just thought that was kind of funny but disturbing as well.

Bob Ryan:
Anyway, I'm talking to Silas, knock knock knock. I open the door and it was Dave Cowens was standing there with his practice uniform on, number 18, green shirt, holding yellow... Oh. Holding yellow legal pad papers. A sheaf of papers. Four, five. Okay? I say, "What's up? Come on in." I say, "I'm talking to Silas, you want to say hello?" So he did. So he chats with Silas. "Okay. What's up, Dave?" "Read this."

Bob Ryan:
Oh my God, I'm reading it. It's a retirement statement. He's retiring. Right here and there. And I'm reading this whole thing he's written out, explaining the why's and wherefores of why he's retiring. "What do you want from me?" "Well..." I forget the exact phrasing, but it was basically, "Can you go over it and edit it, fix it up if it needs fixing up, edit it?" And then I said, "Well, yeah, I can do that." And I said, "But I got to have this story for the afternoon paper, because you have to understand that." "Oh, that's fine. No problem. Get it in the paper."

Bob Ryan:
And so I say that was taking me about an hour. And I knew he could write. He had written something for the Globe. He was literate. He could write. It wasn't going to be a difficult editing chore. And on the way out, he turns around and says, "Oh, do you mind if I call Red first?"

Todd Jones:
He hadn't told Auerbach?

Bob Ryan:
No. But the way he put it, I'll never forget it. "Do you mind if I call Red first?" No, Dave, I don't think I mind that at all. So-

Todd Jones:
Yeah. I think he had to tell Red Auerbach.

Bob Ryan:
[crosstalk 00:20:14] conversation. Mary Faherty was Red's secretary. "Hey, Mary, it's Dave. Can I talk to Red?" "Red, it's Dave, you remember what we talked about the other night? Well, I'm doing it. Okay, I'll see you back in Boston." Click. That's not the end of the story.

Todd Jones:
What's the rest?

Bob Ryan:
Now, it's four o'clock in the afternoon and the bus is ready to leave for Evansville. Dave comes down like George Washington addressing the troops at Valley Forge. He gets on the bus to tell the players. They didn't know. And he announces to them that [crosstalk 00:20:49]. He goes up to Parish, who was playing like horseshit at the time, and gives him a little pep talk. "You can do it. You're going to be fine. Don't worry." That kind of thing.

Bob Ryan:
And M. L. Carr, took forever to team to media, says, "All right. You through?" He said, "Yeah." He said, "Well then get the F off our bus then." So now, bus pulls away, and I'm standing there with him. "What's up?" "Well, I'm going home. Going back to Newport." Okay? But being Dave, he didn't have any money or credit cards worth anything on him.

Todd Jones:
Well, how's he going to get there?

Bob Ryan:
Well, that's where I come in. I went to Avis and hand him the keys.

Todd Jones:
You get-

Bob Ryan:
I rented a car.

Todd Jones:
You rented a car for Dave Cowens?

Bob Ryan:
Yeah. And then handed him the keys. And he says on the way back he went to a funeral somewhere. [crosstalk 00:21:41]. He went to a funeral! And then he went home and the rest, as they say, is history.

Todd Jones:
That is a great one. I'm so glad that... Let's talk Dave Cowens, because that's a player from the 1970s that I have a personal connection with, simply because Dave went to my high school, Newport Catholic in Newport, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati. I actually went to high school with his two brothers, his twin brothers.

Bob Ryan:
Oh! Okay.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. Their names were Tom and Jerry, like the cartoon characters. And they both played on our high school's basketball team. But Cowens, his photo was behind the basket at my high school gym, and he's a legend in our hometown. But I think he meant a lot to you too, right?

Bob Ryan:
Easiest question I ever get at a speaking thing is, "Who was your favorite player to cover?" I say, "Best player was Bird. And Havlicek's 1A. But my favorite was Dave Cowens." I'd never, ever encountered anything like him. Nor, I don't think, has anyone else. Because the combination of: A, hall of fame talent, B, electrifying style, a unique style, and C, for me, an unmatched intellectual curiosity... Not to say he's a raging intellectual, but he's a curious person and he's a open-minded person, and he's open to new adventures and new thoughts and used to go around and ask me questions. And you don't get that too often.

Todd Jones:
Didn't he once drive a cab in Boston when he was playing?

Bob Ryan:
Well, that was after he... yeah, when he went on his little sabbatical. Oh yeah. Nobody has a resume like Dave Cowens. What happened was he left the team in the '77-'78 season, they had traded Paul Silas, he couldn't come to contractual satisfaction in Boston and they traded him to Denver and they got Curtis Roe, and then, of course, we got Sidney Wicks in the reparations that we also... Long story.

Bob Ryan:
Anyway, he missed Silas badly on the court and off the court, and he just lost his desire. He just couldn't bring what he wanted to bring. And he didn't want to play if he wasn't going to be 100% into it. And he does this month or month and a half sabbatical, and one of the things he did... HE didn't do it regularly, but he actually did at least one night or two drive a cab. And that's true.

Bob Ryan:
Of course, it's the same guy that spent the night after they won the championship in 1974 and then that Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee we had flown back to Boston after the game, and he spent the night going around to different places and wound up, "Oh, what the hell, here's a park bench in the Boston Common, I'll spend a couple of hours sleeping it off here." [crosstalk 00:24:30]. So he did, in fact, spend time sleeping [crosstalk 00:24:34]-

Todd Jones:
He would have fit in with sports writers!

Bob Ryan:
But the reason we were in-

Todd Jones:
He joined the Celtics, and he was on that team as a rookie, I believe.

Bob Ryan:
Well, that's the reason why we were in Terre Haute to start with.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Bob Ryan:
They were going to play... because of Larry, they were going to milk the state of Indiana, they were going to play Indianapolis at ISU and at Evansville, which they did. So where we're staying, the Larry Bird Boston Connection Hotel, naturally, in Terre Haute. Yeah. Larry Bird. Yes, another and rather significant figure in my journalistic life.

Todd Jones:
Now, you went on to write a book with Larry, My Drive. I highly recommend it. Another great read. There's so many things we could talk about with Larry. One thing I wanted to ask you quickly was: what's always fascinated me about Bird is when he came into the league, he was very shy, reticent, didn't really speak to the media. By the time he left, he was a great quote. How did he change over the years? Tell me about Larry Bird the person that you got to know and eal with as a writer.

Bob Ryan:
Basketball was very important, although he didn't latch onto basketball until like age 13. I mean,, it wasn't like he was... He liked baseball first. But he grew a little bit and discovered and fell in love with seeing that round ball go through that orange ring. He kind of liked that. This thing you could do by yourself and all that. He was a smart person. I used to kid him and say, "Larry Bird, you have successfully evaded the American educational system."

Bob Ryan:
Now, he graduated from college and he did his student teaching thing at ISU, but even then he still didn't associate himself with intellectual pursuit. When he was playing for Indiana State, he knew he was the center of attention, and he was conscious of being a teammate, and his stated reason for avoiding the media during that whole run in '79 was that he knew they only wanted to talk to him and he wanted to make sure that he talked to other people, so if he didn't talk at all, they'd have to talk to other people. Pretty smart.

Bob Ryan:
All right. So I want to fast forward to circa 1978. I wrote a magazine story for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. I pitched them an idea about the blossoming of Larry Bird, and how Larry Bird had grown up in public and had grown out. He couldn't avoid showing off... Not showing off, but developing his personality and his instincts. And he had long since gotten over about being wary of the media, embraced the media, knew how to handle the media, and actually liked being that...

Bob Ryan:
I talk about how in those days there was a table that sit in the middle of the Celtics locker room, and what would happen was the game would be over and then Larry would come out and sit on the edge of the table and you would circle around him and he would do his... And he told me for the story, when I did the article, that, "I looked up at the clock." And he said, "I knew that they had deadlines and they didn't want to be there all night, and I knew I could give them a good 10, 12 minutes and that would do, they would be okay."

Bob Ryan:
That's exactly right. It's exactly right. Because you can't hang out there forever. But this time, the evening papers were just a memory by that time, so everybody had a deadline. [crosstalk 00:27:54]-

Todd Jones:
But he was aware of that, he knew that. He knew what you needed to do to do your job.

Bob Ryan:
Yes. Yes. And he was getting more and more... Obviously at this point he had opinions about the league, he had opinions about... And he could describe a game. He enjoyed, he became comfortable with this interview thing. And then it was a very interesting... And he had good descriptions. And anyway, he grew up in public. They all do. But some of them don't handle it too well and some of them do. But he always had more to offer, up there, intellectually. And that's who this was all about.

Bob Ryan:
But he was very wary in the beginning, yeah, this [crosstalk 00:28:30]-

Todd Jones:
For a guy who didn't talk he was known as a great trash talker-

Bob Ryan:
Oh yeah.

Todd Jones:
... on the floor.

Bob Ryan:
That he did. And that developed along the way too. Yeah, he did.

Bob Ryan:
By the way, we just passed an anniversary as we speak. On 11th February 1981 was one of my favorite Bird games of all time. We were in Los Angeles having just arrived the night before, losing an overtime game at Seattle. And Tiny didn't play. He wasn't playing for some reason, Tiny Archibald. And we were delayed. It was the old days, no charters or anything. In the west coast you get a lot of fog in the winter.

Bob Ryan:
And I don't know what happened, we didn't get to LA until three o'clock in the afternoon, and the game was at 7:30, just even arrive at LAX. So I didn't have a very good feeling about that game. But when we got there we found out Magic wasn't going to play. And Larry foes up to Magic, who was sitting around before the game, and said, "Sit back, Earvin, and enjoy the show."

Bob Ryan:
Larry goes for 36 points, 21 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals, and at least three separate times there was a three on one break and he broke it up. It was one of the... At that point, this is the middle of his second year, it was the best game he had yet played in the NBA. And it was just utterly and completely spectacular. And they won that game without Tiny, which was a big deal.

Bob Ryan:
But, "Sit back, Earvin, and enjoy the show."

Todd Jones:
Well, you can't talk about Bird without talking about Magic, obviously, and you've brought Earvin up. You actually saw Magic Johnson and Larry Bird play... You covered 29 final fours I believe?

Bob Ryan:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
You covered the 1979 Bird/Magic Michigan State defeats Indiana State. That was really the game that... I think college basketball just blew up after that game. It's still, I think the highest rated-

Bob Ryan:
It is the highest rated game of all time.

Todd Jones:
... championship. Yeah.

Bob Ryan:
43 years later. Of course, it's never going to be surpassed. The game stunk, you know that. It wasn't much of a game. Indiana State, Larry was hurt and out of luck after that, and he shot seven for 21, and he had 13 rebounds. The better team won. Okay? Larry increased the growing legend. He went 16 for 19 in the semi final game against DePaul. And then Massachusetts State crushed Penn. That's your last Ivy League team to go to the final four.

Bob Ryan:
And from the time the second game ended, I think that was the second game, but I'm not positive, on Saturday night until they tipped off on Monday night, which now is 9:22 Eastern. I don't know what time we were the night of '79, maybe a little earlier or maybe not. Todd, that was the longest two days I ever spent in anticipation of an athletic event in my life. And I wasn't alone. There was such anticipation... Turned out the game was anticlimactic.

Bob Ryan:
Now, my version, and Larry is so honorable, he'll never admit it. He had hurt his hand early in the tournament, I think against... I don't know, but he did. He hurt his hand, his thumb. I think early in that game I remember seeing him catch a pass and wince. And if you watch the tape of that game, of those 13 rebounds, I would say half minimum and maybe nine or 10 were one hand scoops without using that other hand. And he was, if anything, a fundamentally perfectly sound player who always, in any other circumstance that I've ever seen, would use the two hands. There was no showboat nature. He couldn't use his left hand. And I know it wasn't his shooting hand, but he wasn't himself. Yes.

Todd Jones:
And that started it. A year later, you're in the Spectrum, court side, this rookie, Magic Johnson once again, now he's with the Lakers, and he puts on a performance in game six filling in for injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he jumps center. He did everything. Tell me what it was like in the Spectrum when Magic won that first NBA title.

Bob Ryan:
Okay. Well, we got to back up a bit. That was in game six. And in games one through five, the MVP unquestionably was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And he hurts himself. He gets hurt in game five. I don't know when he got hurt, but they lose game five out there. So we're coming back for game six in Philadelphia, and he's not playing. He didn't make the trip.

Bob Ryan:
And so I can tell you that we in the media, all we were talking about was where we were going to go for dinner when we go back to LA for game seven, once I'd... This was Friday night game, and we were going to go... I'm serious. We were going back. We were going to go for dinner on Saturday because we're going back for game seven on Sunday. Everybody knows that. They're not beating the Lakers, I mean, the Sixers without Kareem who had been the best player.

Bob Ryan:
I'm sitting behind the basket, first row. And in the first period of that game, Magic Johnson scored five goals, none of which, as I recall writing, had anything to do with any of the other four. In other words, it was a virtuoso: a hook, a reverse, a post up, a face up, this and that. It was a virtuoso. Five fascinatingly interesting different shots on route to what it turned out to be 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, as you know, playing, in a sense... As much as we can differentiate among positions, which is overrated in basketball anyway, now forever and more, but all five.

Bob Ryan:
Did he jump? Yeah, he jumped. Did he guard? He probably did guard somebody at each, guarded at the center, guarded the guard, guarded at forward. He's 20 years old. 2-0. 20 years old, and remains among the handful... I don't have to go any further than that: five best performances I have ever seen in all the years I've covered the NBA. And it was a... He was 20 years old. So that legend was cemented that night for sure.

Bob Ryan:
Then, of course, they give him the MVP, which I screamed about because, "No!" I know that he won that game, but Kareem was... The first five games, there was no argument. But anyway, I often have problems disputing the MVPs, like in 2010 when they spoke [crosstalk 00:34:47]-

Todd Jones:
No. Bob, you have a problem thing?

Bob Ryan:
When they stole it from [inaudible 00:34:49] and gave it to Kobe, which is ridiculous. But anyway, that's another matter.

Todd Jones:
But that night started it all. It was Bird and Magic from there on.

Bob Ryan:
Yeah. And they would play 31 times as... Well, which is great. The only story I ever wrote, (story, I wrote a couple of advertising supplements), but I ever wrote for Sports Illustrated, they honored me tremendously by asking me to write this cover story on Bird and Magic rivalry after Larry retired. And I did. So we researched. They really research a lot of stuff. I was able to research a lot of stuff.

Bob Ryan:
What I'm going to say is that, just as a digression, it's the greatest individual matchup rivalry of the last 30 years. Michael Thompson referred to them as the salt and pepper of the NBA. Isn't that great? That was great. Yeah. It was too good to be true matchup.

Bob Ryan:
And they both were each other's biggest fan. And when Magic announced to the world that he was HIV positive, he called Larry that day. And when Larry retired, one of the first... The first person outside of Boston he called to tell him was Magic. It's all for real. There's no stage phoniness. They have a bond, truly.

Todd Jones:
And then, you mentioned him, Michael Jordan comes in.

Bob Ryan:
Yeah. So they set the table for Michael.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Bob Ryan:
And Michael took it over the finish. They went into the red zone. Bird and Magic took the NBA into the end zone, got it down to maybe the five. Michael took them into the end zone and where it is today. You can't deny it.

Todd Jones:
And his first big pro moment was dropping 63 in the Garden in the playoffs.

Bob Ryan:
Oh yeah. And at the end of his second year, this was the true coming out part.

Todd Jones:
Yeah.

Bob Ryan:
Sunday afternoon national television, the Celtics, the greatest team of all time before the three-point mania took hold, the '85-'86 Celtics, and he almost beats them. It took Celtics two overtimes, one 35, one 31, he misses the last shot of one of the regulation overtimes. He had a chance. 63. What a day that was. Oh my God.

Todd Jones:
And away we go.

Bob Ryan:
And the best part about that, Todd, for us, was a Sunday afternoon, we had a one o'clock start which meant that we could write it. We could research the hell out of it, we could write it, and this the gospel truth, I'm not making this one up, I know nobody believes me, but the game started at one, and at approximately 8:30 Eastern, we, being the entire Boston press corps and the Chicago press corps, we all walked out of the Garden together and went out to eat together down at the [inaudible 00:37:26] in Boston. And we were there for seven and a half hours. And we just emptied it out.

Todd Jones:
Those were the moments, right? When something spectacular happened and you were able to witness it and chronicle it, and then you could go out with your fellow writers and just relive it and talk about it, those were the moments of being a writer.

Bob Ryan:
Absolutely.

Todd Jones:
One last basketball thing, Magic and Bird set the table, Jordan comes in and it just goes crazy from there. The NBA blows up. And then you get to the point where it becomes international.

Bob Ryan:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
And you have the Dream Team in '92 Barcelona Olympics, and you were there every step of the way for the Dream Team, right?

Bob Ryan:
The Dream Team was the brainchild of Boris Stankovic, the president of FIBA, the international governing basketball body. And the NBA got involved in international basketball, and he wanted to have the American pros involved in the competitions, namely the World Championships and the Olympics, to raise the bar for everybody else, to show the world where they need to be, what the pinnacle of basketball was, where you need to be.

Todd Jones:
The Dream Team had to be like being with the Beatles in '64 when they came to New York.

Bob Ryan:
Right. It was. That's right. It was very similar to that. They were staying in a four star hotel or five star hotel in Barcelona, they had great security, they weren't in the Olympic Village. We'd never gone to the Olympic Village, our basketball teams, which... But anyway. Oh no, they were. Everywhere they went. And it was a huge... And it started, of course, in Portland, Oregon at the Tournament of the Americas, where we had to qualify. And that's where the whole thing took root.

Bob Ryan:
The very first game was against Cuba. And before the game, the Cubans asked to have a team photo taken. They were under no illusions about who's going to win the game. They wanted to have a joint photo taken. And that became the ritual, okay? That became the ritual, the theme of the entire Tournament of the Americas and to the Olympics, was the ritual of the other team taking the picture.

Bob Ryan:
My favorite moment in the Tournament of the Americas: we were playing Argentina, and they had a 6,5 guard who was pretty good named Marco Milanesio. And Marco finds himself on the switch with Magic, and Magic is now guarding him on a post up on the baseline near their bench. And as he's posting up Magic, he's pointing and waving to the bench, yelling, "Fotografia! Fotografia!"

Bob Ryan:
That's the Dream Team. And it was an experience... It was a fabulous experience, absolutely. And I got to be very friendly with Oscar Schmidt, the great Brazilian and-

Todd Jones:
Yeah. He had, what, 50,000 career points? I mean,-

Bob Ryan:
Yeah. He's the all-time international scorer. Scored more points than anybody in any league anywhere. Yeah. He was-

Todd Jones:
Hey, I must point this out though, Bob. You were there every step of the way. La Jolla, California, Monte Carlo, and Barcelona, that's not a bad road trip.

Bob Ryan:
You know what I said? That was the greatest boondoggle summer of my life.

Todd Jones:
Well, we talked so much basketball and I've kept you quite a while, but I did want to point out you became a full-time columnist at the Globe in '89, so you covered everything.

Bob Ryan:
Now-

Todd Jones:
11 Olympics, I think golf was your favorite sport to cover.

Bob Ryan:
Well, I love covering golf. People say, "What's your favorite sport to cover?" Expecting me to say baseball or basketball, and I say, "It's golf." And that's logistics. It's the one sport the TV can't... I'll use the F word, TV can't fuck up, because they have to play it in daylight, which means that you're going to have deadlines, pressure is off [crosstalk 00:41:02]-

Todd Jones:
Yeah.

Bob Ryan:
On Saturday, because you have the early edition on Sunday.

Todd Jones:
And you can be right there.

Bob Ryan:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
I was fortunate enough to go to St. Andrews when Jack Niklaus played his last-

Bob Ryan:
Oh!

Todd Jones:
... British open, and I walked all 18 holes with Niklaus and Tom Watson, the [crosstalk 00:41:18]-

Bob Ryan:
Yep. Yep.

Todd Jones:
And I think to myself, "I'm standing here walking with Niklaus and Watson?"

Bob Ryan:
Yeah, no, that-

Todd Jones:
"Are you kidding me?"

Bob Ryan:
Oh, I-

Todd Jones:
"At the birthplace of golf?"

Bob Ryan:
I loved getting out there. One of the five greatest days I ever had covering anything, my memorable days was the Sunday afternoon at the Ryder Cup in 1999 when we came from behind and beat the Europeans. And there was madness all over the place at the country club.

Todd Jones:
You see Justin Leonard's putt with your own eyes?

Bob Ryan:
The famous putt. I have a story. Glad you asked.

Todd Jones:
You have a story?

Bob Ryan:
I was trailing-

Todd Jones:
Really, Bob?

Bob Ryan:
This is the famous Justin Leonard putt on the 17th we're talking about, right? And the people come out and they run on the green, and Olazabal's upset because they're stomping on his line and the whole thing. Okay.

Bob Ryan:
I was walking primarily with the group that was behind him. So I'm down the fairway and I see a guy sitting in an NBC golf cart about 100 yard below the green. "Oh, hello Michael." It was Michael Jordan. So I watched that... We watched, and he doesn't... I guarantee, he doesn't remember, but that's... That we watched that Justin Leonard scenario together from the NBC golf cart.

Bob Ryan:
So these are the memories that I'm so grateful I was able to live this life. I mean, these are the things that they're not remotely in your mind when you start, you just want a job, you just want to write, but the byproduct of it is... I mean, so grateful.

Todd Jones:
Well, we really are grateful for your time. And this is what we're trying to capture. We're trying to capture writers and their careers and just get these oral histories of these moments and these things that are part of a life. And you were able to bring this to readers and viewers and we were a conduit to people who couldn't be in the places that we were at. And you have been to so many great places and have shared such great stories. This has been [crosstalk 00:43:10].

Bob Ryan:
I always say, and I say this with all sincerity, I am so grateful I did it when I did it, because the circumstances were different. And these experiences that we had in our time, many of them are not available. So I'm so grateful. Not to mention doing it in Boston for an extra receptive audience in a town that loves sports. So anyway, thank you for having me. It's been fun to go do a little reminiscence.

Todd Jones:
Thank you, Bob.

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