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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Randy Harvey: The View from Mt. Olympus

Randy Harvey: The View from Mt. Olympus

While growing up in a two-stoplight town in Texas, Randy Harvey yearned to see the world. Sportswriting brought his dream to life during a half-century at newspapers, including 30 years at the Los Angeles Times. He covered 15 Summer and Winter Olympic Games, as well as four World Cups. Randy tells us about being there for the perfect gymnastic routines of Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton. He recounts the speed of Carl Lewis, the drug downfall of Ben Johnson, and the consistent greatness of Edwin Moses. Sit in the rocking Rose Bowl with him as Brandi Chastain’s goal wins the ’99 World Cup for the U.S. women’s national team. And go behind the scenes with Randy’s NBA beat reporting on the Showtime Lakers of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and their well-coiffed coach, Pat Riley.

Randy Harvey is synonymous with excellence in sports journalism. He spent 50 years in the newspaper industry, including nearly three decades at the Los Angeles Times. Randy was not only an admired writer, but also served a much-respected sports editor at the Times, the Baltimore Sun, and the Houston Chronicle, where he retired in 2018. Randy was twice named California sportswriter of the year. He was honored seven times in the annual Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and won several other sports writing awards. His work has appeared four times in the “Best Sports Stories of the Year” anthologies. Randy’s career began in his native state of Texas as a reporter in the town of Tyler (1969-71), and he later worked in Austin and Dallas (1974-76). He went on to write sports for the Chicago Sun-Times (1976-80) and the New York Daily News (1980-81) before joining the Los Angeles Times to cover the NBA Lakers and their early days of Showtime with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In 1984, the Times assigned Randy to be one of its lead reporters covering the Summer Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. He went on to set the standard as one of the most well-sourced reporters on the international sports beat. He traveled the globe covering 15 Summer and Winter Olympics, as well as four World Cups. His writing career also included covering 12 Super Bowls, college sports and golf. Randy moved into management in 2000 as senior assistant sports editor for the Los Angeles Times. He in 2004 to become assistant managing editor/sports for the Baltimore Sun (2004-06) and returned to Los Angeles Times in 2006 as the sports editor, replacing the renowned Bill Dwyre. Randy later served as the paper’s associate editor from 2009 to 2012 before deciding to write sports once again as a columnist at the Houston Chronicle in May 2015. "I've been suppressing my inner Oscar Madison,” he said at the time. “After 12 years behind a desk in management, I'm letting him free." Randy eventually became that paper’s sports editor in May 2015 and served in that role until the University of Texas graduate retired three years later.


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Todd Jones:
I'm Todd Jones, recovering from 30 years as a sports writer. Thanks for joining me as I sit down with some of the best sports writers of our time, who knew the greatest athletes and coaches and experienced firsthand some of the biggest sports moments of the past half century. We'll share stories behind the stories, some we've only told each other. Pull up a seat on Press Box Access.

Todd Jones:
Randy Harvey grew up in a tiny town in Texas but sports writing took him around the world and he took readers with him to world cups, Super Bowls, golf majors. He took them along with the Showtime Lakers of Magic and Kareem. Most of all, Randy took fans to summer and winter Games as one of the most prominent Olympic riders of the past four decades. I'm eager to travel with him on this episode.

Todd Jones:
Well, Randy, it's so nice to have you on the show. I really appreciate you joining us. How have you been?

Randy Harvey:
Thank you. Good, doing well.

Todd Jones:
It's been too long since I've chatted with you. I know whenever we were at big events together you were always a voice of wisdom for me, you always had some nice advice. There were times when I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but if I went to Randy Harvey, he always had the answer.

Randy Harvey:
Well, thanks. Thanks a lot, I hope I didn't take you too many blind alleys.

Todd Jones:
No. Well, if we went down blind alleys, we went together. And sometimes there were good stories down those blind alleys. So Randy, 50 years of surviving the newspaper industry, I think you ought to have some kind of a reward for that.

Randy Harvey:
Well, it was a very rewarding career, and when I look back on it, some amazing experiences and that's my reward, is to have been able to do as much as I did, and cover as many big events and see as many places as I did, and went all around the world on the newspaper's dime.

Todd Jones:
Not bad. How many countries, Randy?

Randy Harvey:
Oh. You know what? I've never bothered to count them up, but you name it, I've probably been there.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. Your passport must have had about 40 pages.

Randy Harvey:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
You were a writer and an editor, which meant that you had to deal with the writers, and I always feel like you had to be the head of the class then, knowing all these screwballs out there, and sitting in a desk, you had to keep control of these guys because you knew who they were.

Randy Harvey:
Well, being a writer and then becoming an editor writer, a great perspective. There was nothing that the writers could come up with that probably I wasn't able to answer it, probably hadn't had a similar experience.

Todd Jones:
When I think about your career as a writer especially, I think about big beats, big events, big cities. You worked in Baltimore, Dallas, Chicago, New York, Houston, and also obviously, nearly 30 years in Los Angeles at the LA Times. So you've been to the big places, the big markets, and you covered so many big stars and events that we've got a lot to talk about.

Randy Harvey:
I grew up in a small town of 3,800 people.

Todd Jones:
Really?

Randy Harvey:
And my dream was to go to the city, and so I went to just about all of them.

Todd Jones:
3,800, was there a newspaper in that town?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. Mineola Monitor.

Todd Jones:
Did you ever write for it?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah, I did. And when I was in high school, I wrote for the high school newspaper. And so they used to... The downtown newspaper is the one that published that so they would use my stories sometimes.

Todd Jones:
What did you mean by downtown, the stoplight?

Randy Harvey:
That's right. We had two stoplights.

Todd Jones:
Well, you come from a long line of great Texas sports writers. There's so many famous sports writers from Texas, Dan Jenkins, Blackie Sherrod, on and on. And I found a quote from the early '70s when you were young in your career, and Blackie Sherrod said he was asked about the future of sports writing. And he said, "I've got a kid named Randy Harvey with all the earmarks, if he'll stick with it." Where you going to not stick with it? Did you have thoughts of doing something else?

Randy Harvey:
No, I don't know. I think he thought I would get smart and get out, but I stayed in it and I did stick with it.

Todd Jones:
Well, Randy, when you were growing up in small town, Texas and there were so many great writers down there, did you have favorites? Did you have people who influenced you? Was that part of why you became a sports writer?

Randy Harvey:
Probably the biggest influence on why I became a sportswriter was Clair Bee. He was a former coach who wrote all the Chip Hilton novels, and I would devour those when I was in grade school. And then I would try to write a book and I just really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the process, as soon as I got a chance to go into journalism, I did. So that was probably the biggest influence on my career. My dad had worked in newspapers too.

Todd Jones:
Oh, was he a writer or an editor?

Randy Harvey:
He was actually a school teacher and then a school administrator, but that didn't pay very much. So in the summers he'd work at the local newspaper. The Lufkin News.

Todd Jones:
So you grew up with ink on your fingers?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah, right.

Todd Jones:
The smell of newspapers and it was just part of your life from an early age, I assume.

Randy Harvey:
Exactly.

Todd Jones:
From the outside, they think that writers, "Oh, you're just friends with all these guys and you're cheerleaders," but you have to learn early on that, that's not the case that you're a reporter and you're the conduit to the fans. Is that something that was stressed to you early on in your career in Texas?

Randy Harvey:
Yes. We had an orange stick. It was a paint can stick, a stir, and it was orange and white. And if you wrote something too complimentary at the Daily Texan, you got the dreaded orange stick.

Todd Jones:
Really?

Randy Harvey:
That was not good [inaudible 00:05:36] In my years there, I only got it once for a story I wrote on the freshmen basketball team.

Todd Jones:
So it was two complimentary.

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. So it if you were to complimentary, you got that orange stick. Sometimes I think it probably took us overboard into negativity. So we had to learn balance after that too. So now to try to be straight down the middle and not always negative.

Todd Jones:
Right. But I think that's a great lesson, the orange stick.

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. But I did learn I wasn't part of the team.

Todd Jones:
You couldn't be, right?

Randy Harvey:
Right.

Todd Jones:
I mentioned Darrell Royal the football coach at Texas, and I also think there was a moment early in your career when he had some redheaded bearded ponytail guy, some country singer he wanted to introduce you to. Tell us about this, tell us about this moment?

Randy Harvey:
He called Kirk Bohls, who is an American Statesman, had been there forever, and I was out covering practice. And he called us over one day, says, "Hey, I want you to meet somebody. This is Willie Nelson." And I didn't know who Willie Nelson was at that time.

Todd Jones:
Really?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. And so I really wasn't into country music. So anyway, shook his hand, was glad to meet him. And then it was shortly after when that outlaw country took off, and I certainly knew who Willie was after that.

Todd Jones:
Well, Willie is a big star obviously, and you were around so many big stars in your sports writing career, athletes obviously. And I think that's only appropriate that you spent nearly three decades of your career in Los Angeles...

Randy Harvey:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
And Hollywood. So you were in Chicago, you were in New York, but you left New York in 1981 to go out to the LA Times, and you became the beat writer to cover the Los Angeles Lakers.

Randy Harvey:
Right. It was the Magic and the Kareem and...

Todd Jones:
Showtime.

Randy Harvey:
Jamaal Wilkes. One of the first big stories I had was Paul Westhead getting fired. That was my first year on the beat and it was about three weeks into the season.

Todd Jones:
Oh, welcome to the beat.

Randy Harvey:
Was thrown into the fire. Then Pat Riley took over, and Pat was great. Pat was great to [inaudible 00:07:45]

Todd Jones:
So tell me about that? That was a story that was huge news at the time when Westhead was fired because they had won the NBA championship the year before under Westhead, right?

Randy Harvey:
No, they'd lost it, I think. My memory serves, I think they had lost to Philadelphia that year...

Todd Jones:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Randy Harvey:
And then they came back and then they won it under Riley, the first year I covered them.

Todd Jones:
Oh, okay.

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. Magic, the substitution rotation that Westhead used, Magic complained about it. Next thing you know, Westhead was gone. Magic, to his defense, a lot of people thought he got the coach fired. He never asked for Westhead to be fired. He just was making remarks about how he didn't like the substitution rotation. But the Lakers acted and brought in Riley, and it worked out.

Todd Jones:
Randy, how many seasons did you cover the Lakers for the Times?

Randy Harvey:
Just two full-time.

Todd Jones:
Two full-time seasons. And this is really when Showtime's taken off with Pat Riley. What was it like in the Fabulous Forum all those nights?

Randy Harvey:
Oh, it was unbelievable. They had the USC pipe band. Jerry Buss was a big USC fan, so they had a pipe band and Dancing Barry who was sort of a mascot guy.

Todd Jones:
Wait a minute, Dancing Barry?

Randy Harvey:
And then Chick Hearn, [inaudible 00:08:59] Chick Hearn.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, the announcer.

Randy Harvey:
Calling the games, and the crowd was... Jack Nicholson sitting on the sidelines. And you never knew who you were going to see, Debra Winger, Angie Dickinson, or just Doris Day, anybody.

Todd Jones:
That's amazing. You mentioned that Pat Riley was great to deal with. What made him great to deal with from a writer's perspective?

Randy Harvey:
Honesty. If you asked a question, he answered it. He wouldn't lie about it, about things, and I always really appreciated that. If he made a mistake, he would admit it, and if you asked him about it, he didn't seem to mind being asked, he wasn't defensive about it. I don't know, I thought probably the best I ever covered in terms of that.

Todd Jones:
Do you think that came from him being a player all those years too?

Randy Harvey:
Could have been being a player, could have been... It's just the way he was. He was that way at Kentucky. He told a great story about the Texas Western game, because he was in that game.

Todd Jones:
The 1966, [inaudible 00:09:59]

Randy Harvey:
Yeah, one of the most famous [inaudible 00:10:01] basketball games.

Todd Jones:
Right, the all-black lineup for Texas Western beats the all-white lineup from Kentucky.

Randy Harvey:
Right. That's what he talked about. He grew up in Schenectady, New York. His dad was a minor league baseball coach, but he used to take Pat to the playgrounds and just let him loose. And so Pat grew up playing with the black kids and he learned a lot, but he got to Kentucky. And when they played that Texas Western game, he said he knew they lost even before the game, because he says his teammates were just scared to death.

Randy Harvey:
And of course, he wasn't because he'd grown up playing with black kids and he tried to tell them, "Hey, they're just kids like anybody else. They're like us." But he said his teammates were just literally shaking. And so he said, "I knew then, we weren't going to win."

Todd Jones:
What do you think made Riley the right coach at the right time with those Lakers?

Randy Harvey:
His wife was a psychologist. I think he learned a lot from her. I think if he had issues, he'd just go home and talk to Chris about it and do their pillow talk, talking about that. So I think he learned a lot about psychology.

Todd Jones:
Did you ever talk to her about basketball?

Randy Harvey:
I talked to her. I don't remember talking to her much about basketball. I remember going to the Forum Club after games and she was there. So sometimes we would talk to her.

Todd Jones:
Tell us what the Forum Club was?

Randy Harvey:
Forum Club was obviously, in the forum and it was just a little bar where after games, the writers and celebrities would go, and Buss would make an appearance. And sometimes the players didn't go there very often, but Pat would always be there and his wife would be there, Chick Hearn would be there. It was just a place where you gathered, Jerry West. It was just a place where you gathered and you just talked, and you got to know each other. I

Todd Jones:
I think that probably helped, right? Because you could relate to people. They knew what job you were doing. You know what job they're obviously doing.

Randy Harvey:
Right.

Todd Jones:
But you were able to build some type of relationship, right? Working relationship.

Randy Harvey:
Right.

Todd Jones:
We talked about the Lakers and the scene, and Showtime and stars everywhere. Well, you couldn't have had two bigger players than Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Randy Harvey:
No, No, it was unreal. I remember Bill Dwyre, the sports editor. He said, "Maybe you don't know it yet, but you're going to look back on this. And it's like you covered the 1927 Yankees."

Todd Jones:
He was right.

Randy Harvey:
He was right. [crosstalk 00:12:30] Unbelievable collection of basketball talent and characters.

Todd Jones:
It's interesting how sometimes in life, the right group of people come together at the right time. Obviously, there was talent there, but was there something else there that made those Lakers special?

Randy Harvey:
Magic, I think was... His enthusiasm was just infectious and I think that, that probably had a lot to do with it. He lit up a room. He exuded confidence, everybody on the team kind of fed off of that. Pat used to talk about this. There was a feeling around that team. Kareem would go up for a sky hook. He said, "And there was just a sense that everybody in the building was feeling that, and there was some sort of magical essence to it, of it rubbing off on the players too."

Todd Jones:
You mentioned Magic's enthusiasm. What was the difference between Earvin Johnson and Magic Johnson?

Randy Harvey:
Earv was real and nobody called him Magic. I never heard anybody ever call him Magic.

Todd Jones:
They called him Buck, right? Didn't the players and coaches call him Buck?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. Buck or E.J, or Earv, or Earvin. He was a real person. He had that magical enthusiasm and somebody gave him that name, but yeah, buck was a very good name for him, and talks to just like he was just a real guy.

Todd Jones:
Well, he was so out there with his personality. And then you also had Kareem who was much more reticent with how he dealt with everybody. Tell us about dealing with Kareem? When I think about Kareem, I think sometimes I wonder, he almost gets overlooked sometimes when people talk about the greatest ever, and it's Jordan and so forth, but look at Kareem's career, it's unbelievable.

Todd Jones:
Do you think his personality has some something to do with the fact that maybe he's not always just knee jerked reaction to like Kareem is the greatest ever?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. Probably so, probably so. He wasn't out there. Magic was the big presence on that team and I don't think Kareem enjoyed that, and enjoyed having other players take away the attention from him. But obviously, he was one of the greats of all time and I think he's [inaudible 00:14:49] He was all-time leading scorer. I was there that night when he passed Wilt to become the all-time leading score, so a great experience.

Randy Harvey:
And Kareem was... If you get him alone, he didn't like that locker room experience that sports writers coming in and crowding around the cubicle.

Todd Jones:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Randy Harvey:
He didn't enjoy that, but if you got him alone, he used to tell stories about growing up in Harlem, and his true love was baseball. He'd been a first baseman on his high school baseball team.

Todd Jones:
Kareem was a first baseman?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
Wow. He could catch all the throws.

Randy Harvey:
Yeah, exactly. Not anything went over him, that's for sure. But if you got him just telling stories about those days in high school and growing up, he was actually quite pleasant under those circumstances. But he didn't like that crowd of sports writers, that Riley used to call us the buzzers. He said, "Kareem thinks you're buzzers."

Todd Jones:
Well, I think we were buzzers, right?

Randy Harvey:
Probably so.

Todd Jones:
When you think about it, can you imagine every day you get done with your job and somebody comes in with a bunch of questions for you?

Randy Harvey:
No, I wouldn't enjoy it. Especially standing there half clothed...

Todd Jones:
Right.

Randy Harvey:
You're just in your underwear.

Todd Jones:
Right. Nobody ever goes into the Rolling Stones dressing room after the concert and say, "Hey Keith, what happened on that chord there? I think you missed a chord during Gimme Shelter."

Randy Harvey:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
Well, you had a couple of years with the Lakers and the Showtime, and that's such a part of our culture in sports. It's a moment in time, but really, the bulk of your career as a writer especially, was international sports.

Randy Harvey:
Well, the '84 Olympics were coming, and so I'd covered the Lakers in the early '80s. Bill Dwyre, the sports editor put me on the Olympic beat in '83 to get ready for the Olympics. And he sent me everywhere, to all the major championships because he said when... I wasn't the only one, but the writers, if you have a beat, like swimming beat, you go to the big swimming meets or track. I was in track, so I went to all the big track meets.

Randy Harvey:
Whatever your beat was in the Olympics, he sent people there because he said, "When the Olympics come and all those athletes come to LA, I want them to know who you are. So that they'll answer your question. If you see them in the mixed zone or whatever, they're going to answer your question first because they know you."

Todd Jones:
And you had covered the '76 Games, right?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. I covered '76. I was with the Chicago Sun-Times and they sent me up to Montreal, and that was fun. I covered Nadia Comaneci. I'll never forget Dick Young going to the press room and telling American writers, "Don't cover the gymnastics. It's just a dance contest." And I thought, "How could you say that? How can you not cover Nadia Comaneci?"

Todd Jones:
Were you in the arena the night she had her perfect 10?

Randy Harvey:
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I covered all of her performances there. She was 16 and showed no jitters, and just very stoic and poised about it. Of course, and then there's Bela Karolyi over on the sidelines, cheering her on. He was not poised, but he brought the enthusiasm to it.

Todd Jones:
So you covered the '76 Games and then they're coming to Los Angeles, which is a whole different beast, right? Because all of a sudden, you're writing for the newspaper in the city where the Olympics are being hosted. That seems to me to be very overwhelming as a writer and a reporter. What was it like to be on the team that had to cover for the host city?

Randy Harvey:
Oh, I liked it. I enjoyed the challenge and that's what I accepted, is I knew that everybody would be reading what I was writing because that was the local paper. And I just took it as a challenge and said, "Okay, let's do this." So I loved it and got to know so many writers too, that they recognized my byline and seek me out in the press room. So I got to know just about everybody in the business.

Todd Jones:
Right. Let's talk about those '84 Games in LA, because when you think about it, in '80, the Americans had boycotted the Soviet Games, and now the Games are coming to America. The Soviets returned the favor and they boycotted, a lot of nations boycotted. But the '84 Games, when you think about it, in some ways they might've saved the Olympic movement in the modern era. Do you think that's true, and why?

Randy Harvey:
Well, Peter Ueberroth was a genius at marketing. His unique plan to go out and sell different sports to different sponsors. So you wouldn't just... You could buy the entire Olympic package, but also you could just buy a sport. So you buy track and field, or you could buy gymnastics or volleyball, just whatever you want to buy. So that opened it up to so many other sponsors because before then, they had been restricted to, "You have to buy the whole package."

Randy Harvey:
So it brought so many other sponsors into the Games with so much more money, and kind of taught the Olympic movement how to deal with that.

Todd Jones:
Well, we talked about how the Lakers, a group of people together at a certain time, it's magical. That summer of '84, it was just right for America. Ronald Reagan is the President, it's the summer of Bruce and Prince and Madonna, and everybody's into it. I think the Americans won 170 something medals. [crosstalk 00:20:31].

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. Obviously, without the Eastern Bloc there, except for Romania. Without the Eastern Bloc there was kind of easy pickings for the US but it was good. It created an atmosphere and people obviously in the United States loved it.

Todd Jones:
What was the atmosphere like in Los Angeles for those weeks?

Randy Harvey:
I think there was a lot of pride, a lot of joy that the Games were going off and were so successful. And there was no traffic, so people could...

Todd Jones:
So wait a minute, how was there no traffic in LA? Tell me about this?

Randy Harvey:
Well, people were so frightened of the Olympics. A lot of people left town, a lot of people took vacations so they wouldn't have to deal with the traffic. And so as a result, there wasn't much traffic and people really used the buses to get around. So they had a lot of extra buses and a lot of extra routes for people.

Randy Harvey:
So it all contributed to it, and the weather was perfect. So it was just a magical time.

Todd Jones:
Well, the big star of the Games obviously was Carl Lewis, won four gold medals to match Jesse Owens.

Randy Harvey:
I'd say Carl and Mary Lou, yeah.

Todd Jones:
Mary Lou, yeah. Well, let's talk Carl first. He seemed to have this whole other presence about him that went beyond track and field. What was it like covering Carl Lewis during those '84 Games, especially?

Randy Harvey:
Well, he was another one that wasn't very easy to deal with personally. He didn't like much media attention and didn't like prying into his life for whatever reasons. And so he wasn't that easy to deal with, but obviously, one of the best athletes we've ever seen. So you couldn't help to write about a lot of torrid things about him.

Randy Harvey:
You have to remember, there was the drug issue.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Randy Harvey:
The steroids had kind of captured a lot of attention from track and field. And Carl always resented that, and particularly some in the European media would accuse him of, "He's so good. He must be on drugs."

Todd Jones:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Randy Harvey:
without ever really, any evidence whatsoever. So Carl, he resented that too.

Todd Jones:
What stands out about him as an athlete when you're not dealing with him, but just chronicling what he was doing on the track?

Randy Harvey:
Well, just how smooth, how easy it seemed to come for him. He didn't seem to be working at it. He just seemed a natural.

Todd Jones:
That seems to be the case with the great ones, right? They make the hard thing look easy...

Randy Harvey:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
And no matter what it is, if it's athletics or whatever, it's something like... But what that comes from is all the preparation, right?

Randy Harvey:
I think so. And Carl had been preparing for that moment since he was a junior high school student.

Todd Jones:
Yeah.

Randy Harvey:
So obviously a lot of preparation. He had a great coach. Tom Tellez out of the University of Houston was one of the great track and field coaches, and Carl was fortunate to be able to work with him.

Todd Jones:
Now, you mentioned Mary Lou and that's Mary Lou Retton, obviously.

Randy Harvey:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
She captured the hearts of America in 1984. Did you cover the gymnastics competition?

Randy Harvey:
I was mainly covering track and field, but I was there that night. And I did a sidebar on Mary Lou and I did it mainly on Bela, because Bela had left Romania, was now coaching Mary Lou. So my sidebar was on Bela and he used to call her a little buddy. It was the accent, everybody thought he was calling her little body. So I saw a lot of stories there saying little body, but either way it worked.

Todd Jones:
So that was at Pauley Pavilion, right? The competition?

Randy Harvey:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
Tell us about that night and what was special about seeing Mary Lou Retton win the gold medal in the all-around with a perfect 10?

Randy Harvey:
Well, Eastern Bloc dominated. So the Russians weren't there, but the Romanians were there and everybody kind of thought the Romanians would be the class of the Olympics, because it's the Eastern Bloc and they'd been so successful. Mary Lou came up with a perfect vault and just stole the show.

Todd Jones:
What was it about her that captured everybody?

Randy Harvey:
Her enthusiasm, her smile. She had that huge smile, such joy. She just took such joy in it.

Todd Jones:
Well, you must have taken a lot of joy covering those Games when they were finished in Los Angeles, because I'm sure you were putting in some good hours during those weeks?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah, it was kind of a let down after they were over, but the LA Times sent me to Europe after that because there was those series of great track meets in Europe every year and the Grand Prix meets, because they wanted to see how the US athletes would have stacked up against the Soviet Bloc, the Eastern Bloc athletes.

Randy Harvey:
So I went all over Europe covering in Scandinavia, covering that. And it was just fascinating. Obviously, the Eastern Europeans won their fair share, but the US had a great track team.

Todd Jones:
Do you have a favorite athlete that stands out? Some of the names that you got to see are incredible. Michael Phelps, obviously, Michael Johnson, Dan Jansen, Usain Bolt, it goes on and on. Tell me about some of the favorites that you got to witness in the Olympic level?

Randy Harvey:
An athlete I particularly appreciated was Edwin Moses.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, kind of forgotten. Yeah.

Randy Harvey:
I think his winning streak was 88 at one point. And he just seemed to have... He was perfection and that's such a difficult race, the 400 meter hurdles, and the way he handled that pressure of the winning streak, I think he's as close to perfection as I've seen in an athlete.

Todd Jones:
Why do you think he was able to handle it?

Randy Harvey:
Great focus, and that hurdles, you have to have your steps exactly right. You just can't be off a stride, and he just never was. And I think he had really great focus. Obviously, very intelligent and very focused.

Todd Jones:
Well, there are so many great things that happen in Olympics, but sometimes there are some really terrible things. And in '88 in Seoul, the big story that happened, on your beat in track and field, was with Ben Johnson.

Randy Harvey:
Right. Yeah. And there had been speculation for a long time that the Canadian athletes, Ben in particular, were using drugs, and that's where it all came about.

Todd Jones:
What was it like covering that particular story?

Randy Harvey:
Oh, Bill Dwyre, the sports editor of the LA Times, had gotten to know some of the Korean officials very well. And I remember he called at 4:00 AM, said, "If you were sleeping, you're not anymore." He said, "I just got a call, Ben tested positive. Get up here and get down to the office."

Randy Harvey:
So I was at the office by 4:30 or so, and then I think around 11:00 is when they had the press conference to announce it. But because of the time difference, we were able to get it in the paper, so we actually had it first.

Todd Jones:
Well, that's got to be one that you always remember in terms of being right there when a historic moment happens. It's not a great achievement by somebody, unfortunately it's a bad thing but sometimes that's what happens in [crosstalk 00:27:52].

Randy Harvey:
Well, it altered track and field forever. And I still enjoyed covering it, but it wasn't the same after that. There was so much suspicion. Anytime anybody had a great performance there were suspicions.

Todd Jones:
How did you balance that out as a reporter, but also somebody who appreciated it just from somebody who likes the sport? How did you balance that out in your own mind?

Randy Harvey:
Well, I had to separate it. I had to be a reporter first.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Randy Harvey:
And so just sitting there enjoying, I enjoyed watching, but I didn't let that move over into the professional side, tried to be as vigilant as everyone else. And after that Ben Johnson incident, they had the inquiry in Canada, and I actually spent the whole summer in Toronto. I had an apartment there.

Todd Jones:
Did you, really?

Randy Harvey:
Spent the whole time there just covering that Dubin inquiry, and would just go back to LA on weekends. Fascinating, Charlie Francis and all those Canadian athletes, and how much we learned from it about drugs and the use of drugs.

Todd Jones:
How long did that go on?

Randy Harvey:
Oh, it was about... I want to say about four months.

Todd Jones:
Four months on the same story, wow.

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. Well, the Canadians took it very seriously, which, good for them.

Todd Jones:
But that can be overwhelming, right? All of a sudden.

Randy Harvey:
Right.

Todd Jones:
It's like the only thing you're thinking about and dealing with, it's almost... I can remember moments like that in your career where you're like, "Oh, what happened?" You don't even know what's going on in real life because you're just totally wrapped up in the story.

Randy Harvey:
Right, yes. Yeah.

Todd Jones:
The other Olympics that you'd covered, are there certain moments that stood out? We talked about some good and we talked about some bad, but when you think about somebody says, "Hey, Randy, you covered all those Olympics." What comes to mind overall for you?

Randy Harvey:
Tonya and Nancy?

Todd Jones:
Oh, yeah.

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. Well, I saw the movie I, Tonya and I didn't think they got it right. I thought they were much too sympathetic to Tonya. There was just something pathological about her and I'm sure she didn't have the best of all upbringings, but there was just something that was wrong about her. And you didn't have to spend much time around her to know about it.

Randy Harvey:
When we were at the trials and Nancy was kneecapped, somebody came in and told us about it in the press room, said, "Nancy has been injured. Somebody attacked her." It's funny, Christine Brennan, I think you had on this show before and others, we just turned to each other and said, "Tonya." Everybody said it at the same time, you just knew.

Todd Jones:
What is it like covering the World Cup?Because when you think about it, you were covering it as soccer was kind of building in America. But when you go to the World Cup in those days, what was it like?

Randy Harvey:
It was wonderful. The first real international soccer experience I had was in Trinidad and Tobago when Paul Caliguiri jury hit the goal from far out to win the game for the US and send them to the World Cup, 1990 World Cup in Italy. And it was the first time since the '50s that the US had qualified for a World Cup. But the Trinidadians, they couldn't have been better hosts. And even after they lost, they were just wonderful, joyous people, and so much fun to be there.

Randy Harvey:
And then to go to Italy and be assigned to cover the US team. And their home base was in Florence, which...

Todd Jones:
Not a bad home base.

Randy Harvey:
Unbelievable city. And then to go to Rome for the finals, and New York Times and the LA Times shared an apartment, a place where Dostoevsky had lived.

Todd Jones:
Oh, wow.

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. So such fun. We had a party announced, we were having a party at that apartment, and about 50 of the volunteers showed up with one bottle of wine. And so they're standing at the door with this one bottle of wine and said, "Oh, shoot. They're going to have to make a wine run." But great experiences, and probably the best World Cup moment was the women's when Brandi Chastain's goal and the famous shot of her tearing off her Jersey. And just that moment stands out among other... So many reasons. First, the thrill of victory as I say, and then the women's empowerment.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. When you think about that moment, we are talking about moments in time to come together, what was it about that women's soccer team, the US women's soccer team, why were they the right team at the right moment?

Randy Harvey:
The people on the team. There was Brandi but there was of course, Mia Hamm, and then probably the team leader and one they all looked to is Julie Foudy. She had so many instructions on the field, they called her Loudy Foudy, but she was great to deal with. And the team was just... You're right. It was just the right team, Michelle Akers and just so many players who stand out.

Randy Harvey:
And then that... Whoever the photographer was who captured that picture, Brandi on her knees and clenching her fists, and the big smile on her face, it was just unbelievable.

Todd Jones:
What was it like in the Rose Bowl that day?

Randy Harvey:
It was one of the first women's sports I thought where people took it as seriously, treated it the same as the men's sports. All of a sudden, there was no difference. There was no men, there was no women, it was just sport. And I think it set the stage for what just continued to happen throughout the years.

Todd Jones:
At the Athens Olympics, I was talking to Mia Hamm and I said to her, I said, "I have two daughters. They're little and they play soccer." And I said, "You and your teammates had a lot to do with that because 20 years before that, if I had daughters that age, they weren't probably going to play soccer."

Todd Jones:
And she actually seemed very appreciative of that comment. I'm sure she's heard it before, but it was kind of nice to express that to her because as a father and a journalist, I got to see both perspectives there and they did, they had a cultural impact on women's athletics.

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. I think they were the trailblazers.

Todd Jones:
Well, Randy, your career as a writer took you all over the world. When you think back and you think about 50 years, do you miss it? Do you miss being a rider? And is there something that you miss about it?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. I miss the camaraderie, the staff and just being among the crowd of sports writers, going to those events and being with a lot of people. Yeah, I missed that.

Todd Jones:
There's something about that feeling of being in that group. They're all kind of like the Misfit Toys. [crosstalk 00:34:42] perspective on the world.

Randy Harvey:
Right.

Todd Jones:
I think it's too much travel, too many deadlines, but they're also kind of funny. Think about this, you survived 50 years of the newspaper industry so they should give you some type of award for that. You even survived an assassination attempt, right? Diego Maradona shot an air rifle at you, is that right? The Argentinian soccer star?

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. We had a great interpreter, Jury Lawman from New York Times, and I had a great interpreter. And she said, "I'll try to use..." We said, "Hey, what can you do for us? Can you get Diego?" She says, "Well, I'll try." And so she got him enough to come out to the balcony, but he wasn't welcoming though.

Todd Jones:
What happened?

Randy Harvey:
Oh, not that he [inaudible 00:35:30] I think he didn't, he just shot it into the air, but anyway, I don't think he was trying to hurt us. But it was a good experience. It was fun.

Todd Jones:
You sound like somebody from Texas, "He just had a gun. He's fired it in the air. No big deal."

Randy Harvey:
Yeah. I see it all the time here.

Todd Jones:
Well, Randy, thanks a lot for joining us. I enjoyed it.

Randy Harvey:
Well, thanks for having me.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. It's been great to reminisce and just great to catch up with you.

Randy Harvey:
Yeah, likewise.

Todd Jones:
There was a moment in my own career, I will leave you with this. It's a thank you to you. There was a moment, you probably don't recall, but you and I had a conversation where I was thinking about going into news projects and taking a leave from sports, and I didn't know what to think about. And I remember talking to you at length about this, and you really encouraged me and said that, "It'll show that you're trying to challenge yourself and grow."

Todd Jones:
And I did that, and I left sports for a few years and it made me a better reporter...

Randy Harvey:
Oh, okay.

Todd Jones:
It made me experience things that I had never come across. And then when I did return to sports, I just had a whole different perspective, and I don't know if I ever properly thanked you for that, but you had a big part in that.

Randy Harvey:
Well, thanks for pointing that out. You're welcome. And yeah, I never met anybody who didn't benefit from spending a few years as a... Even if it's just a couple, as a news side reporter. It made them better sports writers.

Todd Jones:
Thanks for listening to Press Box Access. You can find us here with a new episode every other Wednesday. If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcast, or on your favorite podcast app. We'd love for you to review us. Five stars would be nice. Follow us on social media. Drop us an email at [email protected], and be sure to spread the word. Everyone is welcomed here.

Todd Jones:
This has been a production of Evergreen podcast. A special thank you to executive producers, Michael DeAloia and Gerardo Orlando, producer Sarah Willgrube. I'm your host, Todd Jones. It's closing time, rock on.

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