Over at Grantland, Bryan Curtis has an entertaining feature on Bob Ryan:
Ryan was close to the players — probably too close, he later realized. He also became interested in the plight of pro basketball. In Boston, Charlie Pierce explained, "the Red Sox have this deep, historic reservoir of support, and then there are temporary enthusiasms." The enthusiasm of the '70s was Bobby Orr's Bruins. In Ryan's first year on the beat, the hockey team drew 14,800 a night in the Garden. The Celtics drew 7,500.
"It pissed me off, the Bruins thing," Ryan said. "It was just so frustrating. I really believed in the [NBA]. I thought all the myths were bullshit: They don't play defense. If you see the last two minutes, you've seen the whole game." This is what happens when you cover a bush league: You become not just a scrivener but also an evangelist — the guy telling readers they're missing a great game.
But the best thing about covering the '70s NBA was the freedom. The Globesports page was already a three-man weave for writers, encouraging "voice" and "long form" before those labels had been stuck on them. "The worst thing was always if Page 1 would take your story," Montville said, "because they would try to put some common sense into it."
And to be a basketball writer on the Globe was to be free of history. There was no Ghost of the Bambino demanding tribute. No lilting style flowing from the veins of Red Smith. As former Philadelphia Bulletin writer Mark Heisler noted, there were so few columnists going to NBA games that the beat writerbecame the columnist. Every night, as Ryan searched for his lede, he was doing the work of two journalists.
Ryan's memoir, Scribe, was published last week. Looks like fun.
[Photo Credit: Yoon S. Byun/Boston Globe]