Posted: Thursday September 8, 2005 4:47PM; Updated: Saturday September 10, 2005 11:24AM
In more than 20 years of covering the NBA, there are few superstars who haven't opened up to SI's Jack McCallum.
Walter Iooss Jr./SI
"If you hang around long enough, they've got to give you something." In the light, direct and self-effacing way he has written hundreds of stories for Sports Illustrated over two dozen years, that's how Jack McCallum explains his being honored at the Basketball Hall of Fame Thursday night with the Curt Gowdy Award, given annually to a member of the print and broadcast media for outstanding contributions to the sport of basketball.
This is also the very first documented instance of Jack failing to get his facts straight. Of course it has taken being around a good long while for Jack to rack up his list of accomplishments: He was there when the NBA went global, accompanying the Atlanta Hawks on their 1988 trip to the Soviet Union. He shadowed the Dream Team from conception through Barcelona. Somehow, in the midst of becoming an NBA fixture, he swung ably on to the college beat too, covering Final Fours in '95 and '99. He has written two non-fiction books on basketball; been anthologized inThe Best American Sports Writing; been honored by the Women's Sports Foundation as its Sportswriter of the Year; and has written a forthcoming novel, set in the NBA, with his SI colleague Jon Wertheim.
Another co-worker of Jack's, finding himself in one of the most remote countries on earth, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, was asked by the chief of that country's basketball federation whom he worked for. "Sports Illustrated!" the reporter replied. "Do you know this Jack McCallum? His stories about the playoffs are so good, I think -- I think it is almost better to read his descriptions than to be there oneself."
Jack traces his career back to even before the days of the Portabubble, that massive, cobalt-colored word processor, the lugging around of which provided sportswriters with their only aerobic exercise of the '80s. One day during that decade, upon returning to his room at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, Jack opened the door to find his Portabubble on the floor and Darren Daye, then a Boston Celtics reserve, trying to jam his foot into one of the wells of its acoustic coupler. There's a long explanation for this slapstick scene, involving the vague resemblance of a Portabubble to electrical-stimulation devices that help athletes rehabilitate injured feet; the similarity of the surname "McCallum" to that of Kevin McHale, who because of chronic foot problems usually kept in his hotel room just such an electrical-stimulation device; a confused front desk clerk who issued the young Celtic a duplicate key; and the quantity of common sense native to Darren Daye himself. But the larger point here is a serious one: Most sportswriters spend their working lives trying to gain access to the worlds that players and coaches inhabit. It has been Jack's great fortune, and remains the supreme testament to his nature, that players and coaches and just about anyone else who comes into his orbit are so eager to gain entrance to his world.