Senior writer Bill Nack is a man for all sports seasons. Although his main beat for SI has been horse racing, he can write knowledgeably on a variety of subjects, as his profile of Detroit Piston guard Isiah Thomas (page 60) illustrates. In the last year alone Nack's output has included stories on WBC heavyweight champion-to-be Mike Tyson (Jan. 6), former undisputed heavyweight champion Leon Spinks (March 31), Jan Kemp's damage suit against Georgia (Feb. 24), the USFL's lawsuit against the NFL (July 7), the Mets' Keith Hernandez (Oct. 13) and the Karpov-Kasparov chess championship (Oct. 13), as well as turf topics—e.g., jockey Laffit Pincay (Nov. 17).
While working on the Thomas article Nack discovered that the two of them had a couple of things in common. Basketball, for one. Nack went to Niles East High School in Skokie, Ill., just 12 miles, if a universe, away from Thomas's West Side Chicago ghetto neighborhood, and Nack, too, played guard. But unlike Thomas's performance on court, Nack's was, well, undistinguished.
Of Thomas, Nack says, "He's got moves out there that are balletic. You take the ball away, and he looks like he's dancing." In fact, to psych himself up before a game Thomas does dance. He puts on a record, often Freak of the Week, and dances, dribbles, feints and shoots in front of a mirror.
Which is the other thing Nack and Thomas have in common. Nack is a dancing fool, as anyone who has seen him trip the light fantastic can testify. It's in his bloodlines. His mother, Elizabeth, danced in the mid-1920s in a troupe that was headed by song-and-dance man Pat Rooney and was billed as the Atlantic City Peach.
As with his writing, Nack has a style of dancing that is all his own. "I'll never forget the first time he asked me not to dance," says staff writer Demmie Stathoplos, recalling a distant Kentucky Derby press party. "He just took off. He started whirling, leaping and spinning in the air like some mad dervish. About eight bars into the song I was alone on the dance floor, watching Bill and wondering what to do with my hands."
"The Derby party is my annual dancing debut," says Nack, but he began a little earlier than usual this year, and as a result he has an ankle, as they say at the racetrack. He had to hobble around for over a week in an Ace bandage. It seems he was dancing up a storm at a New Year's Eve party and came down wrong, aggravating an old basketball injury from his intramural days at Illinois.
Journalistically, though, he hasn't taken a bad step. Indeed, last week he was named winner of a second Eclipse Award, given by turf writers and horsemen, for the Pincay story.