'Chicago Sun-Times' Columnist Rapoport Retires

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Ron Rapoport, who regularly appears on Weekend Edition, has written his last column for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrapping up a 30-year career. He offers Scott Simon his reflections on the sporting life.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Time now for a sports salute.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: 1977, a standout year in sports. The Yankees and Most Valuable Player, just ask him, Reggie Jackson, won the World Series. The Portland Trailblazers won the NBA title. The Oakland Raiders won the Super Bowl. Seattle Slew became the 10th horse in history to win the Triple Crown, and just entering the gate as a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, our own Ron Rapoport. He's been in those pages ever since, except for a stint at the LA Daily News. Did that go out of business? Hmm. This week marks Ron's last week at the Chicago Sun-Times. He's taking a buyout from the newspaper, and will stop writing his column after almost 30 years. Ron Rapoport joins us from where else? Ron, how are you?

Mr. RON RAPOPORT (Sports Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): I'm good, Scott. I'm feeling pretty happy, actually.

SIMON: Good. Let me talk to you about some of the people you've covered over the years. Just anecdotally what I remember. Michael Jordan. You knew him when he was, was he a freshman at Carolina?

Mr. RAPOPORT: Well, as a freshman I covered the, you know, the NCAA championship game that he won not quite single-handedly but he gave an indication of the great player he was going to be. That was in New Orleans. The following year, when he was a sophomore, and he was still just a kid in college, Scott, I remember calling down to the University of North Carolina and saying, would he be available for an interview? And they said, do you want to have lunch with him? Can't exactly call up and see if you can have lunch with Michael these days. And his second or third game with the Bulls, Scott, the Bulls were playing the Milwaukee Bucks. Jordan had the ball at the end of the court and the Bucks were strung out like a picket fence, down the rest of the court. He dribbled around, through, and over four of them, until the last man between him and the basket was Sidney Moncrief, the reigning defensive player of the year in the NBA. He took him straight to the hoop. Second or third game in the NBA and you said to yourself, he's going to be a pretty good player.

SIMON: And so he was a pretty good player. Jack Nicklaus.

Mr. RAPOPORT: I suppose one of the two or three greatest things I ever covered was his win at the 1986 Masters. The Masters had a very small press room then and Nicklaus, when he made the turn on the final day of the Masters, was still well behind and it didn't look like he had a chance. And then all of a sudden it was birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie. And by the 15th or 16th hole, he was very much in contention and probably going to win. And we ran out of the press room, ran to a tower overlooking the 18th hole where you could see Nicklaus coming up the fairway. And standing up there watching the shadows lengthen and, you know, Nicklaus' son was his caddy and walking up the fairway to an ovation that was one of the greatest in Master's history. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Jack still hears those cheers in his dreams, Scott.

SIMON: What's more exciting? Super Bowl, World Series, Olympics or fill-in-the-blank?

Mr. RAPOPORT: Well, there's nothing more exciting than a really good boxing match, Scott. There's nothing more visceral. The greatest match I ever saw only lasted three rounds. It was like a movie. Marvin Hagler defending his middleweight championship against Thomas Hearns.

SIMON: This was 1985.

Mr. RAPOPORT: In fact, I go to boxing movies and I just laugh because nobody ever slips a punch, nobody ever swings with anything less than full force. They just stand there and hit each other like crazy. And there are no fights like that. It's not the way it is in the ring, with the exception of Hagler and Hearns, which were nine of the greatest minutes of sports I've ever seen.

SIMON: Any names that might be less familiar to us?

Mr. RAPOPORT: I guess I'm thinking about, you know, Gail Deavers isn't that well remembered, largely because of her sport, track and field. I remember sitting with her at a track near UCLA where she'd been training, and just sat on the steps and she told me for a couple of hours the story of her battle with Graves' disease. Three weeks later, she went out and won the gold medal in the Olympics' 100-meter dash. That was an exciting moment.

I think of some of the smaller moments that weren't in really exciting times. I suppose one of the most memorable moments I ever had was not at a sporting event. This was in 1972, and they were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the integration of baseball. And there was no hullabaloo. There was no kind of the fuss that you can imagine would be made today.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. RAPOPORT: And I called up. And I said can I talk to Jackie Robinson? Is he around? And they said, well, here, he's staying at the Biltmore. Give him a call. And I called him up and he picked up the phone. And I'm thinking to myself, anybody can just call in off the street and talk to Jackie Robinson?

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. RAPOPORT: Next thing I know, he invited me over to the hotel, and we sat and talked for an hour. And he was in very bad shape, Scott. You know, he had diabetes and he was almost blind towards the end, very heavy. And he had the lights were off because he said they hurt his eyes. It was a very memorable discussion. And I find myself at this time thinking more and more of moments like that, as much as any Super Bowl, or Masters, or U.S. Open I ever covered.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RAPOPORT: But go ahead and ask me what I'm going to miss the most, please.

SIMON: Ron, what are you going to miss the most?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAPOPORT: The laughs, Scott. Nobody laughs more than sportswriters. You know the old Roy Campanella line about how you have to be a man to play the game, but you have to have a lot of little boy in you?

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. RAPOPORT: Well, he was talking about baseball. But I think you have to have a lot of little boy and girl in you these days to really care about sportswriting, too. Otherwise, it really doesn't amount to much. Does it? They're just games. That's all they really are.

SIMON: Ron Rapoport, our sports commentator on WEEKEND EDITION.

Congratulations. Thanks.

Mr. RAPOPORT: Thank you, Scott.

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