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Sports World Loses Another ‘Ambassador of Niceness’ in Dave Anderson

In 1965 singer Jackie DeShannon had one of her biggest hits with a song entitled “What the World Needs Now is Love.” Well, the world still needs

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In 1965 singer Jackie DeShannon had one of her biggest hits with a song entitled “What the World Needs Now is Love.” Well, the world still needs that, maybe more than ever. But while love remains in short supply, the cavernous void can be filled to some extent with another seemingly diminishing quality: niceness.

Just six days after boxing’s nicest and most widely beloved gentleman, Northern California promoter Don Chargin, took the eternal 10-count at 90, having grudgingly been outpointed by lung and brain cancer, the sports world was rocked by the news that another ambassador of niceness, Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times columnist Dave Anderson, had died on Thursday, Oct. 4, at an assisted-living facility in Cresskill, N.J. He was 89 and had been in failing health for several years.

But while those who knew them both, or at the very least admired them from afar, might acknowledge that they departed after long and well-spent lives, there remains a shroud of sadness that has descended on an American civilization that is becoming distressingly uncivil. Simply put, Chargin and Anderson cannot be replaced because they were throwbacks to another, almost-forgotten time when respect, courtesy and, yes, niceness humanized their ability to do their jobs with towering competence yet scarcely a trace of rancor.

Chargin, fight people know about, having been a licensed promoter in his home state for a record 69 years, during which he came to be nicknamed “War a Week” for the quality and quantity of bouts he staged on the Left Coast. But Anderson is probably more widely recognized, even in boxing circles, because of the huge platform afforded him by his Times column, elegant prose and the fact he was probably at ringside for nearly every truly major fight that took place anywhere on the planet for over five decades, until his retirement in 2007.

“I never heard anybody ever say anything bad about Dave, or him say anything bad about anybody, and we went just about everywhere,” Jerry Izenberg, 88, the columnist emeritus for the Newark Star-Ledger, said of his frequent traveling partner. “We went to the Philippines together (for Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III). We went to Zaire together (for Ali-George Foreman).”

But another former Times sports columnist, Harvey Araton, recalled at least one occasion when Anderson’s doggedly determined reportorial skills caused some of his readers to grumble about something he’d written.

“My favorite Dave story will always be how he sidled up to me at halftime of Game 2, Knicks-Bulls, ’93 conference finals, and I said, `Guy behind me is screaming at Michael Jordan for being out late in Atlantic City the night before,’” recalled Araton, who was covering the game in Madison Square Garden along with Anderson. “I told Dave, who said he’d look into it.

“By the next afternoon Dave had the time Jordan checked in, checked out and how much he’d lost playing blackjack. His column was largely blamed by Knicks fans for infuriating and inspiring Jordan and the Knicks losing four straight after winning the first two.”

But while Anderson was comfortable and knowledgeable in virtually every sports setting, he had an undeniable affinity for boxing. Among the 21 books he authored were In the Corner: Great Boxing Trainers Talk About Their Art and perhaps the definitive biography of the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray. In 1981, when he became the second sports writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, his citation noted six columns he’d written in 1980, one of which was entitled Muhammad Ali: The Death of a Salesman, which dealt with “The Greatest’s” beatdown at the hands of Larry Holmes in Las Vegas. Writing on a tight deadline, Anderson’s story began thusly:

As early as the first round, his age began to show. Muhammad Ali moved away from a left jab, but when he tried to throw a right hand at Larry Holmes, he missed awkwardly. And he never used to miss. By the fourth round, he was bleeding slightly from the left nostril. And he never used to bleed. In the fifth round, a shrill female voice interrupted the saddened silence that hung in the black desert night at the temporary arena in the Caesars Palace parking lot.

“Come on, Ali, fight,” that lonely voice beseeched him. But last night Muhammad Ali could not fight. He could not dance. He could not even punch. For several months he had promised a miracle in what had been billed as “The Last Hurrah.” It should have been titled “Death of a Salesman.” When the fight finally ended after the 10th round with Muhammad Ali plopped on the blue stool in his corner, a hush fell over the sellout crowd of 24,000 in the bleacherlike arena. All around the arena, people stood still the way they do at the funeral of someone who had died unexpectedly.

Anderson ended his take on what had to be considered the end of Ali’s remarkable era this way:

Usually a fight crowd files out quickly. But not this time. Most of the people just stood there, as if in shock. Some wept. Some blubbered. But at least Muhammad Ali had not had to endure the shame of being helped up off the canvas, as Joe Louis had the night Marciano demolished him. At least Muhammad Ali was sitting on his stool. And at least he would walk out of the ring under his own power.

“They should have stopped it five rounds earlier,” a man said. “They shouldn’t,” a woman answered, “have let it start.”

Dave Anderson’s destiny was almost preordained from birth. Born on May 6, 1929, in Troy, N.Y., his father was the advertising director of the The Troy Times, which his grandfather published. At 16, he landed his first newspaper job as a messenger for The New York Sun, where his father then worked in advertising sales. Shortly after Anderson’s graduation from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, he caught on with the Brooklyn Eagle, where he covered the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1953 to ’55, when the paper folded. He then moved to the New York Journal-American and was a sports staffer there when he won the E.P. Dutton Award for the best magazine sports story of 1965 for “The Longest Day of Sugar Ray,” which appeared in True magazine.

In 1966, Anderson went to the Times as a general assignment sports reporter until being promoted to columnist in 1971, a prestigious position he held until his retirement. In addition to his Pulitzer, he continued to add layers to his legacy of brilliant and prescient sports commentary, which included his induction into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1990, the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) Red Smith Award for distinguished sports column writing in 1994, the Dick Schaap Award for Outstanding Journalism in 2005 and induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006.

“The thing about Dave is that he was perfect for the Times,” Izenberg said of his friend and contemporary. “He wrote about controversial issues when he had to, but he was a guy who could really reach the Times readers. My voice is the voice of New Jersey, his was the voice of the Times. He understood for whom he wrote. And if you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be a columnist.”

Dave Anderson’s guy-next-door commonality– “People talked to him because he was self-assured and polite,” Araton said – was accentuated by his professional grace under pressure, qualities which are not mutually inclusive. He was particularly fond of the occasion he covered a New York Rangers game in Montreal for the Journal-American in 1956. Headed back to New York City on a train, he tossed game stories by the New York sports writers to a Western Union telegrapher standing by the tracks as the train slowed at the border at Rouse’s Point, N.Y.

“It’s in the middle of the night, it’s snowing and I’m standing between cars in the dark and toss the package of stories to him and hope somehow he teletypes the copy and it all gets in the newspapers,” Dave recalled in 2014.

In the morning, he picked up a copy of the Journal-American at Grand Central Terminal and “there was the story,” he said.  “It was exciting. Even now, when I’m writing (he continued to contribute occasional stories to the Times after his retirement), I wake up on a Sunday and still get excited if I’m in the paper.”

It was my privilege to call Dave Anderson my friend and a role model, much as was the case with other now-deceased giants of a profession that has become microwaveable, a journalistic drive through the fast-food lane in which Twitterized abbreviations have replaced attention to detail and an appreciation of the power and majesty of the written word. His passing has struck me as hard as did the deaths of fellow sports writing legends Peter Finney, Edwin Pope, and Stan Hochman, as well as that of one of my favorite interview subjects, the perpetually personable Don Chargin. The circle continues to be drawn tighter and tighter, with Jerry Izenberg maybe the last sentinel of an era that is beyond replication. I hope he lives forever.

“Young people going into sports writing now, virtually all of them want to wind up on television,” Jerry said. “You’ve got people on TV offering `expert’ commentary on events that took place before they were born, but they’ve got the right kind of hairspray.”

Dave Anderson, a longtime resident of Tenafly, N.J., whose wife of 60 years, Maureen, died in 2014, is survived by sons Stephen and Mark, daughters Jo and Jean-Marie Anderson; three grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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Harvey Araton Reflects on the Odd Coupling of Ali-Liston II and Lewiston, Maine

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Harvey Araton Reflects on the Odd Coupling of Ali-Liston II and Lewiston, Maine

It’s rarely the case, but in a few instances a heavyweight championship fight has been staged in a small town like Shelby, Montana, or Lewiston, Maine.

The latter was the case 57 years ago this week — May 25 to be exact — when Muhammad Ali faced Sonny Liston for the second time in 15 months.

In the initial meeting, Ali, then Cassius Clay, stunned the world by stopping and taking away the Big Bear’s title with a sixth-round technical knockout in Miami Beach.

In the rematch, Ali’s short right hand proved to be the knockout punch, but many called it the “Phantom Punch,” because few in the throng of 2,434 inside Lewiston’s St. Dominic’s Arena actually saw the blow land.

Looking back, just how did a town of around 40,000 inhabitants and 142 miles north of Boston, actually host the second meeting?

Longtime New York City sportswriter Harvey Araton penned a feature that ran on May, 19, 2015 in the New York Times on just how that unlikely hamlet of Lewiston, at least for one night, became the boxing capital of the world.

“For the old timers in Lewiston, that fight is the equivalent of hosting an Olympics, an event that for decades has defined its identity, even more so after the city fell into disrepair following the decline of its textile industry and the closing of its mills,” said Araton, who worked at the Staten Island Advance, the New York Post, and the New York Daily News preceding a 25-year stint at the New York Times including a decade and a half writing the “Sports of the Times” column.

“The filmmaker I met who talked about what Ali yelled at Liston as he lay on his back – “Get up and fight!” – and how it enhanced the fight’s legacy in Lewiston as it struggled to revive itself was just perfect for my story. I’d like to think it has also come to reflect the rise of the Somali immigrant community, what it has had to go through in order to find a home and to overcome the standard fear and loathing of immigrants to share its restorative efforts in the city.”

When Araton visited Lewiston on the fight’s 50th anniversary, the townsfolk were proud.

“There certainly was a nostalgic quality to the city of Lewiston with the retention of its old, industrial feel, but especially in the arena where the fight took place. Beyond the facelift it was given several years ago, more to its facade than anything else, it still resembles what I described in the story as a cross between an old barn and an airplane hangar,” he said. “And while I wouldn’t say time is frozen inside, you didn’t have to stretch your imagination too far to feel what fight night must have been like, all of it enhanced by the folks I found who actually attended. And who, 50 years after the fact, were surprisingly vivid in their recall.”

While Ali was famous before this matchup, he became even more recognizable after it.

“To a degree, yes, this fight, more than the first one with Liston, arguably made the new champ more of a household name, for several reasons (though I would go easy on the global aspect of it, given the technological disconnectedness of the time). First and foremost, the chaotic and controversial nature of the fight was unavoidable,” said Araton, the author, co-author or editor of nine books including “When The Garden Was Eden: Clyde, The Captain, Dollar Bill And the Glory Days Of The New York Knicks” and “Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry And Baseball’s Greatest Gift.”

“Two, with the name “Muhammad Ali” stitched onto his white robe, that was unquestionably more of an attention-grabber than Clay (even if much of the media refused to call him Ali). Finally, for those (including my dad Gilbert) who were turned off by Ali’s brashness and preferred to think of the Miami bout as a fluke or even a setup to have Liston put him to sleep in the rematch, the quick work Ali made of Liston essentially suggested to fans everywhere (of what was then a far more popular sport than today) that they might want to get used to this mouthy showman. He was going to be around for a while.”

Araton, who received the prestigious Curt Gowdy Award in 2017 (given annually to print/digital and broadcasting members of the media), said he had to talk his editors into letting him write the piece.

“This one was self-generated all the way. I even had to do a bit of a sales pitch for my editors, who weren’t in love with retrospective pieces. By 2015, I knew I wasn’t going to be a full-time sports journalist for much longer. I had tired of the traveling, the late-nights at live events, the calls for a deadline column that uprooted a dinner plan or a day with my family,” he said. “There
wasn’t for me a great sense of unfinished business, events I hadn’t had the good fortune of covering. But I had always wondered about that fight – how the hell did it wind up in Lewiston, of all places? I mean, there were obvious details about the Boston situation, but I wanted to know the full story. More than that, I was dying to find out if I could interview anyone who actually attended the fight. I really thought I’d be lucky to locate one or two. But lo and behold, there were several – including the former Bates students – who were either at the fight or connected to it, one way or another. And, of course, the story ultimately evolved to being about Lewiston as much as it was about the fight. That’s what I always loved about journalism: the idea is what merely gets you moving in the pursuit of a story.”

Like so many at that time, Araton listened to the fight on the radio. “I mentioned my father earlier – he wasn’t much of a sports fan but he grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, had a cousin who was a boxer and loved a good boxing match. And as I also mentioned, he didn’t care much for Ali, while I, like so many other kids, found him compelling, especially compared to the dour, menacing Liston,” he noted. “So that night, he set up the radio on the kitchen table in our Staten Island housing projects apartment, as he typically did for a big fight that wasn’t on TV. I had just turned 13, apparently old enough to be teased: “Liston’s gonna give it to him good.

“Just as the start of the fight approached, I had to hit the bathroom, and after taking care of business in there, I emerged to see him pulling the plug from the socket and returning the radio to the shelf where he kept it. “Go to bed, it’s over,” he said. I was confused – “whaddaya mean, it’s over?” He huffed, “Clay knocked him out.” I went off to my room happily.”

The fight lasted one round and some thought it was fixed. Jimmy Cannon, the legendary sportswriter sitting ringside said of the knockout punch: “It couldn’t have squashed a grape.”

“I asked that question to all I interviewed who’d attended the fight. Most told me they managed to miss the moment of the punch – looked away, or sipped a beer, or whatever,” said Araton, “But one guy, a former IRS agent named Bob Pacios, insisted he’d had a clear and elevated line of vision from behind Ali and saw Liston step into the blow to the side of his face. He even diagrammed what he saw on a napkin. So, I’ll go with what he testified, while also factoring in that Liston did get up and the fight sort of continued as the ref, Jersey Joe Walcott, went over to consult the timekeeper. Which, I suppose, could obfuscate the hardcore belief that he took a dive. Also, while Ali was no knockout artist, he certainly was a very large man with lightning-fast hands. In other words, the one-punch takeout was plausible.”

Araton never covered any of Ali’s fights, but he did see him up close on one occasion.

“I met him once at the baggage claim at one of the New York-area airports, can’t remember which one, or the year, but it was well after he’d been afflicted by Parkinson’s,” he said. “I was waiting for my bag, minding my business, when I noticed him standing with his wife, Lonnie, at the carousel right next door – of course with people gawking all around him. I just had to go over and say something, anything. I introduced myself as a New York Times sports columnist, and a fan, and mentioned one of my mentors in the newspaper business – Vic Ziegel, who’d covered prime Ali for the New York Post. He smiled, made a fist and said something to the extent of, ‘You tell him I’m looking for him!’”

Araton said he did see the three-time heavyweight champion from a distance.

“Having covered the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996, I was also in the stadium when he appeared with the torch, in what had to be the greatest ceremonial sports moment of our times,” he said. “It takes no special insight to call Ali a great historical figure, incredibly courageous, transcendent of his sport, all sports and pretty much everything else. But also a man with some troubling contradictions – tough to stomach, for instance, how he demeaned Joe Frazier, even when rationalized for the purpose of selling the fights. And shame on the press for laughing along, or even portraying Frazier as a tool of the white establishment.”

Araton went on: “When Ali died, I was wrapping up my 25 years at the Times (as I’d anticipated before doing the Lewiston piece the previous year) and was covering the NBA finals in the California Bay Area. My older son, Alex, was quite upset by the news. He was, after all, the son of a sports columnist who happened to be fascinated with the Ali legend. He kept texting me, encouraging me to write something, while I reminded him that the Times tributes had all been prepared well in advance of Ali’s death, as almost all are for the truly great ones. But when he insisted, I finally relented, and stayed up into the wee hours to finish a piece that I posted on a blog site I had created but seldom used.

“Strangely enough, once posted to the blog site, it appeared on my Twitter feed and a media critic for Sports Illustrated included it on a list of Ali tributes he liked. That provided it with far more readers than I’d imagined it would get. Which gets back to my earlier point of how Ali as a phenomenon was much easier to propagate globally by 2016 than he was in 1965.”

Harvey Araton’s blog piece bore the title “Ali, Connector of Generations.” Here’s a link to it.
http://www.harveyaraton.com/the-araton-blog/ali-connector-of-generations

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R.I.P. Les Bonano (1943-2022), Linchpin of Boxing in New Orleans

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Les Bonano, a fixture on the New Orleans area boxing scene for 50 years, passed away on Saturday night, May 21, at his home in Slidell, Louisiana, surrounded by his wife of 60 years, Mary, his four children and his eight grandchildren. Bonano, who had been in and out of the hospital in recent months with kidney problems, was 79 years old.

Bonano joined the New Orleans Police Department in 1965 and patrolled the French Quarter, one of America’s most harrowing beats. In 1974, while working for the New Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Department, he was charged with starting an intramural sports program to relieve tensions at the parish prison. He began with basketball and then added boxing. Somewhat later, he opened a gym and took to training, managing, and promoting fighters. He retired from law enforcement in 1981 to give boxing his full attention.

Bonano was poised to seize the moment when neighboring Mississippi legalized gambling in 1990. He carved out arrangements with Gulf Coast casino resorts in Biloxi and Bay St. Louis to keep his fighters’ busy. Many of the shows that he facilitated were mid-week shows that aired on the old USA cable network.

Bonano never had the satisfaction of managing a world champion, but he came awful close with Melvin Paul who lost a controversial decision to Charlie “Cho Choo” Brown in the inaugural IBF lightweight title fight. Others in Bonano’s stable who went on to compete for world titles include Jerry Celestine, Anthony Stephens, and John Duplessis. Celestine, a light heavyweight who fought Michael Spinks, was an alumnus of Bonano’s prison program.

More recently, Bonano promoted Jonathan Guidry, the Dulac, LA heavyweight who made a surprisingly strong showing against WBA (secondary) title-holder Trevor Bryan on a Don King promotion in Warren, Ohio.

In July of last year, Les Bonano was formally inducted into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame with the class of 2021. “He is perhaps the final ruler of what remains of a fraying and depleted boxing kingdom in the formerly great fight city of New Orleans,” wrote Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a New Orleans native, in a tribute that ran on these pages.

We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to the Bonano family. May he rest in peace.

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What’s Next for David Benavidez?

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What’s Next for David Benavidez?

POST-FIGHT REPORT BY TSS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT NORM FRAUENHEIM —

GLENDALE, AZ – Forget Canelo Alvarez.

That, at least, was the message from David Benavidez and his promoter late Saturday after he demolished David Lemieux in front of a roaring crowd at Gila River Arena in a Showtime-televised rout.

Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) has been talking about a super-middleweight showdown with Canelo for the last couple of years. His victory, a third-round stoppage of Lemieux, put him first in line for a shot at the World Boxing Council’s version of the 168-pound title, still held by Canelo

But that talk stopped. Canelo who?

It sounded as if Benavidez, the WBC’s interim champion, was ready to shut that door and move on, possibly to Caleb Plant or Jermall Charlo or David Morrell. He never mentioned Canelo during a post-fight news conference a couple of hours after bulldozing Lemieux, a former middleweight champion who was overmatched in every way.

“Plant, Charlo, Morrell, maybe we can put together a fight against one of those guys later in the year,’’ said Benavidez, who drew an estimated crowd of nearly 10,000 for the second straight time in an Arizona arena near his old neighborhood in Phoenix.

The question is whether Plant, or Charlo, or Morrell would be willing to face Benavidez. Lemieux was smaller and older. Still, it was scary to witness the beatdown delivered by Benavidez, who grew up about seven miles from Gila River, a National Hockey League Arena.

Benavidez, 25 and still a couple years from his prime, seemingly did it all. He started with body punches. At the end of the first round, he landed a lethal upper-cut, the first in what would prove to be an overwhelming storm. In the second, he knocked Lemieux through the ropes, leaving the Canadian bloodied, dazed and defenseless. At 1:31 of the third it was over. Lemieux (43-5. 36 KOs) did not attend the post-fight news conference. He was taken to a nearby hospital in Glendale.

“He’s a good fighter, a courageous fighter,’’ Benavidez said. “He did what those others wouldn’t do. He fought me.’’

Unlike Benavidez, his promoter, Sampson Lewkowicz mentioned Canelo, who is coming off a stunning loss to light-heavyweight Dimitry Bivol.

“Please, you guys need to quit asking about Canelo,’’ Lewkowicz told a room full of reporters. “We’re looking at three guys. We think we can put together a fight with Charlo, or Plant, or Morrell. But Canelo won’t fight David.

“He’ll never fight the world’s best super-middleweight.’’

Photo credit: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME

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