A look at the life and death of Billy Knight, including several interviews with former teammates and coaches before the TMZ Sports report was released.
The basketball world is mourning the passing of Billy Knight. The death of the former UCLA basketball shooting guard, whose long overseas career included stints with four pro teams in Japan, has sent shock waves throughout the sport.
The Los Angeles native, who was 39, was pronounced dead in Phoenix on Sunday. His body was found on a road near downtown Phoenix at 2:45 a.m., Phoenix police said, according to published reports. It was an apparent suicide. (But subsequent reporting has emerged painting a much fuller picture of the troubles — child sexual abuse charges — that Knight encountered before his death.)
Last weekend, Knight broadcast his intention to take his own life in a haunting 6-minute video entitled “Billy Knight ‘I am Sorry Lord’ ” that he posted on YouTube. The video surfaced shortly thereafter, with a barrage of social media messages from former teammates, UCLA alumni and Los Angeles-area basketball contacts seeking to contact him and offer encouragement and help.
By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (July 11, 2018) Fifth in a series
Watching sports for decades is something that countless individuals can’t do as a big — or small — part of their work duties.
Stephen Brunt, however, has done this for decades, and as the Canadian sports journalism icon speaks about it, it’s clear that chronicling games still brings him joy and wonder.
There have been too many big thrills to list — or even ask about — during the course of a normal phone conversation. But the Sportsnet pundit provided a mesmerizing glimpse into the career he’s had, the events he’s covered and places he’s been to.
“Boy, the events, oh this is a lot of good stuff,” Brunt said recently by phone from Hamilton, Ontario.
Was there an ultimate No. 1 moment or event?
“I would say that my favorite moment as a reporter was I was at the ’92 Olympics in Barcelona covering a boxing match featuring the first black South African (light flyweight Abram Thwala) to compete for his country,” Brunt revealed, “because that was the first year that black athletes competed under the South African flag, and we were sitting in this crummy little arena in a suburb of Barcelona watching this kid fight. And (Nelson) Mandela came into the arena accompanied by a guy I knew who was working in the anti-apartheid movement and I knew him from that and I met him in Canada, but he was kind of Mandela’s right-hand man.
“And I kept eye contact with him, and when he left the arena I hollered to him and said, ‘Hey, can we talk?’ and me and a couple other guys from the Canadian media contingent had a lovely chat with Nelson Mandela (then the African National Congress chairman) mostly about boxing,” the former longtime Globe and Mail columnist recalled. “So that’s what he wanted to talk about; he was a boxer, and he wanted to talk about the kid’s fight. He didn’t want to talk about the great historic moment that it was, but it was about this kid’s fight.”
Rafael Lozano of Spain outpointed Thwala 9-0 to win the bout.
“To stand in the presence of Nelson Mandela in this weird situation, this completely random situation that to me (was special),” Brunt continued.
“Going to (Muhammad) Ali’s house with my kids was a biggie,” he said of visiting The Greatest’s farm. “I wrote about that when I took my boys when they were really little to meet Ali at his house in Michigan.
“But when you watch Usain Bolt at the Olympics or the World Cup final or I saw some fights that felt like a big deal. The Tyson-Spinks fight felt like a big deal, Leonard-Hagler. It’s kind of that feeling where it feels like the whole world’s watching. And you don’t take it for granted, you still kind of look around and say, ‘Holy smokes, I can’t believe I’m here.’
“The Champions League final (in 2011) at Wembley where Manchester United played Barcelona, you’re just looking around going, ‘Wow! This is pretty cool. I’m here.’ ”
Does ice hockey still feel that way to Brunt, too?
“Yeah,” he admitted. “It’s never been my favorite sport, like I love it, but it’s not No. 1 for me, but Canada certainly winning the (Olympic) gold medal in Salt Lake City (in 2002) … for the first time in 50 years, that was pretty great.
“I saw the Rangers win the Stanley Cup for the first time in (54 years) in Manhattan, and that was unbelievable walking around the streets that night when they beat Vancouver in Game 7…”
Brunt feels blessed to have had the opportunity to witness numerous marquee events over the years.
He continued: “A lot of the things that I keep coming back to are kind of those global events that transcend one sport. It doesn’t matter what you care about, you’ve got to watch.”
Brunt traveled to Japan for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and the 2002 World Cup.
Asked to describe those experiences, Brunt said he “loved it.”
“Nagano was kind of a funny introduction to Japan,” he added, “because it’s kind of a backwater (locale) obviously, and we didn’t get out of Nagano a whole lot, and just did get out to some of the surrounding towns, and I spent a night in Tokyo on the way home, so I didn’t get as much of a feel for it.
“But when I did the World Cup, I was in Tokyo for a month, and I stayed in the Tokyo Hilton for a month. It’s the biggest hotel bill I’ve ever had. We went all over the country on the train. … I was out my own a lot because there were reporters spread all over the place. There wasn’t like a pack of us, and yeah, I got way more of a sense, I think, of the city and of the country, not to the point where I am any kind of Japan hand but it was kind of discombobulating. I did feel like I was kind of on a different planet, because so much of it was impenetrable culturally for the first time around. I just kind of stood and stared a whole lot and ate a lot of great meals and tried to kind of negotiate the city and negotiate the country and soak up as much as I could in a month.
“It was a very cool experience.”
“I love the little bento box in the train station and hopping on a bullet train and going across the country and eating these perfect little bits of food,” he stated.
And he’s forever grateful for the opportunity to experience Japan and many other places during his global excursions as a journalist.
“I’ve seen so much of the world with somebody else paying the bills. … I was very, very lucky that the two things lined up for me that my professional life allowed me that opportunity to see things,” Brunt concluded while estimating he’s been to about 30-40 countries.
Here are the previous installments in this series:
Randy Wilson, my former boss at the Arizona Daily Sun, passed away last weekend at age 65. Here’s something I wrote in remembrance of him.
REMEMBERING RANDY WILSON
Quite simply, Randy Wilson was the pulse of the Arizona Daily Sun newsroom, a voice of reason in the Flagstaff community and a fierce fighter for freedom of the press and the role of the press to seek the truth and hold those in power accountable. His tireless work ethic, relentless pursuit of stories and common decency were hallmarks of his 22-plus years at the paper.
He was a demanding boss, but he always showed that he cared; and even if you didn’t like 1-2 of his story suggestions, there were always 3-4 others that were obviously worth pursuing ASAP.
I can think of several times when Randy clipped out a sports column from The New York Times and he thought there was a local angle that could be gleaned from the NYT’s theme. Such as: A column the esteemed George Vecsey wrote about a trio of Navajo women’s volleyball players from Arizona who were competing for an obscure college in Long Island, New York. He read nearly everything and often handed out ideas to staff reporters. Even if an idea was something to include in a notebook or as a tidbit or column fodder, Randy always had his eyes and ears open for news.
Randy valued enterprising coverage and seeking out original material. Indeed, he was delighted when then-Flagstaff resident Jack Daniels, who has been called the world’s greatest running coach, agreed to pen a series of guest columns for the Daily Sun.
Starting in 2005, I pitched the ideas to Jack, and he filed a column based on the basic premise/theme — for free. Jack wanted to educate the public about fitness and running and his experiences in leading running legends and young students and college athletes. Randy, of course, was a proponent of more running and outdoor coverage — the more, the better. There were times when it seemed over the top, but he knew the community valued its outdoor sports.
He understood how busy we were, but so was he. We had a small staff, but packed the paper every day with local news. He never wanted us to load the news sections with only wire stories.
He didn’t take shortcuts, didn’t try to mail it in in order to have a three-day weekend or a few extra hours in front of the TV.
In my nearly five years at the Daily Sun (late August 2001-June 2006), Randy was an omnipresent figure at the paper, providing the example for the entire staff. He was there. He worked, nights, weekends and holidays. And maybe he found (a little) time to sleep.
In addition to having a remarkable work ethic, Randy made sure that when staff left the paper, they were given a fun farewell party. At a small paper with high staff turnover, this could be a never-ending chore, but he made it quirky, memorable and unique each time — usually a lunch for the departing person. And there were old Arizona Highway magazines from yesteryear given to the person on the move and other little items. He took the time to make an effort.
Randy defended his reporters when their integrity or alleged bias was under attack. And when we made mistakes, he pushed us to work smarter and not make those same mistakes again.
And he used the forum of the daily editorial to showcase all manner of topics, as publisher Don Rowley describes below, and even sports made the editorial from time to time. I recall him once highlighting the spirited environment of the state high school basketball tournament held in Flagstaff, citing a phrase (“February frenzy”) I had used in a column about it. That was a sign of respect, but also a reminder that he paid attention to what everybody on the staff was doing (even the interns, whom he coached and encouraged to tackle difficult assignments).
His death saddens me, but I know that he made a giant impact in the community, mentored countless journalists and helped set the career path for so many in this profession. And that is something to remember forever.
He was the perfect fit for the Arizona Daily Sun as managing editor. His demeanor and intelligence and ability to sift through bureaucratic B.S. and lies to get the real story were always on display.
Undrafted free agent Yuta Watanabe had a solid NBA Summer League debut for the Brooklyn Nets on Friday in Las Vegas.
Watanabe, who came off the bench as a forward, scored eight points in 20 minutes. The former George Washington University standout made 3 of 9 shots from the field, including 2 of 6 from 3-point range. He had four rebounds, two assists and two blocks in Brooklyn’s 86-80 defeat to the Orlando Magic.
The Kagawa Prefecture native entered the game as a substitute at the 6:47 mark of the first quarter. His defensive awareness and aggressive play caught the eye of observers. “(Watanabe) showing off the defense early with two blocks,” @TimOakesblog tweeted. “Great defensive awareness off the ball.”
This featured appeared in The Japan Times in August 2006
LeBron has America’s young guns shooting
By Ed Odeven
Indisputably wise beyond his years, more confident than his peers, LeBron James lounged comfortably in front of cameras and microphones at a Tokyo hotel on Monday afternoon, gazed at the assembled crowd and uttered one short sentence that reveals the true essence behind his success.
“I don’t believe in pressure,” he said.
When he made the quantum leap from an Ohio high school to the NBA, LeBron James believed his talent would carry him to great heights.
James, 21, is the brightest young star in the NBA. His squad, the Cleveland Cavaliers, is now a threat to be a perennial title contender, as evidenced by its breakout performance in the playoffs this past season. And James, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft out of an Akron…
By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (July 1, 2018) Fourth in a series
Despite all of his success as a newspaper columnist, book author and long-form essayist for documentaries, Stephen Brunt won’t force himself to start writing another book anytime soon.
The Canadian sports media icon says he’ll take his time and pursue future projects in a way that makes sense to him.
“No, I’ve got a couple things that have kind of been offered to me, but I’m not in a hurry to do one right now,” Brunt said in a recent phone interview from his home in Hamilton, Ontario. “I’m only going to do it if it’s something I really want to do, and it’s a big commitment.
He went on: “I’m kind of happy with the rhythm of my life right now. My kids are grown up, and I’m not as desperate for money as I might’ve been at some points of my life, so I’m kind of waiting. I’m sure I’ll do something.
“People come to me every once in a while with an idea … but it must be something that I’m invested in one way or another. I’m not just doing it to do it.”
Publisher Vintage Canada introduced the book this way in May 2007: “The book that hockey fans have been waiting for: the definitive, unauthorized account of the man many say was the greatest player the game has ever seen. The legend of Bobby Orr is one of the most enduring in all of sports. Even those who have never played the game of hockey know the mystique and tradition surrounding Boston’s immortal defenseman. In the glory years of the Original Six, he and Gordy (sic) Howe were the Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio of their sport with equally as rabid a following. In Searching for Bobby Orr, Canada’s premier sportswriter gives us a compelling and graceful look at the life and time of Bobby Orr that is also a revealing portrait of the game and a county in transition.”
More than a decade later, Brunt was asked if he sought an opportunity to interview Orr for the book, and if so, did he make himself available. Was he standoffish?
Ultimately, Brunt didn’t interview Orr for the project.
“I asked him,” Brunt pointed out, “and he was famously asked by a million people over the years, and he finally did a ghost-written book with Vern Stenlund (https://www.amazon.com/Orr-My-Story-Bobby/dp/0399161759) a couple of years ago, which didn’t have anything much in it…”
For Brunt, writing about Orr was a serious, important endeavor. He described the undertaking as “it was kind of the Holy Grail of sports books in this country. No one had ever done the Orr book.”
He added: “And I went and talked to him and said, ‘look I want to do this,’ and Orr is pretty good at kind of patting you on the back and saying, ‘sure, maybe we’ll talk one of these days,’ but it was clear he wasn’t going to do it.”
At first, Brunt doubted that he would be able to write the book without access to Orr.
He thought about it more and more, though, and realized no wasn’t the correct answer — nor was it the attitude he wanted to have.
“Maybe I can do it,” he remembered thinking. “I ‘m going to just set out and try and do this, and it’s a different book than it would’ve been.
“Look, if I had had his full cooperation and he’d been fully forthright with me, there’s questions I couldn’t answer that he would’ve answered. But you are definitely not going to get that in an authorized book, right? Because then he gets the last call on it.
“To write an independent book about him was super challenging, but I think it made it a better book. I had to think about things in a different way. I talked to a lot of people.”
That diligence and effort paid off for Brunt. To those who weren’t already convinced he was one of the premier sports scribes and authors of the 21st century, this was a bold reminder that he was one the best in the biz.
A generation after Orr, Wayne Gretzky left an indelible mark on pro hockey. In his 2009 book “Gretzky’s Tears: Hockey, America and the Day Everything Changed,” Brunt captured the essence of Gretzky’s career before and after The Trade in August 1988, when he was sent from the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, which forever changed the landscape of the NHL.
“It’s pretty well regarded here,” Brunt said of his Orr book, a No. 1 bestseller in Canada. “It comes right before the Gretzky book, and really I think of them as two parts of the same whole. They almost connect, those two books, but yeah, it was a challenge. But it also kind of liberated me as a writer. I was liberated from his version of events, and I thought I could interpret things and see things independently.
“And really … I was worried about it when I started and it was challenging in places. There’s some people who wouldn’t talk to me because he didn’t talk to me, but it allowed me to be way more creative. It’s a more writerly book than anything I’ve ever done.
Brunt couldn’t pinpoint an exact number when he was asked how many people he interviewed for the Orr book.
Instead, he offered a vivid explanation, saying, “Lots, everybody I could get from his life and his childhood and everybody who would speak to me. But the thing at the end, what you do with all of that information is you still at a certain point put it over to one side, and you write the book.
“That’s where it’s very different than writing a newspaper story. The voice that’s going to carry the book is yours, and as I say, it kind of liberated me to tell the story with the knowledge I had accumulated … and allowing me to think and write more artistically than I had done before.
“Liberated is the word I keep coming back to,” he continued, “because I felt free to write the book, and I think you can tell when you read the book it’s different than anything I’d done before that certainly, and I think people reacted to it that way.”
For Brunt, the satisfaction of completing the project was enhanced by the aforementioned success of the book.
“You don’t know how people are going to react when you write a book,” he admitted, “you are off by yourself working on it for months, and you get the galleys and you talk to your editor and everybody seems happy, and then it shows up and you kind of wait, and not so much for reviews. Reviews are reviews, right? You can’t live and die on reviews, but you want to see if people get what you were trying to do.
“I’m happy to accept criticism if people kind of take things on their own terms, and that was the tricky one with that, because I don’t really think there was a hockey book like that. But happily, it was very well received. It was a No. 1 bestseller in Canada for about 12 weeks in a row that fall. It did incredibly well commercially, too.”
To prove the lasting power of the book, Brunt noted that “again, not to put too much into stuff like this, but when you see a list of the top 10 hockey books ever written, it’s generally on them.”
With dedication and a never-waving commitment to his craft, Brunt penned a masterpiece about the one-of-a-kind Boston Bruins superstar.
“Searching for Bobby Orr (is) not only one of the best hockey books ever, but a book that transcends hockey…. Some, then, might consider Orr’s story to be ultimately a sad one: all-too-brief brilliance followed by an extended anticlimax. Brunt’s eloquent study, admiring but never sycophantic, indicates that he isn’t one of them, and he makes a convincing case,” Edmonton Journal declared in its review of the book.
Here are the previous installments in this series:
Effective leadership involves the ability to inspire others.
What’s more, organizational harmony creates the proper conditions to achieve — and sustain — success.
Looking at the Golden State Warriors and Rakuten, Inc., one can see parallels in how they operate, set bold targets and reach them.
Billionaire Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani, who founded Rakuten in 1997 and has guided its global rise to prominence as a giant of online commerce, recognizes that the Warriors are more than just a winning team (three NBA titles in the past four seasons, including two straight). He understands that team ownership, general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr have set the tone for the team’s joyful existence.
Tracing the success of the Warriors under current ownership and a nucleus of star players, Mikitani unpacked morsels of wisdom in an email letter to all Rakuten employees that was recently posted on the company’s website.
“When we see a successful season played out like the one the Warriors just delivered, we are inspired by not only their success but also the way in which they represent the values we prize, like teamwork, innovation and a passion for excellence,” Mikitani wrote. “We are excited to see those values so clearly demonstrated on the court and to see something of ourselves in the team and their achievements.
“And what a team the Warriors are. Through injuries and adversity, highs and lows, the Dubs never backed down. They never abandoned their revolutionary brand of basketball that asks All-Stars like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to put individual numbers aside for the sake of team success. The Warriors embody the motto: ‘Strength in Numbers.’ ”