A hopeless optimist: Paola Boivin, distinguished sports columnist

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (July 11, 2015) — For two-plus decades, Paola Boivin has been a fixture in Phoenix-area sports, reporting  and crafting columns on Pac-10 (now Pac-12) sports and the growing pro scene, including the arrival of the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

This is what I know: She writes thought-provoking, well-organized columns. She does her homework. She asks good questions. She has a good handle on how to structure stories and how to pack them with quality anecdotes, important facts and opinions that resonate with readers. She’s a personable journalist, a good interviewer and a pro’s pro with empathy for those she writes about.

Over the years, she has written about everything and everybody, ranging from Pat Tillman’s death to Super Bowls, Olympics, NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament title games, NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL playoff contests to current players and coaches’ perspectives on the Confederate flag. Boivin has worked at The Arizona Republic since September 1995 after a six-year stint at the Los Angeles Daily News. Before that, she served as a sportswriter and then sports editor at the Camarillo (California) Daily News (1984-1988).

In an April interview with Illinois Alumni Magazine, Boivin said, “I’m drawn to the human stories—the underdog, the long shot, the forgotten person.”

I interviewed Boivin recently to learn more about her career, her influences, what motivates her on the job and other reflections on her life and work.

***

What’s the best way to describe your style as a journalist and as a columnist? Of course it can differ from day to day and sport to sport, but how would you summarize your basic approach to this work and the way you do your job?

It took me forever to find my voice as a columnist. For a long time I tried to be something I wasn’t: a screamer and finger-pointer, the print version of some sports talk radio hosts. I’m not that. I would wake up the next day, read my work and cringe because it felt unauthentic.

The reality is I’m a hopeless optimist. A listener. And someone who loves a good story. I think (hope) interview subjects pick up on those traits and realize their story will receive fair treatment. It doesn’t mean I can’t be skeptical or outraged or anything of those things that are at the heart of good journalism, it just means I lead with an optimistic foot. And sleep better at night.

How has being a mother shaped the way you view sports and their role in society at large? And do you think motherhood changed your perspective on sports somewhat?

Both of my children are athletes: my daughter a runner and my son a basketball player. To have a front-row view of how athletics has impacted their lives has been a game-changer. Young girls are bombarded with air-brushed magazine covers and unrealistic expectations. How can they not grow up with body-image issues? Feeling strong and athletic is empowering. And the lessons my children learned about discipline and commitment and teamwork were better than any of the words of advice that I would spew out at home, which they probably tuned out anyway!

Motherhood has many me appreciate sports even more.

Of the biggest compliments received over the years from journalist peers and readers for something you’ve written, can you share a few details of two or three of them that really meant something to you?

Without question it’s the feedback I received following an article I wrote about a transgender golfer who dreamed of playing in the LPGA. I received emails from parents who said the story made them better understand their children who were battling identity issues, and from a man who found comfort reading the piece because his journey, that was almost halted by suicide, was about to take a similar turn. It was all because my subject, Bobbi Lancaster, a well-respected doctor in the Phoenix area, was so open about her life. I was so grateful for that.

Journalism should never be about the praise but it felt good to know the article impacted lives. I love, too, how my voicemails have changed over the years in Phoenix. They used to be “you’re an idiot woman who knows nothing about sports.” Now they’re “you’re an idiot who knows nothing about sports.” Progress!

What did receiving APSE Top 10 columnist recognition in 2011 mean to you? Did that inspire you, fire you up for the coming years, too? What do you think was your best column for 2010? And do you have an all-time No. 1 favorite?

I guess it was my Sally Field “You like me, you really like me” moment. It is hard to grow up as a female sports journalist in the era I did and swell with confidence. From the early locker room battles to peers (in my past) suggesting I was the product of equal-opportunity hiring and not talent stings, especially for a ball of insecurity like me. It absolutely did inspire me and shifted my motivation into a higher gear. Ha. I guess I’m supposed to say awards are meaningless but I would be lying.

My favorite column from 2010 was one I wrote about Steve Nash. I was in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics and took a side trip to Victoria to visit the home in which he grew up. If you hopped over the fence in his backyard, you would find a basketball hoop that belonged to an elementary school. He would shoots hundreds of free throws a day there as a kid, trying to improve his percentage each time. I couldn’t stop staring at that hoop. It was the symbol of how hard work can shape an athlete. I also had the opportunity to talk to childhood friends, family members and coaches and to visit his high school. It was the closest I ever came to truly understanding how an athlete at his high level achieved greatness.

That one (http://archive.azcentral.com/sports/suns/articles/2010/02/28/20100228suns-steve-nash-vancouver-CP.html) and the transgender one are probably my all-time favorites.

How did your time at the Camarillo Daily News and Los Angeles Daily News – 10  important years – shape your approach to journalism and give you the foundation for all the reporting, column writing, talk-show work you’ve done since? Can you think of a couple important lessons, including the biggest one, you learned early in your career?

Both jobs were amazing and I remain grateful for the people who gave me the opportunities  there. The Camarillo Daily News, which, sniff, is no longer around, was my first full-time job. I started as a sportswriter and later became sports editor of a three-person staff. I had to do everything: report, write, edit, design. I stumbled plenty of times along the way, including once, when running a story about a USC running back named Aaron Emmanuel. I used a photo of actor Emmanuel Lewis instead. Anyone who ever watched the TV show “Webster” knows these two look nothing alike. Fortunately, I caught my mistake right before the story went to print.

Having to do a little bit of everything helped prepare me for the variety of assignments that came my way in the future. I think my willingness to say yes to any assignment, to always being a team player, made me more hireable down the road.

(Side note: I pride myself in having a good eye for talent. While at Camarillo, I hired several terrific writers early in their careers including two still doing great work: Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports and Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune.)

The Los Angeles Daily News was incredible, too. I was in a great sports market surrounded by terrific talent at the paper. My first beat was covering UCLA football and basketball. It didn’t get much better than meeting John Wooden at his favorite breakfast spot and talking hoops.

While I was at the Daily News, I sometimes covered Dodgers game. It was at a time when women in the locker room was still a hot topic. I would walk into the clubhouse and stare at the ground. One day, the great Orel Hershiser pulled me aside and said, “Keep your head up and look like you belong here. Because you do.” I always think of that when I walk in a clubhouse now. I am forever grateful for that moment.

For you, who are a few must-read journalists in print and online? What makes their work something you return to again and again?

Karen Crouse, one of my best friends, of The New York Times is at the top of my list. I don’t think there is anyone in the country better at finding a fresh way to look at a story and the depth of her reporting is second to none. Subjects trust her. Read her story on Laveranues Coles from 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/18/sports/football/new-trust-lets-coles-share-secret.html) if you need proof. I also find Gregg Doyel, now with the Indianapolis Star, and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports must reads.

I am surrounded by great talent at The Arizona Republic, too. They make me better every day.

How much influence did the late Jim Murray and other L.A. media giants have on your career? Where there individuals in the Chicago area/sports media market who had a similar or bigger influence on you?

Huge. Murray wasn’t only a great writer – it doesn’t get any better for an auto racing story than “Gentlemen, start your coffins” – but he was a gentleman. You could learn a lot from watching how he conducted himself.

There was also a young hotshot at the L.A. Times when I starting out that was creating a lot of buzz among my peers. For good reason. It was Rick Reilly. He was only there a few years before Sports Illustrated grabbed him.

I think my biggest influence in the Chicago area, quite honestly, was the sports editor of my local paper, the Chicago Heights Star, the late John Meyers. I read his work religiously in high school. He gave me my first professional opportunity, writing during my summers home from college. And when I grew up, Chicago had three daily papers: the Sun-Times, Tribune and Daily News. Three! It was a sports lover’s dream. I ate it up.

Bob Moran at the East  Valley Tribune (who died of cancer at age 55 in 2008) and Steve Schoenfeld at the Republic and then CBS SportsLine (killed at age 45 by a hit-and-run driver in 2000) were among the most gifted and well-respected sports journalists who covered the Pac-10 and the NFL, respectively, who’ve ever worked in Arizona. What is their legacy, individually and/or collectively, as it’s carried on and remembered by those who worked with him and grew as journalists in that time?

Both were amazing men.

Bob Moran was a consummate pro who loved his work. Everybody respected him because he was defined by his knowledge and integrity. He was my “competitor” during my first beat in Phoenix covering Arizona State. I learned a ton from him.

From Steve Schoenfeld, we all better understood the art of reporting and the value of relationships. He knew everybody! It served him well in his job. His funeral service was so large they held it in a concert hall. That showed just how popular and respected he was.

Both left us way too soon.

Have sports become too serious, too analytical, too high school calculus-like because of the explosion in metrics over the past decade? Is this more of a good thing or bad thing? Or is it just a different era?

Like chocolate, metrics are fine in moderation. They have great value but it’s important to remember, too, metrics can’t measure heart. And heart is a big part of sports.

With a respected, successful tenure at The Arizona Republic, writing for the paper (and also along the way its website) since 1995, how much more does your voice, your ideas, carry weight when it comes to pinpointing story angles, assignments and your schedule than it did when you arrived to work there in Phoenix?

I’m blessed to have a sports editor, Mark Faller, who trusts my instincts. We will bounce ideas off one another but I can dictate much of my writing path. I think early in my career I sought more guidance in that regard than I do now.

As someone who observed the growth and history of the Arizona Diamondbacks since their inception, how important was Joe Garagiola Sr. as a behind-the-scenes guy within the organization and as a connection to the fans and the game’s rich history during his work as a TV analyst through 2013? 

I think what Joe Sr. has done for baseball in general has been spectacular. He founded two important organizations: the Baseball Assistance Team, to help the needy with connections to the game, and the National Spit Tobacco Education Program. Talk about impacting a lot of lives.

As a broadcaster, few have as many anecdotes as Joe Sr. His willingness to share them are not only entertaining but educational in terms of history of the game. And his sense of humor is a great example of what sports broadcasting should be.

Of all the athletes who hail from Arizona and who call or have called Arizona home, who are three you’d put at the top of any list?

That’s a tough one. I guess it depends on the criteria. I’ll make mine the top three who have impacted the landscape since I’ve lived here.

  1. Jerry Colangelo. I’m going to cheat a bit. He wasn’t an athlete here but he changed the sports scene in Arizona like no other. He is gave us an MLB franchise and great memories with an NBA one. He also gets an assist for helping our NHL team arrive.
  1. Kurt Warner. What he did for the Cardinals — leading a franchise that was long a laughing stock to a Super Bowl — was remarkable.
  2. Charles Barkley. His popularity with Suns fans and his national visibility today are hard to top. He still lives here and people very much think of him as one of their own.

Similarly …. same questions but for coaches?

Lute Olson. Lute Olson. And Lute Olson.

If you were granted a one-on-one interview without any restrictions ASAP with Sepp Blatter, what’s the first question you’d ask him?

How do you sleep at night?

***

Follow Paola Boivin on Twitter: @PaolaBoivin

Read her journalism work here: http://www.azcentral.com/staff/10465/paola-boivin/

Peter Vecsey, who needs deadlines, discusses his upcoming book … and the stories behind the stories

Peter Vecsey and Al Skinner, former NBA and ABA player and longtime college coach

Peter Vecsey and Al Skinner, former NBA and ABA player and longtime college coach

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (April 13, 2015) — Decades ago, Peter Vecsey defied the boundaries and labels that were the norm in newspapers’ sports departments. When he became the New York Post’s NBA columnist in 1976, he was the nation’s first single-sport newspaper columnist. It was a role he was born to have, dispensing wit, biting commentary, insider info, countless scoops and unforgettable nicknames (“Larry Legend” and “Next Town Brown,” for instance), all with a fearless approach to the job.

In addition to his work for NBC and TNT, Vecsey’s thrice-weekly Hoop Du Jour column became must-read material for NBA aficionados from coast to coast, an in the Internet age, it appeared in email inboxes spanning the globe.

Peter Vecsey and former NBA scoring champ Bernard King

Peter Vecsey and former NBA scoring champ Bernard King

Former Nets owner Joe Taub (left) and Peter Vecsey

Former Nets owner Joe Taub (left) and Peter Vecsey

What’s more, he gained unique perspective and expertise as an ABA beat writer in the 1970s and cemented his status as a one-of-a-kind hoop fixture by coaching teams (and winning titles) at the famed Rucker Tournament in Harlem in the 1970s and ’80s.

Vecsey received the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, a long overdue honor. And he was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in ’01.

Since retiring from the Post — he penned his final column for the July 1, 2012, issue — Vecsey has slowed down. Columns are not his meal ticket. Deadlines don’t consume him. He’s appeared on a number of radio shows and online podcasts to discuss basketball, but it’s not a 24/7/365 mandate anymore.

That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t maintain strong ties to the game. He keeps in touch with now-retired commissioner David Stern. He recently visited Philadelphia 76ers stat guru Harvey Pollack in the hospital. He champions the accomplishments of the game’s past greats and forgotten standouts with equal enthusiasm.

His respect for the history of the game and the personalities who have grown it (streetball, the ABA, the NBA) and have made it thrives is peerless.

And some of his Twitter missives and conversations about the game’s legends are akin to a classroom lecture. Really.

For many years, Vecsey and his wife, Joan (“The Mysterious J” to Post readers), have rescued animals (see below).

***

Vecsey, 71, is working on a book, his memoir.

I caught up with the Queens, New York, native recently for a wide-ranging interview.

What is your typical writing schedule for this book?

I don’t have a typical writing schedule. I wish I did, but there’s so many things going on, with the animals, the family, the (weather) and everything like that, that it’s very difficult to get a time every day where you go and you do it. So that’s been a problem.

You’re so used to deadlines where you have to write, so you kind of step back from that and have a life away from that, with so many other things that you are able to do. Are you able to give yourself some kind of first-tier, second-tier, third-tier deadlines for certain aspects of the books?

(He laughs) I don’t. I have an agent (who’s based in New York) who gently pushes me. You mentioned deadlines, and we discussed this at length, and there’s no question in my mind that I need a deadline for sure. So he said for so many years if you know you have to do it at a certain time and that means getting paid and having all the benefits that go with it … you’ve got to do it, no matter what’s going on. You blot it out and you get it done.

To have a deadline is difficult, but my agent has been kind of pushing me and so a couple weeks ago he said, “OK, fine, you’ve got a deadline. Here it is: I want a chapter by such and such a time.” And it really works, I got him a chapter, and last night I got him a second chapter. … The one I got him yesterday was (on) Jordan. The one before that was the Rucker (Tournament), but the Rucker expanded into maybe four chapters because it’s just so many interesting people that were involved in the Rucker in my life, starting with Julius Erving, and just branching out into all sorts of people that either played for me, played against me — you know, like, here at the park. So each one was a story, basically.

Tiny Archibald became a big story in this chapter and my relationship with him. There are just so many stories … about Charlie Scott. He played for me and that became a big story.

Of course finding things in my clutter, in my disorganization I am finding things, and I found a story that I had written about Charlie Scott when he jumped from the ABA to the NBA, and here I was his coach the previous summer. So I was the only media guy he was talking to, and I was at the Daily News then, and they did not send me to Phoenix when he jumped from the Virginia Squires, and I went on my own, and I wrote a huge piece for a small weekly (New York Insiders Newsletter). … There were like three or four weeklies in those days, and I wrote for all of them at certain times. So anyway, this one had the story, and I never read it for years or so, and there were so many great details. I remembered some of the other things, and Jerry Colangelo was the (Suns) general manager, Cotton Fitzsimmons was the coach, Connie Hawkins was on the team.

David Wolf, who wrote the book “Foul” on Connie Hawkins, I met him out in Phoenix. That became part of this chapter, my relationship with David Wolf. And it just kept going and going.

I handed it in to him and he was laughing. He read it and said he really liked it and there’s an awful lot here. And then we happened to meet for lunch the other day. I went into the city (NYC) and met with him on another project introducing him to Dick Barnett — Dick Barnett’s writing a book — and so I’m with my agent and he’s saying I really like it. And then he tells me, “I know how to edit this. I know what we are going to do with it.” And I said, “Fine, I really don’t know how. I know there’s a lot of stories there. We can break it into chapters or whatever, but it’s all Rucker related.”

And he sent me a note yesterday, actually, and he said something like, “I’ve read this again, and it’s too good for me to mess with. I’m not gonna to mess with it. We’re going to use it and the Jordan one and we are going to sell it this way.”

Two publishers were interested in it and have been waiting on me patiently.

Finding this stuff is unbelievable. That’s all I can say. Finding what I have is confusing because there’s just so much, like the Bob Seger song: “Words, you don’t know what to leave it, what to leave out.” I don’t know.

Do you consider your column material your primary sources for research? is that the basic way you are approaching this and your memory to also fill in the blanks?

It’s my memoir and my memory is not what I think it is. I’ve discovered that many times over now. So it’s imperative for me to have, like, the Charlie Scott stuff. I remembered a lot, but then when I read this piece, it was so detailed and had so much information in it that it was mind-boggling and nobody read that, nobody had ever read it. Now I’m not saying we’re going to reprint anything like that, but I did use a lot of the info and then explain what I was doing there and what happened.

And then I used David Wolf (material) and we became really good friends after that.

I’ll tell you one story that just blew my mind is that while I was writing the Rucker I was re-reading “Foul.” It’s truly an amazing book. I knew it was an amazing book. … I read it, re-read it, read it so slowly because I was just enjoying it so much.

Now I’m looking back at all these things that happened … and then I had my own stories, so I became mesmerized by the whole thing.

So I don’t know what part of the book I said to my wife, “I really have to get back in touch with David Wolf.” He and I were really good friends for quite a while. He mentored me a lot, even though we were the same age basically, he was so far advanced than I was. He wrote for Life Magazine … he broke the whole Connie Hawkins thing in that magazine and then wrote the book off of it, but then he became a boxing guy, he became a boxing manager. He gave up basketball, so we drifted apart.

(Note: Vecsey’s wife looked up Wolf’s contact info, which led to her finding out that he had died in 2009).

That just crushed me because I didn’t know that.

You ask about the memory and I’m doing it from memory, but then I have to go and check my facts because almost every time I’m finding out that the facts are different than I remember. So that’s kind of scary, but, yeah, it really is. It’s a long time ago. We’re not talking about what happened five years ago, we’re talking about what happened in the ’70s.

So you’re basing the book from the mid-70s on primarily? Or even further back?

Well, no, it’s going to be my life so it’s going to be stuff growing up, high school, the first story I ever broke and on and on. It’s an unbelievable story. It’s a very personal story. …I haven’t even written that part yet. These two chapters were key, I’ve written an awful lot down about different phases of my life and most of it, I think what I’ve got to make you understand, even though I’m using the columns in certain spots, and I really don’t know how to do that — how much do you use? Do you use the entire column?

I went down to Orlando when Michael Jordan was just playing baseball and he gave me an exclusive. Do you remind people of that peripherally, just throw in some salient facts? Or do you print paragraphs at a time? I’m not sure but I think the key to this whole book is I’m going to give you the stories behind those stories.

So that’s your mission: the stories behind the stories?

Yes, on every level.

The biggest story I ever broke, for instance, you’re going to talk about (Golden State Warriors star) Latrell Sprewell choking (Warriors coach) P.J. Carlesimo (in 1997), and I’m going to give you how I got that story and then what happens afterward. Which I’ve never written that stuff. Will I reveal sources? I know I’m going to reveal some sources that led me astray. That’s for sure; absolutely for that. But I doubt that I’ll reveal the real sources, but I’ll tell people how I arrived finding out what happened that night in breaking it … and that’ll happen in every one of them, every one of the big ones.

What convinced you to write this book? You’d joked about it sometimes that “I’m never going to write a book.” Was this ever really a mission until recently?

And what changed?

Being on a fixed income changed it. (he chuckles)

I think in all these interviews I’ve done telling all my stories I think people would really like to read all of the stories that I have, and I’ve told it to my agent and he goes nuts about it. In fact, everybody I’ve told stories to they go, “Oh my god…!”

How many chapters do you think this will realistically be?

I don’t know. I have a bunch of them in mind, obvious ones. The Rucker, the ABA, the NBA, NBC. You start breaking them down further like all the people who wanted me to write their books — What was that all about? Who were they? Why didn’t I do them?. Relationships that started out good, turned sour, became good again. That’s a chapter. There’s all different chapters.

I’m really terrible at recognizing people. You can be the biggest superstar in the world and I can be talking to you and the next time I see you I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what it is with me. if it’s not basketball…

So I’ve got a chapter on that happening to me with numerous people, including Denzel Washington. (He laughs)

There’s a certain cutoff point where a large percentage of the population doesn’t know what Rucker is, what it represented, that it even ever existed. I don’t know how many of them will pick up this book, but for any basketball enthusiast they might have no idea that this was ever a big part of the culture.

This could be a real eye-opener to them, and just as a historical document as well. You will be able to give it some proper due many years later when it’s a lot different.

Correct. And I didn’t show up there until ’71.

And before that you had books written about the Rucker, “The City Game” by Pete Axthelm, in which he brings out all these characters: Earl (“The Goat”) Manigault, The Helicopter (Herman Knowings), The Destroyer (Joe Hammond), Pee Wee Kirkland. … I met all those people, so I have stories on them. But aside from those street guys, now you had Wilt Chamberlain playing. One year, in the summer of ’69, seven of the top 10 Knicks played in the Rucker that won the championship the next year. Willis Reed, (Dave) Stallworth, Cazzie Russell, (Walt) Frazier, (Bill) Bradley, they all played up there.

There were so many things that went on up there and then people have to know this. The Celtics sent Dave Cowens there before his rookie year, so I’ve got some great stuff on that. Tiny Archibald played with Cowens on the same team, Austin Carr was on the same team. Their team was loaded. I had Julius coming out of college (UMass). My team was loaded; Charlie Scott, Knicks, Nets.

But also in the Rucker piece I want to debunk stuff that’s been passed down erroneously over the years. I really resent the fact that it has been reported on erroneously. So I definitely go after a couple writers on that one.

I think even if you don’t know these people you certainly know the top guys if you’re any kind of a basketball person. But even if you don’t, the stories are unbelievable, the one-liners are funny as hell. They paint a pretty good picture of being in Harlem in the early ’70s. And then came back in the ’80s with another team. And I had guys playing for me that had very famous relatives. Whitney Houston’s brother played for me, Tom Chapin’s brother played for me. and they weren’t stars yet. It’s just funny. And the (Harlem) Globetrotters played, so the Rucker is really fascinating and my agent just loved reading it.

I think the back story behind the NBC stuff — Vecsey worked as an NBA analyst during the network’s 12-year run (1990-2002) — will be fascinating for people that don’t pay attention to the dynamics of live sports TV and just those kind of shows, either.

Right, right. We’ll definitely get into NBC. But again being around a bunch of stars. I worked with Pat Riley for the first year of NBC. You look at the people that I worked on the same set with: (Bill) Walton and Erving and Isiah (Thomas) and (John) Salley and Kevin Johnson and on and on and on. Jayson Williams. I was the only constant for the 12 years out of that whole crew. So that makes it kind of interesting, too. Yeah, sure I’ll throw in some TNT stuff, too, with (Charles) Barkley. So the TV chapter will be interesting.

What do you think is a possible release date for the book?

I wouldn’t have any idea.

There’s going to be a chapter on anecdotes, too. I’m thinking about this all the time. They don’t fit anywhere but just were fascinating anecdotes, whether it’s Julius apart from his regular career, involving Joe Barry Carroll — god, there’s just so many of them — (the late Jim) Valvano and Jeff Ruland, just things that people would be amazed to read that I never printed. No reprints other than you have to know the story to know what’s going on; for the behind-the-scenes story, you have to know the story.

So you want to provide a partial recap?

Yeah, I have to. How do you do P.J. and Sprewell without explaining what happened? And then I’ll tell you how I got that story, and my relationships afterward with P.J. and Sprewell, it’s pretty interesting.

One of the proudest things in my career is that everything I broke in that story that night was unchanged, never got changed. There were no corrections.

Unlike when I broke the (Gilbert) Arenas-(Javaris) Crittenton guns story — (A Christmas Eve incident involving two Washington Wizards teammates in 2009 was summed up this way in a Foxnews.com headline: “NBA Players Reportedly Drew Guns in Christmas Eve Argument”) — there were some minor things that I had wrong. Minor, but the major things I had correct, even though they denied it, denied it, denied it until it went to court, and then everything came out, and we learned out it was true.

Another big story was I broke the insurrection of the Magic players having the insurrection for Brian Hill, Penny Hardaway and that stuff. I broke that on national television, and nobody ever — I don’t care what sports, not sports — nobody ever breaks the story live like that. They just played on television, and I’m breaking the story that the coach is going to be fired because of an insurrection. …

Matt Goukas did the game; he was the color commentator, and he used to be the Magic coach. And he and (play-by-play man) Marv (Albert) are going, “No, no,” and this is live. “No, no, that’s not true. I would have heard about that.” Brian Hill hadn’t heard about it.

What did the producer and the director say about your report? He’s just nuts?

They knew I had it. We probably should have tipped them off … but that’s the way they wanted it. That was their call. The boss of NBC Sports, Dick Ebersol, that was his call. We were going to do it before the game, and he said no we are going to ruin the whole game then — it would just take away from the game. So we waited until after the game, and that’s when we broke it. That was pretty heavy, that was very heavy.

Vecsey also recalled that he was offered a chance to go work for The National Sports Daily, an upstart publication that lasted from January 1990 till June 1991. He declined the offer.

I was the first one they came after. It was (editor-in-chief) Frank Deford and (publisher) Peter Price, I believe, who was the editor of The Post, so they wanted me bad, and offered me big money. In the end, I said, I don’t want to work for this paper. Nobody’s going to read it. Why do I want to do this? And I turned it down.

***

How is the satisfaction and just the enjoyment of rescuing dogs, the interaction with animals and with your wife and others who are involved with that, different from when you finished a good column and knew it was good … how is that different?

I don’t think you can compare them. Nothing compares to rescuing dogs, cats and horses. We’ve said it a hundred times, a thousand times, it’s heartwarming and it’s heartbreaking, because we usually take animals that nobody wants that have been abused and they consume our life.

The first dog that we rescued was a 9/11 dog. It’s master died in the tower, a woman that tied in the tower, we found out. Others were looking for money and we didn’t want to give money. I just didn’t trust anybody … but I said I would like to give something and then my wife actually ran into the policewoman who was in charge for getting homes for the animals that they found of the people who died. So we wound up taking a dog, a yellow lab named Charlie, and that was our first dog ever.

And then we just kept going and going. At one time, we had nine I don’t know how many we’ve had in total, but I think at one time we probably had 18 cats, and then they die.

We just buried a dog yesterday in the snow. So we’re down to six. We’re down to 10 cats and one horse, well actually three horses, because two of my horses are being taken care of by (Hall of Famer and Pacers legend) Mel Daniels on his ranch in Indianapolis … because it was just too much for us. …

I’ve got my chocolate Lab lying right next to me. He’s like 12 now, I’ve had him since he was like 2, and he’s getting old. He and I have a bet on who’s not going to make it up the stairs first.

Is this primarily restricted to Long Island, or are you also rescuing dogs from the New York tri-state area?

We’ve gotten them mostly from the South. Tennessee, Louisiana … several dogs from Tennessee, one is blind. He was beaten blind. So we’ve gotten them from all over. Kentucky, a couple from Long Island.

Are they brought to you? Do you go pick them up?

No, my wife finds them. The ones from the South they come up on a truck. That’s how they get up here. But over the years she’s gone out of her way to find animals that we don’t adopt and we’ll find homes for them …

I’ll give you one, for instance, real fast: She found a dog that they were going to put to sleep, a pit bull that they were going to put to sleep, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Pregnant. And so she arranged for a vet to take the dogs, take the puppies when they were born, she’d keep them for a certain amount of time because she had a litter of eight, and so we funded it … and so now we have the mother and four of her puppies and (brought) them up to Connecticut, where transport leaves them off.

We wound up getting homes for all five, and the mother lives on a palatial place in Connecticut, like a hundred-acre place, and she lives their alone, and they love this dog like you can’t even believe. So it’s an unbelievable story. And then we found homes for the other four, one of them lives on Shelter Island, not that we go see her, but they’ve all turned out great.

***

Follow Peter Vecsey on Twitter: @PeterVecsey1