Having been married to her husband Harold for 42 years, Eileen Lederman has never considered herself a boxing widow. In fact, Eileen, whose father, Abraham Brook, was a longtime member of the New York State Athletic Commission, had always brought her to the fights when she was a youngster. When she was introduced to Harold by her sister while both were in college, their romance was spawned in great part by their shared passion for the sweet science. Harold, who like his future wife also grew up in the Bronx, had regularly attended live fights with his father as a child.
“I met Harold when he was attending Columbia University, and thought it was wonderful that he loved boxing as much as I did,” Eileen said. “It was my father that got Harold involved in the sport as a judge. In the early days, Harold would take any and all assignments in any crazy place. I remember him doing a fight at a firehouse in Pennsylvania.”
“As a child, boxing was my life,” said Harold, who now serves as HBO’s ‘Unofficial Official’ on all of its telecasts. “My father was a huge fan, who took me to the fights almost every week. One of my favorite venues was the old Long Beach Stadium on Long Island. At one time or another, everyone fought there. I saw Roland LaStarza, Rocky Castellani, and Tommy Bell, who twice fought Sugar Ray Robinson. Not a day goes by that I don’t think back fondly to those days, and today I have the same passion for boxing that I did then. I’m like an old fighter that just can’t get out of the game.”
Over the years Harold has been involved in some controversial decisions and incurred the wrath of some well known handlers. One time, when he voted against James “Hard Rock” Green, Lou Duva angrily threw hand wraps at him. Another time, in Detroit, when he voted against an Emanuel Steward fighter, an angry Steward thrust a five dollar bill at him and told him in no uncertain terms to take a cab to the airport, the sooner the better. Not surprisingly, Lederman’s feathers weren’t the least bit ruffled.
“Those incidents never affected me in a negative way,” he said. “Boxing is an emotional game; for the fighters, the trainers, even the officials. I enjoy a good relationship with Emanuel and Lou to this day. And when you think about it, two weeks after a fight is over, no matter how controversial it is, does anyone really remember who the judges were? I don’t think so. Kid Gavilan and Billy Graham were involved in what is probably the most controversial bout in history. How many people besides me can even remember who the judges were?”
Nearly two decades ago Lederman says he was in “the right place at the right time” while speaking with HBO executive producer Ross Greenburg. He told Greenburg that the network’s boxing announcers were unaware of many of the idiosyncrasies and nuances related to how boxing was judged. He was in no way auditioning for a job -- just talking fan to fan -- but was thrilled when Greenberg offered him a job as HBO’s unofficial judge. He has been with the network since 1986, making him the second longest reigning member of the entire sports department.
“The first bout I worked was the Pinklon Thomas-Trevor Berbick fight,” said Lederman. “Thomas was a 7-1 favorite, but Berbick, who hired Eddie Futch to train him, beat him slow and steady and won a unanimous decision. I had predicted he would win all along. Years later HBO asked me to speak on behalf of Futch, and I said I owed my career to him.”
Lederman is also a licensed pharmacist, who currently works for the Eckerd drug store chain. Unlike some other stores he has worked at, Eckerd is very accommodating to his HBO schedule. “For years I couldn’t hold onto a pharmaceutical job, because of my boxing job,” said Lederman. “I would take off to do a fight, come back, and be unemployed. It was very frustrating, but boxing is my first love and I’m absolutely committed to my involvement in it.”
Although Lederman glows when discussing some of the bigger fights he has officiated -- including Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton III at Yankee Stadium, when he says “the phone didn’t stop ringing for a month,” Sugar Ray Leonard-Larry Bonds in Syracuse, New York, where he says the “crowd of 22,000 people was just incredible,” Roberto Duran-Esteban DeJesus I, Ken Buchanan-Ismael Laguna II, and the final bouts of both Harold Johnson’s and Dick Tiger’s careers -- his always ready smile becomes even more radiant when discussing his 37-year-old daughter Julie, a graduate of Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey.
“One of the best moments of my life was when Julie became a judge,” said Harold. “In the beginning she was so shy, but she has come so far and is so competent. She’s already done a great job in big fights, including [Kostya] Tszyu-[Oktay] Urkal, [Arturo] Gatti-[Jesse James] Leija, and Wayne Braithwaite-Louis Azille.
“Julie and I still confer after many fights,” Harold said. “We still write down scores of fights we’re watching solely as fans. We spend hours talking about boxing, and never get bored.”
Having been around the sport for most of his 65 years, Harold, who resides in a northern suburb of New York City, has seen it sway from its once lofty perch through lulls and transformations that have caused many doomsday prognosticators to predict an imminent end to big time (and especially small time) boxing. Harold, however, is too much of an eternal optimist to concede that boxing is on its last legs, or even close to the abyss.
“The sport is due for a big revival, and I’m sure it’s coming soon,” he said. “We just need a real dynamic figure; someone like Muhammad Ali who the people really believe is something. I thought that would be Roy Jones, but he only fought two or three times a year. There’s someone out there that will rekindle the sport, not just at the big fight level, but even at the grassroots level. Believe me, the sport will roll again and the big crowds will roll again.”
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV