Hendersonville, North Carolina.1955.
A little boy is adrift.
Not fully, mom is there, loving, nurturing. But dad isn’t. He has died. Cancer.
One year before.
It is Christmas season. Bittersweet.
The lights, the thoughts of Santa’s arrival, those are happy thoughts. But dad isn’t here. No gifts can remove that sting, the pangs, the coal-black cloud which hovers, descends when silence is present.
Mom knows the son is sad, misses dad, that the hole will likely never be fully filled. Mom knows the son needs things to help keep him attached to dad, keep memories alive.
There is a holiday party, at a home of a friend. Mom takes son’s hand, marches down a hallway, to the bedroom of the hostess.
Adults clink glasses, flirt, make merry.
Those are the sounds in the background while mom turns on a TV, black and white set.
Mom to son: “Sit down, you are going to watch the Friday Night Fights, Sugar Ray Robinson versus Bobo Olson. This is what you and your father would be doing if he were still here.”
Robinson scored a KO win. Don Dunphy called the event. An abiding, over-riding interest was born, in the sport, in the blood of a premier presenter of pugilism, Jim Lampley.
He was enthralled. Then he feel in love. With Cassius Clay, 1960 Rome Olympics.
Some, most boys would watch fights, walk away from the screen shadow-boxing. Not Jim. Not a fighter, never was. Been in one fight. 0-1 record, KO by.
Pete Demme, a pal, knew JL hadn’t been in a fight. “Helped” him rectify that gap in experience.
1965. Parking lot at Southwest Miami High School. Main event set for 2:30 PM. Word spread faster, harder than what Darlene McCarthy did with Nathaniel Carter last Friday at Shadow Lake.
Hundreds of folks milling. Energy in the air. Uncertainty. Promise of violence, of questions asked and answered. Demme and Lampley squared off. Out shot a Demme right, landed on Lampley’s kisser. Landed clean. Front tooth chipped. Blood. Lampley to his knees. Fight over. Demme, winner, KO1.
Dentists still make money today off Demme’s right.
Lampley’s never been in a punchout since. Lots of loudmouths in bars tried to lure him, he knew his identity. Lover, not fighter. Respectful of the art, the science, and of his limitations. And sorta soft. Serious side, not prone to excessive frivolity. But the 66-year-old can be sentimental, heart can wash over brain and pride. Sometimes chokes up…like when telling that wife Debra set it up so 11 Lampleys will see him inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame Sunday, in Canastota.
94 year old Uncle Bill will be there. 84 year old Aunt Mary Ann.
Remember, dad Jim died when he was five. Mom Peggy died in 1985. This will almost be like having them there. Young Jim held back tears telling me this. Lone sibling, brother Fred, he died. Jim, and extended family, and fabulous Debra will beam with pride.
She gets the credit, Mike, Jim said.
I was always better at talking than fighting, he told me. He will talk about fights tomorrow, on HBO, Saturday night, in NY. Walters and Verdejo top the card.
One of the best to ever do it, maybe TBE, will do the blow by blow. It’s about creating captions, Mike. Don’t be afraid of silence, either, he said.
Milestone will be reached. Still desirous, though. Wants blow by blow man Bob Sheridan in, wants pal Harold Lederman to get a hall call. They belong in there, he tells me. He belongs in there.
Here’s the caption: Congratulations, Jim Lampley, on an honor most deserved. Thanks for your service to the sport, we appreciate your devotion and skill. We love that you’re a lover, not a fighter.