Sports Journalist Bob Ryan Tells Stories

BY COLE MCNANNA // NOV. 6, 2014 //

Longtime Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan was on Curry’s campus Wednesday night, Nov. 5, to talk about his new book, Scribe: My Life in Sports, which tells the story of a lifetime of storytelling.

The event was part of an ongoing speaker series led by Curry Professor Bill Littlefield, host of the NPR sports program “Only a Game” and a creative writing professor at the college. Littlefield led the discussion with Ryan, who spoke about his career, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, violence in the NFL, his slow growing appreciation of soccer, and how to succeed in sports journalism.

“Read anything possible, even outside of sports,” said Ryan, who nowadays is a correspondent on different ESPN sports programs such as “Around the Horn,” “Pardon the Interruption” and the “Sports Reporters.” “The more you read, the more thoughts you can pluck off the shelf and the more your vocabulary grows.” He said reading helped him the most throughout his career.

Ryan wrote for the Globe for 44 years and covered a multitude of sports and post-season events, including every single championship series across all four major professional sports, as well as college and even 11 Olympic Games. Although Ryan is perhaps best known for his coverage of the Celtics and the NBA in general, he said baseball has always been his favorite sport. He regarded it as “the best sport ever created,” and fancied himself a “minor baseball historian.”

Curry Professor Bill Littlefield (left), host of NPR's "Only a Game, and longtime Boston Globe sports writer Bob Ryan.

Curry Professor Bill Littlefield (left), host of NPR’s “Only a Game, and longtime Boston Globe sports writer Bob Ryan.

Ryan wrote his first sports story at age 11, and was actively involved in his high school newspaper, primarily as sports editor, at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. It was in high school that he earned the nickname “Scribe.”

While attending Boston College, Ryan earned an internship at the Boston Globe and was eventually hired full time. He was thrown into covering the Boston Celtics, and the rest is history.

Many of the students at the talk agreed that Ryan increased their interest in sports journalism, or writing in general. Freshman Communication major Nathan Laverdure said he was thrilled with his decision to attend the talk.

“It was awesome to see someone who I’ve grown up watching on TV talk about something I am passionate about as well,” said Laverdure, who was among the students in attendance to receive a free and autographed copy of “Scribe.” Ryan is “like a human calculator, but with sports with all of his knowledge and experiences.”

The crowd of approximately 50 people was mostly faculty and staff, who seemed to relish the opportunity to ask questions and talk about Boston area sports. Questions ranged from football and its violent nature, to whether he would have preferred to cover Larry Bird or Magic Johnson, and the writers who influenced him the most over his career. Ryan said longtime Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford is his gold standard of sports writing.

Ryan also talked about the challenges of access and building relationship with athletes today, to better cover them and their teams.

“I don’t know how to handle these guys,” said Ryan. About five years ago, “I had to go to a PR guy to set up an interview with Kevin Garnett, a player on my own team!”

Ryan said that when he was covering the Celtics as a beat reporter, he was allowed to go to open practices and learn the offense, which helped him in his writing and covering the team. Ryan would even spend time with some of the players away from the gym. It led to a different and more intimate type of sports writing. In many ways, it’s a central theme of “Scribe.”

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