An excerpt of my latest column for Poynter on Bob Ryan:
Ryan also struck an immediate bond with Larry Bird. John Havlicek asked him to assist on his autobiography. He calls Dave Cowens “the most interesting character I ever encountered in sports.” The former Boston center asked Ryan to help write his retirement announcement.
Ryan immersed himself in the beat by closely monitoring practices and expanding his education over discussions with players and coaches. He earned their credibility and respect. He treasures a statement in which Bird once said, “Bob Ryan could be a coach.”
“Baseball and basketball are my passions,” Ryan said. “I’ve always felt very comfortable in that world. I always was able to convey an enthusiasm and an eagerness to listen and learn. I couldn’t get enough.”
Another key, Ryan said, was doing his homework in getting to know the people he covered.
“I always was well-versed on their backgrounds,” Ryan said. “I tried to ask question that reflect that. It is a way to open the door. This information is available to everyone. Frankly, I don’t think everyone does it.”
Ryan also added another essential element to his success.
“The secret is to cover good teams,” Ryan said.
Indeed, it helped Ryan immensely that several of the Celtics teams he covered were among the best in NBA history. In his 2014 autobiography “Scribe,” Ryan admitted that he always wanted those teams to win.
Ryan took some heat for that perspective since it is a sharp disconnect with the sportswriter mantra of “no cheering in the press box.” Sports Illustrated even said Ryan “blurred the line between fan and journalist.”
Ryan insists that’s not the case. He just feels better teams produce more compelling stories.
“I don’t understand why (beat writers) don’t want their teams to win,” Ryan said. “Life is better when the team is winning. I don’t believe there is such a thing as being objective. Everyone writes subjectively. It’s about the fairness in everything you right. That’s what matters: Being fair.”