If you hang around a subject long enough," says SI senior writer Ralph Wiley, "you'll get something that makes your story work."
Wiley's profile of Thomas Hearns in this week's issue (page 48) is eloquent testimony to the truth of that statement. Wiley has been hanging around Hearns—off and on—for close to a decade. The two first met in 1980, when Wiley was a columnist for the Oakland Tribune and Hearns was a 21-year-old welterweight from Detroit still looking for his first title shot. In the years since, Wiley moved on to SI—joining us in 1982—and Hearns collected five championship belts. But Wiley continues to find new facets to the fighter. "He's intriguing," says Wiley, who last wrote about Hearns in the November 9. 1987, issue. "Nothing captures the imagination like a guy with a big punch."
When Hearns began preparing for his long-awaited rematch with Ray Leonard, it seemed a good time for Wiley to start hanging around again. "I was in Detroit, talking to Tommy's mother, Lois," Wiley says, "when she happened to mention something about Tommy's 106-year-old grandfather, and suddenly bells went off in my head." The resulting interviews with Henry Tallie gave Wiley the personal history with which to frame his account of a champion facing what may be his last big battle.
While Wiley has done stories for SI on a variety of sports, clearly it is boxing that interests him most. His first book, Serenity: A Boxing Memoir, published by Henry Holt, will be out in July. It features such prominent ring figures as Mike Tyson, Leonard and, of course, Hearns, as well as a number of lesser-known warriors, including Wiley's own Uncle Charles, who fought as Charlie Boy Taylor and had a 3-2 record as a professional middleweight. "Charles was my favorite uncle," says Wiley. "He was the slowest to anger and the quickest to laugh. And he had ability. It gave him what I call serenity, and that's where the title comes from."
Wiley has several nonboxing projects in the works too, including a book of essays. Why Black People Tend to Shout; a novel, Fairy Tale; and a play entitled Cardinals, which, despite Wiley's sports background, has nothing to do with St. Louis baseball or Phoenix football—the title refers to cardinal sins.
Yet even with his divergent interests, Wiley is unlikely to stop hanging around boxers. "When I finished Serenity, I thought: That's it, I'm purged," he says. "But that's ridiculous. You can't purge the fascination of boxing. I'm sure I'll keep on writing about it."
Wiley has been stalking Hearns for almost a decade.