Frank Deford missed his Princeton graduation in 1962 to start work as a researcher in the baseball department of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. He soon began writing and was quickly accepted as The Kid, "allowed to step into the penumbra of the inner circle, to sniff the aroma of wisdom and humor and institutional savoir faire...."
This is where his memoirs, Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter, begin, at liftoff of the Mad Men 1960s, and Deford marches on through every great sports story (Frank was there) and personality (Frank knew them) from then until now, pulling back the curtain on not just antiquated racial and sexual mores but also expense-account shenanigans and outrageous behavior at mythic media saloons. Tall and graceful, with the easy coordination of a natural, Deford looked as if he could play (as Frank actually did for stories in a number of sports), which helped unlock a professional camaraderie and friendship with athletes and coaches, especially during the bush years of the early NBA (page 72).
On March 22, Deford added the 2012 Red Smith Award (Frank is the first magazine-writer recipient) to a long list of honors he's received since those beginnings. He's been named Sportswriter of the Year six times, voted Magazine Writer of the Year twice by the Washington Journalism Review and been elected to the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. Aside from his 50 years of brilliant articles for this magazine, he has written 16 books and appears regularly on National Public Radio and HBO Sports.
The recognition of Deford's work in defining sports as the clearest reflection of American culture keeps coming. Next week, on April 26 at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, the University of Texas College of Communication will host its third Frank Deford Lecture as part of its annual Symposium on Sports and Society.
In this week's excerpt from his memoirs, Deford recalls how the media-starved NBA once gave sportswriters courtside seats at its games. Having a good view of the action is one thing; turning it into a window on what a basketball game can actually mean is something else (what Frank always does).
MEL LEVINE (MCDONELL)
NANCY KESSLER (DEFORD)
After a half century at SI, Deford, shown in the magazine's library in 1981, still stands atop the game.