A poignant portrait revealed in An Accidental Sportswriter
Robert Lipsyte never wanted to be a sportswriter, never mind one for
But in 1957 he took a summer job as a copyboy in the
A couple years later, when Lipsyte told Talese he was quitting the
It came down to frustration and impatience. By that point, Lipsyte was taking graduate courses at Columbia, writing features stories for the J School newspaper, and feeling underappreciated and overworked in his night job at the Times.
Talese seemed to get it. Rather than trying to talk him into staying, Talese offered to give him $5,000 in exchange for 10 percent of Lipsyte's future earnings as a freelance writer over the next 10 years.
"I lost my breath," writes Lipsyte, who was making $35 a week. "He was offering me three times my annual salary. He believed in me."
No one had ever shown that kind of confidence in Lipsyte. It convinced him to stick around. He got elevated to reporter and in 1964 he got his big opportunity.
"Ali was my first Big Story," Lipsyte writes. "He put my name on Page 1."
But even this was an accident. In 1964, Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) was scheduled to fight Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title. Liston was a 7-1 favorite. The
The Beatles were there for a photo-op with Ali, whom Lipsyte was waiting to interview. When the young reporter introduced himself to the Beatles, they mocked him. "John shook my hand gravely, saying he was Ringo, and introduced me to Paul, who said he was John." Then they ignored Lipsyte. When he asked their prediction on the fight, all four Beatles said Liston would destroy the challenger.
Then the locker room door flew open. "Hello there, Beatles!" Ali roared.
Lipsyte observed as the Beatles playfully lined up and then fell like dominoes when Clay hit them with a soft punch. It resulted in a timeless, classic photograph. Lipsyte had no idea he was watching history in the making.
But he figured it out when he witnessed Clay dominate Liston, taunting the heavily favored champ and then mocking the press when Liston refused to come out of his corner for the seventh round. "Eat your words!" Clay shouted to the ringside media. Clay had arrived.
So had Lipsyte's moment. He banged out his first front-page, above-the-fold story. This was his lede: "Incredibly, the loudmouthed, bragging, insulting youngster had been telling the truth all along. Cassius Clay won the world heavyweight title tonight when a bleeding Sonny Liston, his left shoulder injured, was unable to answer the bell for the seventh round."
And just like that, a sports journalism career was launched. The
He did more than compete. Within three years of covering the Ali-Liston fight, Lipsyte became a
Some of the funniest passages come from long, close relationship with Howard Cosell, whom he refers to as Uncle Howard. After Lipsyte published his book
Lipsyte isn't the type. Cosell was. He grabbed Lipsyte's arm, dragged him inside and bellowed: "I am standing here with Bob-bee Lip-syte, the greatest sportswriter of ... our ... time. If you buy his new book,
But I never read Lipsyte as a great sportswriter. Sportswriters cover what goes on between the lines. Lipsyte didn't care much about that. He lived outside the lines, where the questions and stories that matter more reside. That's where he had the homefield advantage over other scribes. His irreverent questions and bold stories forced us all to reexamine the way we look at sports and life. His new book does the same thing, only on a much grander scale.