January 03, 2012

Once you get Jim Huber's voice in your head, you can never get it out.

Who would want to?

Huber wrote lullabies that could open your eyes.

His essays on sports and life were short. But never rushed.

And, before I even Googled him the night he passed, as soon as we learned he had died at the age of 67, I knew that no matter what sample of his work the Internet giant's algorithm spun out, I would feel like I was learning something nobody else had ever conveyed.

Golf was Huber's main beat for many years. He saw way beyond the fairway.

So when a 22-year-old Irishman named Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open -- just two months after self-destructing in the final round of the Masters -- Huber captured the magnitude of the comeback.

"There comes a moment -- and you'll remember where you were forever -- when the golf world shifts just a bit -- and a new order steps up. It came when Tiger Woods won the '97 Masters, by a dozen shots. It came at Congressional Country Club -- this Father's Day Sunday -- when Rory McIlroy charged through the golfing void and made U.S. Open history."

Huber brought a sense of history and perspective to fast breaking news.

So you can imagine what he did when aiming to capture a moment in history.

The retirement of Shaquille O'Neal:

"It is almost as if Marvel Comics had commissioned its own basketball creation all those many years ago. Make him huge -- larger than anything we'd ever seen. And menacing. But paint a subtle gleam in his eyes. Drop his voice to a whisper. And give it a kind of rapper's drama. And develop for him one of the most astonishing records in NBA history. ... There, in a kind of comic book flesh and blood, you have a giant for the ages."

Jim Huber always slipped in fascinating unexpected details as if they were written in big bold letters spoken softly. On Hall of Fame basketball coach Phil Jackson retiring after toying with retirement twice before:

"He has repeatedly said that this would be the end. And the son of two ministers wouldn't lie to us now, would he."

I chatted with Huber in the hallways of CNN enough to know that what he loved about sports was the human dimension, not the statistical one.

Huber would weave numbers into his story when they illustrated a point worth remembering. In the Jackson piece, he simply pointed out that under Jackson the Bulls and Lakers won 70 percent of their regular-season games and 69 percent of their playoff appearances.

"Phil Jackson, taken at his word," wrote Huber last May, "has sat at the end of an NBA bench now for the very last time. And the game will have a void like none since Red Auerbach stepped away decades ago."

Speaking of voids.

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