Welcome to the Hall, Jim
His excellence and longevity put him on the shortest of lists as blow-by-blow “TBE.”
Jim Lampley, ace descriptor for HBO, first got into boxing when blowhard par excellence Howard Cosell threw up his hands after seeing one too many mismatches on air. His loss, our gain.
Lampley, age 66, the talking pride of Hendersonville, N.C., was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday. But of course, he called a show on Saturday, the Nicholas Walters/Felix Verdejo Top Rank Promotions card at the Madison Square Garden Theater. He grabbed some shut eye and hustled his way to Canastota and beamed with pride as his beloved aunt and uncle saw him get welcomed into the spot which signals the immensity of your mark on the sport.
Followers of the Sweet and Savage Science know Lampley is unafraid, incapable of not wearing his heart on his sleeve. The connection between his heart and his brain and his tear ducts are strong. Thus thoughts of dad Jim and mom Peggy Lampley were front and center in his head. Elder Jim was Hendersonville’s WWII hero, a decorated bomber pilot, and died at age 35 in 1954. Peggy succumbed to a heart condition in 1985.
Here, for your reading pleasure, is the speech Lampley gave at Canastota:
Thank you, Ed [Brophy, Hall of Fame director]. Thanks very much. I am going to keep this relatively brief because I so strongly believe that this place and this moment should belong to the people who are courageous enough to step inside the ropes, both to entertain us and to teach us important lessons about life. Boxing is a canvas on which an endless stream of artists paint indelible images. I get the privilege of knowing them and attempting to describe what they do and, just for example, I wouldn’t be standing here were it not for the memories Riddick Bowe and Prince Naseem [Hamed] provided. I might not have appealingly described them if I hadn’t been watching and listening when Ray Mancini was delivering incomparable thrills. So I am specifically grateful to all of them for the chance to be here today. I’m also grateful to Nigel Collins, who has been a friend and a boxing mentor to me for 30 years, to Steve Smoger, who has given me his perspective on refereeing, and to Rafael Mendoza, who always made it a professional pleasure to deal with his fighters.
I was introduced to boxing at the age of six in 1955 by my mother in Hendersonville, North Carolina. My father had died of cancer the year before. In December 1955, my mother took me to a Christmas party at a friend’s home, marched me out of the living room down a hallway to the hostess’ bedroom, turned on a black-and-white television set and told me, “Sit down; you are going to watch the ‘Friday Night Fights,’ Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Bobo Olson. This is what you and your father would be doing if he were still here.”
Don Dunphy called the fight. Robinson scored a knockout win. I was enthralled and immediately began familiarizing myself with Carmen Basilio, Gene Fullmer, Yama Bahama, Dick Tiger, Joey Giardello, Hurricane Carter, all the star television fighters of that era. I watched all the Friday Night Fights for years, then, in 1960, I watched the Rome Olympics and fell in love with Cassius Clay. All through the 1960s and into the ’70s, boxing was my favorite sport. I went to junior high school and high school in Miami and, a couple of times, my mother drove me 25 miles from our home out in the swamp to Miami Beach so I could see the Fifth Street Gym. I shook hands with Angelo Dundee.
Then, in 1974, I won a talent hunt for a gimmick job standing on the sidelines of college football games with a microphone and that launched my somewhat accidental network sportscasting career. I was working for ABC, which meant a show called ‘Wide World of Sports’ would afford me the chance to cover every conceivable sport, right up to wrist wrestling and barrel jumping, over the next decade. Every one but one anyway and that one was boxing because Howard Cosell called the fights. He worked alone and it was his world, all his. Then, in 1982, following the Larry Holmes-Tex Cobb fight, Howard abdicated the microphone and after a few years of examining other options, the ABC executives asked me if I would call the fights. It was a propitious moment for someone to make his mark at ringside. The network was getting involved with a spectacular 19-year-old heavyweight prospect from upstate New York; his name was Mike Tyson.
I owe a lot to Mike. I called his first several exposures on ABC, with a boxing freak named Alex Wallau, who taught me in a professional way how to see fights, and when Mike went to HBO I eventually followed him there. I called his greatest victory, the knockout of Michael Spinks, and his most devastating loss, to Buster Douglas. He has always been a generous and loyal friend to me. But the most enduring heavyweight in our business is HBO, and it is mostly because of the strength and intelligence of that network’s commitment to boxing that I have this privilege. Because HBO has been so loyal and supportive to me, especially [CEO] Richard Plepler, [programming head] Mike Lombardo, and the entire sports division staff, you can scarcely name a prominent fighter in the past thirty years whose fights I didn’t call. Last year’s induction class was a perfect example – Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Joe Calzaghe. I called all their most important fights. I have been helped and supported at ringside by Larry Merchant, George Foreman, Ray Leonard, Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones, Emanuel Steward, Andre Ward, Bernard Hopkins and Max Kellerman, and every one of those men is either already enshrined here or someday will be. I have experienced a unique and incomparable assortment of thrills, and I look forward to many more. And please allow me to campaign for one sentence: Harold Lederman belongs here too.
I’ve saved the most important thank yous for last. Because of the indescribable devotion and willful effort of my amazing wife Debra, the entire Lampley clan with whom I grew up in the Blue Ridge have traveled to be here to share this with me. That includes my cousin John and his wife Claudia, cousin Pete and his wife Cindy, cousin Bill and his girlfriend Sharon, cousins Margie and Reed, and most importantly my 94 year old uncle Doctor Bill Lampley and his wife, my very beloved aunt Mary Ann. My mom and dad are long since gone, but having Bill and Mary Ann here from Hendersonville is the living equivalent of having them here, so you can imagine what this means to me. I also owe gratitude to my four children and my three stepchildren who have endured the constant travel all these years. And Debra’s brother Dave and niece Jennifer, and my dear friend John Bracken, who are also here today. Thank you again and all my love to you Debra Lampley, you are quite incredible at being my wife.
And thanks to all of you, to the Brophys and the rest of the staff here for the whole weekend of hospitality, most of which I missed in service to Nicholas Walters and Felix Verdejo. One or the other or both of them might be here someday. That’s what it is all about: The people who have the courage to enter the ring. My eternal gratitude to all of them for bringing me here.