At the knee of the master

Dec 9, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Other than my parents, Roone Arledge was the most important person in my life.
When I dropped out of Yale in July 1967 to take this incredible opportunity-the newly created position of Olympics researcher for ABC Sports in preparation for the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble-ABC Sports had 28 employees. I was its first Olympics researcher, a job that was born of Roone’s absolute fixation on storytelling and his worries that Olympics were not inclusive of mainstream sports the American public normally followed, so we really had to let U.S. audiences get to know the athletes up close and personal.
I was given a credit card and $125 a week and I literally roamed the world for the next year and a half, writing mini-bios on these athletes, none of whom were known to this country. We weren’t doing “Up Close and Personals” much at that point. I was just one of the early instruments of his development of all that.
I was always aware that I was in the presence of a superior intellect, and, more important, someone who had the ability to translate that intellect into true creativity. He was always reading great books, magazines, the newspapers of the world, watching countless movies and documentaries and listening to music. He was always filling his brain. This was one of the reasons, more so than any other executive in the production field who ever lived, he literally could come in at the last minute and fix almost anything, because it all just came together for him so instantaneously. His brain was so developed.
He wasn’t lazy. He usually didn’t arrive at work until lunchtime or just after. He also was the last person to leave. On the 28th floor of the old ABC headquarters building at 1330 Avenue of the Americas, there was only one men’s room and it was in the middle of the floor. In mid- or late afternoon, there was always a lot of traffic around the men’s room in hopes that you could captivate him on his way in or out. Some people thought he cultivated all that air of inaccessibility. His greatest skill as a communicator was that when he gave you his time, you had a sense that it was boundaryless. You might not have been able to talk to him for three or four months but then, all of a sudden, he would make you feel like he had dropped everything in the world and you’d get him for three hours.
Dick Ebersol joined ABC Sports in 1967 and worked there with Mr. Arledge. He is currently chairman of NBC Sports.