“Legendary sports writer Frank Deford has died,” CBS News and the Associated Press report, adding “He was 78.”
The story continues, “His wife, Carol Deford, says that he died Sunday in Key West, Florida.
“Deford was a six-time Sports Writer of the Year and a member of the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He wrote with a lyrical elegance and was best known for his work at Sports Illustrated and on National Public Radio. He retired this month from NPR’s “Morning Edition” after 37 years as a contributor.
“He was the first sports writer awarded the National Humanities Medal. In 2013, President Barack Obama honored him for ‘transforming how we think about sports.’ Deford called the award the one he is most proud of. Deford was a prolific book author and contributed commentaries to HBO’s ‘Real Sports’ program.”
Notes The Hollywood Reporter, “[Deford’s] most personal work was 1984’s ‘Alex: The Life of a Child.’ Deford penned it in memory of his daughter, who died of cystic fibrosis in 1980. It was adapted into a 1986 ABC telefilm with Craig T. Nelson portraying Deford and Bonnie Belinda his wife. Deford was a lifelong advocate in the fight against the disease, serving as chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation from 1982 until 1999.”
THR also says, “Undoubtedly, Deford’s most ambitious and frustrating undertaking was The National. Describing it as the biggest gamble of his life, the five-times-a-week tabloid was envisioned as America’s ultimate sports publication.”
The paper, started in January, 1990, closed in June, 1991.
To read the piece that Deford considered his best, “The Boxer and the Blonde,” written in 1985 for Sports Illustrated, please click here.
Here’s Deford’s farewell commentary for NPR, which he broadcast earlier this month, on May 3rd:
In 2012, Deford wrote the book “Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter.”
He closed that memoir with this story about Red Auerbach, the fabled coach of the Boston Celtics, in the 1960s. At that time, Deford noted, the NBA didn’t have a national TV contract, “but during the playoff finals, for the Sunday afternoon games, one of the networks would show up, cherry-picking on the cheap. So it was that when the Celtics beat the Lakers again to win another championship, a little production assistant rushed down onto the court and buttonholed Auerbach.
“I had already left my seat at the courtside press table and was standing there with Auerbach, as he brandished his victory cigar for the crowd. Breathlessly, the TV boy asked Red to come up to the television booth immediately. Red looked down on the kid, and disdain filled his face. ‘Where were you in February?’ he asked, waving him off with his cigar.
“The little fellow was speechless, totally discombobulated.
“‘I said,’ Red went on, more stridently, ‘where the fuck were you in February?’ Then, gloriously, he threw his other arm around me. ‘I’m going with my writers,’ he declared, and we marched off the court that way, Red and I, together.
“It was the last hurrah for the press. After that, it was the media.”
Frank Deford on CNN in 2012