Saturday, 6 July 2019


I was saddened to hear of the death of Jared Lorenzon, 'The Hefty Lefty', former Kentucky and New York Giants quarterback, aged only 38. His nickname suited him well: he was oversized for a QB, never in great shape, and threw with his left-hand. He was a pretty good player, though, and in a way it's sad his legacy will be built around his weight.

You know players by their nicknames; legendary players often attract more than one. Ted Williams was 'The Kid', “The Splendid Splinter” and “Teddy Ballgame”. George Ruth was 'Babe', “The Bambino” and “The Sultan Of Swat”. Now these are not always real 'nicknames', in the sense that they were coined by sportswriters and hung round the necks of the players: I doubt any of Ted's teammates ever called him “Splinter”. In fact, 'Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, 'The Yankee Clipper', was called 'Dago' by his friends. But the most fitting of those names usually stick. And they are usually, but not always, affectionate.

The Babe was never called 'Beer Belly Babe', not even in an era of derogatory nicknames in baseball, which boasted guys like Fatty Fitzsimmons, Leo the Lip, Tomato Face Cullop, Schnozz Lombardi, Losing Pitcher Mulcahy, Ducky Wucky Medwick, KiKi Cuyler (he was a stutterer) and Grandma Murphy.

Lorenzon, who was listed at 6-4 280 pounds with the Giants, didn't mind The Hefty Lefty. It had a certain ring to it, and wasn't insulting. The sportswriters came up with The Pillsbury Throwboy, which is clever, but trying to hard (for my non-American readers, Pillsbury were America's biggest millers—you can see their huge facility on the Mississippi when you're in the Twin Cities—and their mascot was a pugdy character made of dough, a sort of American version of the Michelin Man, called the Pillsbury Doughboy). The media also tried The Abominable Throwman, The Round Mound Of Touchdown, Mobile Agile Hostile & Hungry, and the other one I thought worked, though it's an inside joke “He Ate Me”.

It was a bit much, especially since Lorenzon was a pretty good player. I saw him when Gnat Coombs and I went to Giants pre-season camp for Channel 5 in 2007, before they appeared at Wembley and won Lorenzon a Super Bowl ring. I had experienced a similar feeling before: when I stayed around UCF in Orlando after a Claymores/Rhine Fire scrimmage, to watch their team practice. 'Who's that D lineman throwing the ball?' I asked. “That's our QB, Daunte Culpepper”. Lorenzon was even bigger, though not in as good shape. He was a bit like Byron Leftwich as well. But where Culpepper had a pretty tight delivery, and Leftwich a very long one, Lorenzon's was anything but consistent. Partly this was because as he put on weight, he threw less with his lower body and partly because he was remarkably athletic (he'd been an excellent high school basketball player, a good baseball player, and Mr Football in Kentucky his senior year) and wound up throwing on the run a lot (the fact Kentucky was usually overmatched against D lines in the SEC didn't help). He spent four years with the Giants, and Eli Manning credited his help, as a pass rusher in practice, in developing his escapability, which served him well on the famous helmet catch by David Tyree.

I liked the fact that Lorenzon wore number 22 in college and high school; more quarterbacks should follow in the footsteps of Bobby Layne, John Hadl and Doug Flutie.
He played his first year at Kentucky for Hal Mumme, who developed the 'air raid' offense, but I don't think he was a perfect fit for that. Though if you remember Shane Boyd from NFL Europe, Lorenzon played ahead of him.

After the Super Bowl year the Giants cut him. He was cut by the Colts in 2008 and saw his team, the Kentucky Horsemen, in Arena League 2 fold in 2009. He retired and started coaching at his old high school. But in 2011 he came out of retirement as the General Manager of the Northern Kentucky River Monsters of the Ultimate Indoor League. He soon went back to playing, and was named the league's MVP. He became the first player I know of to go from MVP of a league to being its commissioner, but again he left the desk, and in 2013 played for the Owensboro Rage of the Continental Indoor League until the team ran out of money and folded before the end of the season. Look at these leagues and teams this way: If Justified had a football league....

In 2014 he went back to the River Monsters, who were now also playing in the Continental League. You have to imagine him, probably pushing 350, in the kind of tacky gaudy unis those teams wore, scrambling like the Lorenzon of old as they won they first game, against the Bluegrass Warhorses. His play became a brief sensation (is there any other kind?) on the internet. The next week, he was scrambling again, versus the Erie Explosion, and when he was tackled he broke his leg.

In retrospect, that was the worst thing that could have happened. Not only was his football career, such as it was, ended forever, so to was his mobility and exercise, and his weight ballooned quickly. He did some local radio, he sold 'Throwboy' Tee-shirts, he made you-tube videos about his efforts to lose weight, which went over 500 pounds at its peak. ESPN made a short film about his efforts to lose weight, and he was down to around 400 at one point.

He died from kidney and heart problems, exacerbated by an infection, which may have been down to kidney failure. Obviously his size put great strain on his body. It's so easy to suggest other scenarios by which he might have been more successful early, been put under the care of dieticians, even had a fuller NFL career. Go back and look at his college tape and think about how he might have played in an environment where he wasnt under constant pressure, or if Mumme had stayed four years with him (he had three head coaches in four seasons). Watch some of the later videos: he's a personable, sincere kid, even into his late 30s, never acting like someone whose body is being pushed to its core.

But Lorenzon will always be the Hefty Lefty, and for a short time, that was a hell of a thing to be.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

AN ACCEPTABLE LOSS: A Slow Burn Political Thriller

An Acceptable Loss opens with Elizabeth 'Libby' Lamm arriving for her first day teaching at a prestigious Chicago university, being met by demonstrators whose placards talk about death and genocide. Lamm is former security advisor at the highest levels of the government, and through flashbacks we see her involved in a major decision about Middle East policy, arguing with her boss, Rachel Burke, a senior politician, to whom she is counseling caution. Lamm is now living alone in a large house, has no computer, no email, no phone. Each night she works by the light of one lamp, writing in longhand on yellow legal pads. Although she has been brought in by the head of the department, many of her colleagues and staff are stand-offish. She is also being stalked by a student, Martin, who seems increasing obsessed with her.

From this beginning, writer/director Joe Chappelle has structured a timely political thriller, whose presentation, a slow drip of flashbacks and minimal exposition, builds up to some surprising conclusions. It's an intelligently shot film: with a contrast between the warm colours of the campus, the empty shadows of Lamm's life, and the darker, harder colder colours (much of it in washed out balck and white) of her history in power. But its the structure of the movie that is the challenge, because information is deliberately withheld, even relatively simple facts, so that you spend time wondering exactly what position Burke held, and holds. It is revealed, as is the history of Lamm's involvement with events that have sparked the protests and reactions, but it does come slowly. It's also got elements of science fiction film, an alternate history story, in which little references to events that remain unexplained take on signficance, and it's interesting to consider those flashback sections, and their style, in reference to sf film, which makes a certain amount of sense given Chappelle's background in sf and horror (including the TV series The Fringe--he also directed episodes of The Wire).

Once things start to be revealed, the pace picks up, and as you might expect the story turns into a thriller of sorts, with protagonists on the run, the government closing in on them, and an ending full of twists. It works exceptionally well: the payoff final 15 minutes put what has come before into context, and if we have been concentrated too much on Lamm's seclusion and loneliness, the personal story now makes chilling sense. The ending contains a couple of surprises, though one is telegraphed, and the final one is almost a cliché of conspiracy thrillers. But it leaves you contemplating the slow-build up that preceded it, and rather than exciting, you realise you have just seen a thoughtful film.

Of course the movie is built around Libby, and Tika Sumpter's playing is almost strong enough to carry it off. She seems to have internalised the character's withdrawal, and perhaps overplays her underplaying, if that makes sense, but especially in the scenes with her father (Clarke Peters) a newspaper editor whose career appears to have been stymied by her actions, she shines. Ben Tavassoli as her stalker is full of smouldering intensity, without any moderating control, which makes an almost comical contrast with his 'sensitive' gay roommate Jordan (Alex Weisman). There's also a nice little cameo scene-stealing by David Eigenberg as a drunken professor who calls out Lamm at a cocktail party.

But the real star is Jamie Lee Curtis as Burke. And at this point a few small spoilers will introduce themselves into the review, so stop if that would bother you.

We don't know Burke's position in the flashbacks—but it turns out to be Vice President, to a President (Rex Linn) who was a college football coach, who for example has no idea where Homs is when they are discussing Syria. She is obviously the adult in that room. Before we learn she's the VP, I was measuring how close to Hillary Clinton her performance was, perhaps she is indeed Secretary of State, but of course the administration, prima face, is Republican. Nevertheless, I think Curtis gets a good bit of the Clintonian dichotomy of care and ruthlessness which made her such a divisive candidate. But the presence of the good ol' boy president means we could think of Lamm as a Condoleeza Rice characater, or indeed, in the way her intelligence is, in the end, used, and the way in which she lets herself be compromised, also a Colin Powell. It might be a mistake to read too many direct parallels into the story, but even the suggestion is enough to make it resonate with the present day.

In the movie's real time, Burke is now the President, and the Clinton paradigm is even more telling, and here we see her Chief of Staff, Adrian, who was once Lamm's lover and now has risen with his boss, as a key. He's played with the kind of menace that defines such characters and Jeff Hephner does a good job with it. In one of the film's last twists, it mixes character with conspiracy, personal and political chillingly well.

An Acceptable Loss, like its title, is ambiguous (its original title, The Pages, was much less effective) and refers to many losses. Although many will find the opening sections too slow, or the final act too short, or not chasey enough, in the end those ambiguities stay with the viewer long after the film finishes, and to be thinking about them means it has been successful.

An Acceptable Loss is available on Digital Download from 15 July

Note: This review will also appear at Crime Time (

Wednesday, 26 June 2019


Three years ago, former MI6 agent Paul Sampson was hired by his old employers to track down a 13 year old Syrian refugee who might possess key data about an ISIS attack on Europe. He met and fell in love with aid worker Anastasia Christakos while tracking Naji Touma, and the three of them were rescued by in Macedonia by billionaire Denis Hisami, who owed Sampson a huge factor for finding his sister's fate.

Now, their affair having burned out, Anastasia is married to Hisami, and she has been kidnapped in Italy and disappeared. The motive does not appear to be ransom, but something else that involves Hisami's money and investments, and the operatives he hires to track her down bring Sampson on board, though he would be impossible to keep from joining the search anyway. And he needs to, because all of a sudden, Hisami's American empire is under threat, and he's being accused of being a Kurdish terrorist in his past life.

As with Firefly, the novel that detailed the pursuit of Naji Touma, the core of Henry Porter's new thriller is a chase with multiple pursuers who may be as much in conflict with each other as with the kidnappers. Like the previous book, White Hot Silence does pick up its pace as the various agents near each other, while in the background the question of who and why keeps the reader guessing. It's a complicated tale and like its predecessor it does allow for a little deus ex machina from characters who just happen to be in the right spot with the right talents, and a certain randomness in exactly which mobile phones can and can't be traced instantly, but everything is moving so fast that hardly matters. What matters more is the resourcefulness of the characters, not least the kidnapped Anastasia and the now more mature Touma, who is a computer genius of the first order. And of course, what will happen if Paul does find Anastasia. When it all comes together in Estonia, the denoument contains a finish as suprising as it is logical.

But beneath all this action, Porter is making a very serious serious point, which ought to resonate with readers in Brexit Britain at a time when, as I write this, Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson's links to the American nationalist strategist and former Trump campaign savant Steve Bannon have been revealed and attracted virtually attention in the mainstream media. What follows might be a bit of a spoiler...

Anastasia's kidnapping has been arranged to prevent Hasami's revealing money laundering taking place on behalf of right-wing, Russian-backed, populist nationalist groups around Europe. It would be nice to have had the operation explained more fully by
one of the characters nearer the top who needed to play Bond Villain, but the task is left to one of the actual kidnapping thugs, Kirill, an ex FSB interrogator who wants to discuss Huckleberry Finn with his captive.

As Kirill explains to Anastasia: “now Americans have lost their ability to see good or bad.They've turned on their country, their greatest enemies are their fellow citizens—imagine that! They are fearful; they see plots where there are none, their information is corrupted and no one is able to form a sensible conclusion about best interests of people. And now we watch them abandon principles of Constitution. It's like a dream for us.

The people are soft and idle and now they cannot tell difference between up and down. It was not espinoage that destablised the US. It was the vanity and weakness of its people. We played on their weaknesses and they did the rest. Same in UK.”

It was nice Kirill threw in those last three words, in case we missed his vodka-fuelled point, and he doesn't need to throw in lots of details for us to be able to connect the dots.
Porter was making similar serious points in his earlier novels, about terrorism in Empire State (2003) and the roots of the new Russia in Brandenburg (2005), which was set at the fall of the Berlin Wall and featured a young KGB colonel named Putin. Both those books featured Porter's previous spy character, Robert Harland, and Harland makes his reappearance as the story reaches its climax, as he has just happened to retire to Tallinn, where he can provide some of the deus ex machina mentioned earlier. In any event, it is nice to see him back.

Harland is another link to MI6, and one of the most interesting of White Hot Silence's subplots is the return of Sampson's MI6 nemeses, Peter Nyman and Sonia Fell, agents who seem to have a different agenda, and in this case seem to be working their own game. It's another good thing Paul has his own extremely friendly MI6 source. Nyman and Fell's game ought to be part of the sequel to this novel, because there is much left unresolved, not least the futures of Paul, Anastasia and Denis Hisami. One wonders how much current affairs might impact that one.

White House Silence by Henry Porter
Quercus, £16.99, ISBN 9781787470804

note: this review will also appear at Crime Time (

Thursday, 20 June 2019


NOTE: This review contains some small spoilers

In August of 1973 a Swede called Jan-Erik Olsson, having skipped out on his temporary release from prison, stepped into a bank in Stockholm's Normalmstorg,originally pretending to be American, and, armed with a sub-machine gun, took four people (three women, one man) hostage. He demanded money, a getaway Ford Mustang, and the release of his former cell-mate, Clark Olofsson. The hostage crisis lasted six days, most of which the captors and hostages spent in a bank vault: the authorities had given Olsson what he wanted, but refused to allow him and Olofsson to take the hostages with them when they left. Finally, when the captors surrendered, the hostages protected them as they left the vault together, they refused to testify against them, and seemed to have identified with them, if not been seduced by them. This phenomenon stunned the Swedish authorities. A Swedish psychologist coined it Normalmstorg Syndrome, which the rest of the world now calls Stockholm Syndrome.

I paid particular attention to the story at the time because I had just returned to America from my first visit to Europe, much of which time had been spent meeting my relatives in Sweden. I noted at the time that Olofsson was kept in Kalmar Prison, which is just across the Olandsbron from where many of my family lived and I remember wondering then and wondered now exactly how they got him up to Stockholm so quickly.

Canadian writer/director Robert Budreau went back to a contemporary account in The New Yorker as the basis for his screenplay, and his version, originally called Stockholm when it premiered at Tribeca last year, but was retitled The Captor (neither title is great, to be honest), is a slimmed down version of a story which plays somewhere between farce and thriller, comedy and tragedy. It recalls Dog Day Afternoon, another film based on a real 'robbery' which took place a year before the Normalmstorg one, where the real purpose of the robbery wasn't simply to rob a bank. There's that sense of the robbers being in over their head, that the emotions behind their action overpowers the logic of the situation, and this is what Budreau works on to 'explain' as it were, the nature of Stockholm Syndrome.

In The Captor, it's less a collective feeling born of a long stay in a confined place under horrible conditions, and more of two individual love stories. The obvious one is between Olsson, here called Lars Nystrom (all the names were changed as many of the people involved are still alive) and played by Ethan Hawke and one of the hostages, here called Bianca and played by Noomi Rapace. The story puts Lars in contrast to Bianca's boring husband, and it's not too subtly shown that Lars' plan to shoot her, while she wears a bullet-proof vest, is a sort of climax, as it were, of their growing attraction. But there is also the relationship of Lars and his partner, here called Gunnar and played by Mark Strong. It's a strong enough bond that the police chief accuses Lars of being 'queer' and Bianca later asks him if he 'loves' Gunnar.

This focus renders the other two hostages almost superfluous, which is a shame because Bea Santos as Klara in particular tries to convey feelings about what is going on, without much scope for that. We wind up seeing the bonding between the five (the number of captives has been reduced from the actual four captives) which comes about primarily because they come to believe that the kidnappers care more about their safety than either the police or the politicians, who have bigger points to make with them as the pawns. The key scene is a phone call between Bianca and Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, who chilly detachment contrasts sharply with Lars' undirected passion.

What saves this conflict of themes, between a love story and a syndrome story, from sinking the film is the quality of the acting. Once you realise Hawke is playing a Swede playing an American playing a Swede, it all makes sense, and he does a tremendous job of bringing out Lars child-like energy and lack of judgement. Rapace is brilliant, able to convey building emotion and internal conflict with small looks behind the oversized glasses which were the fashion in Sweden in those days. Strong has to be the straight man for Hawke, but he carries off an ambiguous position well (he had been offered his freedom if he 'mediated' a solution--eventually Swedish courts found Olofsson not guilty and he was released from prison). There is also a star turn by Canadian actor Christopher Heyerdahl (cousin of the Norwegian explorer) as police chief Mattsson. He plays a role which is sometimes even farcical and sometimes brutal with a precise control that reminded me constantly of Max Von Sydow, who would have been cast in that role had a Swedish version been made at the time, a la Dog Day Afternoon. His performance is the real anchor against which the chaos of the hostage situation plays.

In the end, of course, the captors were captured and the captives protected them so the police could not hurt them. Olofsson and his family later became friendly with Kristin Enmark (the 'Bianca' hostage who talked with Palme) and he went back to a life of crime. Janne Olsson married one of the many women who corresponded with him while he served his prison sentence, also returned to crime after his release, but when he decided to surrender to Swedish authorities discovered he was not wanted for anything. He and his family eventually settled in Thailand.

The film ends cutting between Bianca with her family on the beach, as if longing for something else, and a scene of her visiting Lars in prison, and with him in one of the rooms reserved for conjugal visits. The room has been referenced earlier in the film, but here their distance and silence suggests the longing is not for Lars at all, and one recalls her asking if Lars loves Gunnar. Hawke's character seems as confused about life as he was about bank robbing and hostage taking.

The Captor (aka Stockholm) is on release today

This review will also appear at Crime Time ( 

Wednesday, 19 June 2019


Max Collins' first published novel was The Broker, the first of three Quarry novels published in 1976 (originally, Quarry was part of his thesis at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, showing three thriller series could be set in an Iowans small town. A fourth novel followed in 1977, another in 1987, and then the character lay dormant until Hard Case began publishing new Quarry novels and reprinting the originals with new titles. Quarry is a former Marine sniper scarred by his Vietnam experience: he is in some ways a sociopath for whom killing is no big thing, but outwardly he is a normal small-city Iowan guy. He and The Broker also develop a new angle on killing: selling him to targeted victims to kill the hired killers targeting them. It's an interesting conceit, and one that allows Collins a certain leeway in the situations Quarry encounters.

Quarry's Climax is the thirteenth Quarry novel, and the set up is the epitome of Collins' attitude to Quarry. He's been hired to prevent the murder of Max Climer, controversial publisher of Climax Magazine, and sex entrepreneur in Memphis, 1975. The Broker has turned down a contract on Climer, because he's laundered money through Climax magazine, and the magazine is a huge success: its raunchiness challenging Playboy and Penthouse. So Quarry gets the job of keeping this sleazy tycoon alive.

Turns out Quarry, though feigning ignorance about Climax to The Broker, is a Climax subscriber, and actually reads the articles. Go figure. What he stumbles into in Memphis is a snake pit of family intrigue, with Climer's ex-wife, his brother and his daughter all jockeying for position within the empire, and all, along with any number of outsiders, having reasons to want to Max dead.

Quarry's style is a casual narration that sometimes becomes overly so: Quarry is not a writer, after all, so his narration reflects his background and his writing lapses into easy cliche. It's both a strength and a weakness, a particular strength if you can recall the milieu in which Quarry operates. The specific background of this one obviously starts with Larry Flynt and Hustler, but borrows too from Christie Hefner, Hugh's daughter who became a key to the Playboy empire. And for Quarry, it's a world of great temptation that doesn't always have to be resisted, even if he is, in the end, all business.

What Collins does for Quarry is to bring everything together neatly for Quarry (and the reader) in a way that makes killing merely part of the game. This isn't the hardness and tight focus of Richard Stark's Parker (interestingly, Collins' homage to Parker, Nolan, is never quite as coldly cold-blooded) but a unique blend of world-view and historical crime, though I'm not sure 1975 is far enough back yet to qualify for that category in the awards. But anyone who's read Collins' Nate Heller novels know how effective his settings can be. Quarry, for a killer, is a lot of fun, and you can tell Collins has fun writing him.  Readers will have fun as well. And the cover, by Robert McGinnis, with its echoes of Gold Medal paperbacks, is perfect. If you're old enough to recall 'mens mags' fondly, or young enough to want to, you ought to meet Quarry now.

Quarry's Climax by Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime £7.99 ISBN 9781785651809

This review will also appear at Crime Time (

Monday, 17 June 2019


All the obituaries led with the error. Bill Buckner, whose fielding mistake in Game Six of the 1986 World Series cost the Boston Red Sox their first championship since 1918, since the Curse Of The Bambino was laid on the team after the 1919 season, when their owner sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. It is not the way any of us would care to be remembered, and it is unfair, and I had a chance to see up close the effect it has on a life.

In 1993, I was Vice President for European Operations for Major League Baseball International, and I had Buck in Britain for some coaching clinics and a little baseball publicity. He was an affable guy, there to do a job, and did everything he was asked to do. He turned out to be a natural instructor, which is not always true of very talented athletes, and smooth with the media. To a point. We staged a PR event at Lillywhites in Piccadilly Circus, and a number of reporters from national papers turned out. Before we started, I took them aside and asked if they would refrain from concentrating on, or hounding Bill about, the '86 Series. The wound was too fresh, the story too familiar.

So of course a guy from the biggest Sunday paper, as things are going fine, asks a convoluted question about watching a movie where a baseball player drops an easy fly ball and loses the most important game for his team. Such a movie did not, to my rather extensive knowledge, exist. But this guy wanted Buck's opinion. I don't think the question bothered Bill as much as its transparent dishonesty did, and he gave a perfunctory answer and visibly lost his enthusiasm for the rest of the event.

I walked away with him afterwards, apologized in an ineffective way, and went off with him and the other coaches for a beer and lunch. I knew Buckner had received death threats immediately after the World Series. I knew he'd been abused by fans in New York. I knew the media would never let that be forgotten (and imagine how much worse it would have been in today's world of half-baked mockery on the internet). But this is the story I should have told him right then and there. Because I am a Red Sox fan, and in 1986 I was probably twice as fervent as I am today. Which is still pretty fervent. I followed them religiously, though from afar. But I was working for ABC Sports in 1986, and ABC had a WATS line with New York, which meant my counterpart and friend in New York, David Downs and I could throw in extensive Sox chat as we discussed business daily.

On the evening of Saturday October 25, 1986 I was in Monaco. I had spent the previous three days with David and two of our colleagues from New York doing business at the annual congress of AGFIS, the association of international sports federations. The others had left for the airport Saturday morning, leaving me to finish business with the head of the World Weightlifting Federation over breakfast. In the afternoon, my then-girlfriend arrived by train from Milan. We had dinner, and were asleep in my room in the Hotel de Paris when the phone rang, sometime after five in the morning. It was David calling from New York. “Two outs, two strikes, bottom of the tenth: I wanted you to hear this!” He held the phone to his TV speaker. I heard “Stanley's pitch...” followed by a scream and a curse. And he hung up.

I grabbed the Sony short-wave I'd always carried since my days as a journalist for UPITN, and tried desperately to tune in Armed Forces Network, from Germany or Italy. Cornelia was half awake in the bed, asking in Italian what was going on. But the sun had risen in France, and I couldn't find a signal. I waited a while and then took the immense step of calling New York from an expensive hotel phone. The Sox had lost, the New York Mets had tied the series at 3-3 and the deciding game would be played Sunday night.

Let me explain something now. The moment I heard (or didn't hear) over the phone was a wild pitch by Bob Stanley (or passed ball by catcher Rich Gedman, the point is still being argued) with the Sox still leading 5-4 in the bottom of the tenth inning. It allowed the tying run to score. Mookie Wilson, the batter, then hit the ground ball down the first base line that skipped between Buckner's legs and allowed the winning run to score. The Mets won the game 6-5 and tied the series 3 games each.

Buckner had the misfortune of making the highly visible error, the perfect photo, the metaphor for the loss: but the win implied by Boston's scoring two runs in the top of the tenth had already been erased before Mookie's ground ball.

It wasn't Buckner's fault manager John McNamara pinch hit for his starting pitcher, Roger Clemens, in the eighth inning up 3-2 (the hitter, Mike Greenwell, struck out). Nor that Calvin Schiraldi, the closer acquired late in the season from the Mets, immediately allowed the tying run. It wasn't Buck's fault that after going up 4-3 in the top of the tenth, McNamara called allowed Schiraldi to hit for himself, nor with the lead now 5-3 he called on Schiraldi to pitch a third inning of relief. It's not Buck's fault that after getting two outs, Schiraldi allowed three straight hits before McNamara pulled him. Nor that the new pitcher, Bob Stanley, didn't see Marty Barrett calling desperately for a throw that would pick Ray Knight off second base for the third out. Most of all, it isn't Bill Buckner's fault that McNamara, for the first time in the playoffs, neglected to send Dave Stapleton, a slick fielding infielder, in as a defensive replacement for Buckner. Johnny Mac, old school all the way, wanted Buck to be on the field for the moment of the triumph.

I knew all the back-stories: how Schiraldi's ex Met teammates knew how he was likely to pitch to him. How McNamara claimed Clemens had 'begged' to be taken out, which the pitcher vehemently denied. How Stanley, lumbering over to cover first, might not have beaten Mookie to the bad even had Buckner made the play. The basic point was: you lose as a team, and there was more than enough blame to go around.

And of course, the Series was still there to be won; Game Seven was supposed to be played the next night. I was still in Monaco, but it rained Sunday in New York, so the game was played Monday Night (opposite it, the lowest-rated Monday Night Football game in history) and, back in London, I listened on AFN from Wiesbaden.

The delay allowed McNamara to give the start to lefty Bruce Hurst, albeit on three days rest rather than four. Hurst had two wins already and had been the Sox best player in the series so far. But here Johnny Mac made his biggest mistake. The pitcher on Sunday would have been Dennis 'Oil Can' Boyd. Boyd was told he wasn't starting Monday. But instead of the manager saying something like “look, Can, Bruce has been our best. But he'll get tired, and when he does, I want you ready to go. Not pacing yourself, just giving us your best innings. It's not who starts the game, it's who finishes it, and we need you to finish it. OK?” Mac just told him and walked away. He was the skipper and his word was law. As it was, Can went to the clubhouse and started drinking beer (that's where his 'Oil Can' nickname came from) and by the time pitching coach Bill Fischer found him he was angry and drunk. Or drunk and angry. He supposedly spent the whole game in the manager's office.

The Sox led 3-0 going into the bottom of the sixth, when Hurst tired and allowed three runs, which would have been more had not Dewey Evans thrown out Keith Hernandez on the bases. Now tied 3-3, the seventh would have been the moment for Boyd. Instead, McNamara had to call on Schiraldi who gave up a home run to the first batter and allowed two more runs before giving way to two walks from Joe Sambito and finally the third out from Stanley.

The Sox got two back in the top of the eighth, a rally started by Buckner's single. But Jesse Orosco came in and shut the rally down. It was now 6-5 Mets, and McNamara replaced Stanley, who'd faced only one batter, with Al Nipper, in order to make a 'double switch' to get Ed Romero into the lineup where his bat could be a factor. Like Schiraldi, Nipper gave up a leadoff home run (to Darryl Strawberry), then another run. Orosco closed down the Sox in the top of the ninth and the Mets won the game 8-5 and the Series 4 games to 3: since selling Babe Ruth the Sox had lost three World Series, in 1975, 1967, and 1946—all by 4-3 in seven games, all to arguably the decade's best National League team.

I would have told Buck that I blamed David, who had tickets to Game Seven but didn't go. All kidding and superstition aside, I blamed McNamara more than anyone. But I didn't mention that. I could have said the 'Curse Of The Bambino' thing was a modern construct, born of the nostalgia boom of the 80s and the Sox resurgence post 1975. But I was also stymied by my own evaluation of Buck's overall disappointment in the Series: only six hits, and no production with runners on base. Which was something I pondered as I watched him teach.

Buckner had 22 years in the majors. He was an amazing contact hitter: he didn't walk much, but he didn't strike out very often either. He wasn't a power hitter, but in his best home-run year, in Boston, he hit 18 and struck out only 25 times. For his career, his 162 games average season showed 29 walks, 29 strike outs. His career batting average was .289, lowered by a severe decline in his last three years. But he was also helped by playing much of his career in great hitting parks, Wrigley Field and Fenway. He came up with the Dodgers along with Bobby Valentine and Steve Garvey (see photo of them with Tommy Lasorda at rookie-league Ogden in 1968). Valentine was a similar kind of player whose career also wound up being limited by injury. Valentine was already a legendary high-school athlete when I was a kid in Connecticut, and they were both players with intense natural talent that matured early. Buck was a quick outfielder, contact hitter, without a great arm (career-wise, he's a pretty good match for Al Oliver). He was playing left field for the Dodgers when Hank Aaron hit a home run over his head to break Babe Ruth's career record, which makes another odd link between Buckner and the Babe. But the Dodgers produced a lot of talent in those days—they were constantly moving players out of the outfield, Bill Russell to short, Pedro Guerrero to third. With the ankle injury and infection limiting his mobility, they tried moving Buck to first but of course Garvey was there at the same time. Interestingly, Garvey is the third-closest comparison to Buckner's career, after Oliver and Mickey Vernon, though Vernon's a different type of player with an odd career pattern. Eventually they traded Buckner to the Cubs for Rick Monday, who proved integral to post-season success.

The Cubs were the only team in baseball with a longer history of futility than the Red Sox. In fact, there was an equation known as the Cub Factor which could be used to determine the outcome of nay post-season series: the team with fewer ex-Cubs would win. With the Cubs Buckner would win a batting title in 1980, the first of three straight years hitting over .300, including 105 RBIs in 1982. But in '82, a young outfielder named Leon Durham would make the All-Star team, and by '84 he'd been moved to first base, and Buckner was sidelined. He demanded a trade and was shipped to the Sox for pitchers Dennis Eckerlsey and Mike Gorman.

Here's where it gets weird. In the 1984 National League playoffs, the Cubs were on the verge of eliminating the San Diego Padres, a game where Durham's homer had staked them to a 3-0 lead. But with the margin cut to 3-2, and two runners on base, Durham allowed an easy ground ball by Tim Flannery through his legs, and the tying run scored. Another error by Ryne Sandberg would seal the Cubs' fate; it turned out Durham's glove was soaking wet because Sandberg had accidentally overturned a Gatorade barrell onto it. The play was an eerie foreshadowing of what would happen to Buckner two years later.

As a footnote, Eckersley, whose career as a starter was fading, would be reborn in Oakland as a closer, but he is perhaps best remembered now for the backdoor slider he threw with two strikes to a hobbled Kirk Gibson, which Gibson blasted for a home run on the way to a Dodgers' win and championship in 1988. Eck, of course, represented the Cub Factor in that game.

In '85, Buck had his best year with the Sox: .299 16 HR 110 RBI and even 18 stolen bases with only 4 caught stealings. He'd slipped a bit in '86, but still was over 100 rbis in a lineup loaded with players who got on base (Wade Boggs, Evans, Don Baylor) batting ahead of him. He was much less effective in '87, and the Sox traded him to the Angels, where he had a decent half-season, but after that his career was effectively over, though he hung on for three more years, retiring at age 40. He lived in Boise, made good real estate investments, and later returned to baseball as a coach of an independent minor league team outside Boston.

But in 1993 Buckner responded to being admired by young baseball players and respected by British coaches as only someone with major league credentials can be. There was no false modesty just as there was little defensiveness about '86, he knew what he had and hadn't accomplished in his career. As I said, I wished I'd expressed a little bit more of this at the time, but I too was more concerned with showing him the respect he was due, and helping him do his best for the clinics at which his talent was visible and his effort in teaching admirable.

The Red Sox finally broke the Curse of the Bambino, if such a thing existed in 2004, rallying back from three games down to the Yankees in the American League Championship, and sweeping the Cardinals, their nemesis in both 1946 and 1967.

In 2008, after a second World Series win in 2007, Buckner returned back to Fenway to throw out the first ball on opening day. The Fenway Park crowd rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation that lasted minutes. Buckner visibly wiped away tears a couple of times, but otherwise stood awkwardly, one hand in his pockets, without a hat to tip to acknowledge the fans. When the applause died down he threw a perfect 12 to 6 curve ball to Dewey Evans at the plate, and the two embraced as the crowd applauded again. Afterwards, Buckner said he had never carried animosity toward the fans when he was criticised, but he did have some for the media. Imagine again what that would have been like today. But the moment was a ceremonial and symbolic burying of that moment of surrender to a curse, and a reclamation of Bill Buckner as a player.

He died at the end of May in Boise, of Lewy Body Dementia. He was only 69. Had he lived another six years, he and Mookie Wilson would probably have gone on tour, like Gibson and Eckersley did, putting that moment of the past into historical, legendary, perspective. I could not help but wonder how his memory was affected by the dementia, and whether he would blessed to recall the cheers of 2008, the high points of his career, and of course the blessings of his life. There is one photo of him, with the Red Sox, that I think captures the joy we all get to feel with life, when it seems it will go one forever, that we will enjoy being part of it, that all our problems will be insignificant, or if not, will be overcome. Ironically, I'm writing about that one moment which will always be attached to his name, but I am grateful that I had the chance to put a real person ahead of that moment in my own memory. RIP Buck.

Monday, 3 June 2019


I don't know what it is about the Gulf Of Mexico, but if there is a better, steamier, darker backdrop for noirish fiction, I can't think of one. Maybe foggy San Francisco. Roy Cady is a strong-arm man working for Stan Ptitko, a big shot gangster in New Orleans. He's not totally in with Stan's crew, partly because he's from Texas, partly because he was inherited from the old crew when Stan took control, and in large part because Roy's old girlfriend Carmen is now Stan's. So one day when Roy is sent to deliver a message to recalcitrant local labor leader, and told not to bring a gun, he brings one anyway. That he's been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the day might have something to do with it too. That's the kind of world Roy lives in.

When Roy and fellow hooligan Angelo break into the house, they're ambushed and when he wakes up, the union guy (called Sienkiewicz, in evident homage to Bill, the amazing graphic artist?) is dead, Angelo's beat up, and a badly-abused woman is wimpering, while another lies dead in the bedroom. Next thing you know, Angelo's dead, three thugs are dead, and Roy and Rocky, no longer wimpering, are on the run, headed for East Texas and winding up in Galveston.

On the way, there's some of Rocky's back-story they need to deal with, which includes a child and more, and once they are in place nothing is going to be easy. But Roy tries. He tries to help Rocky, and her child, and to make himself and them safe. But she's a young woman no one has ever really helped, not without an ulterior motive, and of course she isn't a tough as she thinks she is. It's as close to a straight life as he is ever going to get, and it isn't very straight, and there's nothing that says it's going to last very long.

Galveston is bleakly, darkly noir: the atmosphere is very heavy, the sense of impending tragedy never far away. Nic Pizzolatto was the creator of True Detective, but this book has a lot in common with some graphic novels; I'm thinking in terms of Frank Miller or Ed Brubaker, where the colours are all stark black and white and the situations are bleak. But I was comparing it most to Lou Berney's November Road, both novels where hard men wind up in family situations. There is a difference: although Roy on the surface is a much harder guy, he's less cynical and self-concerned than Frank Guidry. Pizzolatto uses Roy to narrate the story himself, and we know from the first he's a wounded character, even before the cancer is diagnosed, and what transformation we see in him does not come as a huge surprise. In a sense we see it all along, more aware of what kind of man he is than he is himself. Guidry's story is the opposite; it was told in third person, making the growth of his character more distinct, and it's eventual path more more unsure.

Which makes Galveston a violent noir with a heart of gold, and makes Roy Cady a memorable character. It's not hard to see how this 2010 novel served as a springboard for Pizzolatto, who's also written for the US version of The Killing, and wrote the screenplay (eventually under a pseudonym following creative differences) for the film adaptation of this book.

Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
Sphere £7.99 ISBN 9780751557053


This poem is one I've always liked. I wrote it in March and April of 1976, in Montreal, and remember well the Metro ride that inspired it. It really is typical of the kind of style I was working on, in tandem with something similar but more expansive, which would turn into my master's thesis at McGill. I also like the way it seems faith-based, even more so now than it did when I wrote it. It bounced around a bit. At one point I thought it might be paired with 'Basic Training' (which you can find here at IT) in New Poetry 4, the Arts Council of GB's anthology, but it wasn't. It wound up, confusingly enough, being published in issue 47 of New Poetry, a London-based magazine. Ten years later, slightly changed, it appeared in the US, in issue 5 of Brief, from Canyon, California. In 1991 I included it in my chapbook Chump Change, published by Northern Lights. I reckon none of you have it seen in any of those three incarnations.  The line breaks have their purpose: which might be clearer were I to read it out loud....


If there is a man
    there to judge

he will be ugly.

Wars will have been fought
on his face

                    he will be
the man you could never resist
      sneaking quick looks
         in the underground

& you will

                or be polite
& look
               the other way
before you shudder

& already you
      will be in

Sunday, 2 June 2019


Seeing his obituaries this week reminded me I met Claus Von Bulow once. It was almost exactly 20 years ago, in July 1999, at the annual Spectator garden party, at the offices in Doughty Street, back when Boris Johnson was the editor and I was writing the occasional outre review for the estimable Mark Amory, the books editor. As always, it was crowded and warm and the champagne was flowing. I found myself in a group with someone I knew and two other men, one of whom was Bulow. It was all pleasant enough, in a sort of dismissive English upper-class way. Then a woman walked past, attractive with a rather large chest. "Look at those tits," Bulow said, or words to that effect. And a few minutes later, when the same woman walked past again, he called her over, and pointed to me. "My friend here was very complimentary about your breasts, my dear," he said.

I blushed, and stammered some sort of denial, and while he was being charming to the woman I turned to my friend and said "He did it."I did not hang around him much longer; oddly enough I later spoke with the woman, explained, presented my theory as to Sunny Bulow's murder, and we wound up going out for dinner a few weeks later. Nothing came of it, but I thought of her a few years later when David Cameron came to prominence. She did PR for Carlton, as did Cameron, Cameron and Boris were both Bully Boys from the Bullingdon Club, and it occured to me at that point that might have been why she was at the Spectator party. I haven't written for the Speccie in a while; in fact I believe the last party to which I was invited was the one of 7 July 2005, which was cancelled after the bombings at Kings Cross.

There's no need to rehash the case now; but that night it seemed clear to me that 'von' Bulow was a perfect fit for at least one portion of the crowd at a Spectator party. That kind of exclusive club person who's distinctly aware of his own distance from the rest, somewhat creepy if you weren't impressed by what passed for charm. I could see where he would be entertaining, how he'd be invited to parties even without the notoriety. But the notoriety made him irresistible; hosts using him just as he was using them.

It's interesting that his attorney who won him a second trial was Alan Dershowitz, whose book Reversal Of Fortune formed the basis of the movie. Jeremy Irons won his Oscar for that one in large part for being able to project ambiguity, but there was a more interesting version of the murder made as an episode of Law & Order, series 4 episode 5, called 'Black Tie' (1993). It is basically the same insulin-based murder case, but the sexes of victim and suspected killer have been reversed.

The victim is the husband, the accused is the wife, who despite her protestations of being blase about their separate lives, knew her husband was planning to divorce her for his mistress. It presents the issues clearly, most importantly Dershowitz's main point was that evidence obtained by investigators hired by the children had no right to search, as they were acting as de facto agents of the police. The Law & Order casting was perfect: Caroline Lagerfelt was her icy best as the wife; the amazing Viveca Lindfors was the maid who suspects foul play, and Beverly Johnson was good as the mistress. John McMartin, whose face you would recognise, is the family lawyer, and Jeffrey DeMunn plays the Dershowitz figure: a law professor whose recurring part on L&O was as the 'disinterested' lawyer who is always hired by rich clients and proceeds because he allegedly is pursuing points of law.

DeMunn is an elegant, sharp-edged actor, with an intense gaze that can make him seem haughtily detached; he and Lagerfelt made a good pair. In fact,  Dershowitz has been remarkably well-served on screen, with Ron Silver playing him in Reversal, all noble energy, more private eye than law professor, and Evan Handler in The People vs OJ Simpson perhaps not quite so flattering, but very small-town (Harvard) academic. That's interesting, once you throw DeMunn into the mix, because not by their actors but by their clients you shall know them.

Saturday, 1 June 2019


Yesterday I appeared on BBC Radio 4's Front Row programme, talking with John Wilson about the Disney announcement they would not engage in production in Georgia if their newly-passed abortion ban came into effect. You can link to it here. Front Row booked me to speak without knowing my personal connection with Bob Iger, the Disney CEO, but that was both a good hook and something we did not linger on. You may recall last year there was some talk of Bob's running for president.

John and I had to cut the talk short because the previous interview had gone long, so I was rushing, and made a couple of verbal slips (New Jersey, not New York, was the second state pitching for business) and I didn't get to mention that Black Panther and the new Avengers movie were both filmed in Georgia. Judges in two states (Iowa, a state judge and Utah a federal judge) have struck down the bills passed by legislatures, while it has not passed in either Florida or Texas, the state where the original Roe v Wade case was brought.

But one important point we didn't get to was the possible knock -on effect in the Uniter Kingdom, specifically in Northern Ireland. Game Of Thrones was filmed there, as is Line Of Duty among others, but if the petitions against working in US states trying to limit abortion in the face of the national law, someone will eventually notice that Northern Ireland already does the same thing in this country, and their abortion ban is in some ways even stricter than Georgia's.

Friday, 31 May 2019


My discussion with Matthew Bannister about Watergate burglar James McCord is online at BBC Sounds,
you can link to it here. It starts about 13:30 in, if you want to go straight there. I originally recorded it about a month ago, but given the two years it took for McCord's death to become public knowledge, that's not really a pressing problem. We go through the basics of the Watergate burglary and trial, the Bay of Pigs, and McCord's other CIA work (including covering up the death of Frank Olson, which I mentioned in my post about my Guardian obituary, here) but not included in the broadcast edit is the link with JFK's assassination, or as Richard Nixon put it, 'the whole Bay of Pigs thing'.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019


Do you remember when Wallander discovered an ATM in the centre square of Ystad, Sweden was about to crash the world economy? Well, Helsingborg is a bigger city than Ystad (just over 100,000) people but in the limited time frame of Stefan Ahnhem's Motive X it suffers enough big-time crime to make it Europe's murder capital. For example:

1. a young immigrant boy killed in a laundry room washing machine which might be related to
2. an active child molester or
3. neo-Nazis, whose Sweden Democrat party office is firebombed and who fire-bomb a refugee centre
4. a stabbing at the scene of a hit and run
5. a series of killings by a killer instructed by charts he has created and follows using probablity dice
6. a child kidnapping
7. a sex killer who stalks his victim while she sleeps, who turns out to be character legendary in a local sex club (Remember I Am Curious, Yellow?)

which seems a lot of business for one small crime squad, especially since detective Fabian Risk has decided one of the detectives, Ingvar Molander, is a serial killer himself, and has murdered another detective who had also figured th1s secret out. Molander, a know-it-all who considers himself far to smart for his colleagues, is the most interesting character in the series, and his name carries what seem to me playful reminders of both Wallander and Martin Beck's collegaue Melander, who knows everything but spends all his time in the police toilet.

That Ahnhem can keep all those balls juggling without dropping them is no mean feat, even though at times you find some of the villains, particularly the neo-Nazis, waste a lot of time rather than taking care of business, and he does rely on one pretty blatant bit of deus ex machina coincidence, but what makes it work is something that is the essence of Scandinavian crime fiction: the personalities of the police, and how they are affected by the pressures of their society.

This goes right back to Sjowall and Wahloo's Martin Beck, and in Risk we have a cop whose home life makes Beck's look like Ozzie and Harriet's. In the previous novel, the family has nearly been killed by another serial killer, though some of this is understandable, but one of the key elements of this novel involves Risk trying to reason with his son while he's thinking through a crime problem, a very good piece of writing.

Ahnhem was a screenwriter on the Swedish Wallander series (with Krister Henriksson), and he's obviously learned from Mankell, as well as Sjovall & Wahloo and very much from Steig Larsson. But he's somewhat less concerned with Swedish society (although the Sweden Democrats are a right-wing nationalist party, and probably don't enjoy his neo-Nazi portrayal of them) than with the nature of control in individual relationships. This is the point where the crimes and the personalities intersect: questions of who controls whom.

He tells the story with almost teasing changes of scene and multiple points of view, and very matter of fact gory violence. Meanwhile his cops are falling apart, even beyond of them being a killer. It sometimes creaks, and sometimes the responses don't quite seem right, but as with Larsson, the impetus of the plot carries the reader on. And of course, two of the main storylines are left unresolved for the next high-Risk installment.

Motive X by Stefan Ahnhem
Head Of Zeus £18.99 ISBN 9781786694607

This review will also appear at Crime Time (

Thursday, 23 May 2019


John Havlicek, Boston Celtics' star from 1962 through 1978, died last month. I couldn't get any papers in Britain interested in his obituary, but he has remained in my thoughts since then, running around my brain the same way Hondo ran around a basketball court, and it spurred a lot of recollections, which made this reminiscence sneak itself down a lot of tangential alley ways. I suppose it has something to do with his career coinciding with my prime years of sporting attention, and something with to do with the kind of athletic ideal he personified: a rare sort of physical ability combined with the vision only the greats possess, linked to an ability to play at full speed for more time than anyone else without tiring, and a drive to do just that in pursuit of the team goal of winning. Whatever it was the Celtics needed Havlicek to do: score, defend, pass, rebound, run, run, run, he would do it.

I was watching the 1974 Finals, against the Bucks, the double-overtime loss in game 6. Just as the announcer mentions how tired everybody looks, Havlicek, the game's high scorer, who played all 58 minutes, comes running off a great circle route to take a backdoor pass and hit a baseline turnaround. That sort of thing. Without any flashiness, without any attention-seeking. It was part of that Celtic mystique that the team was bigger than any player: I saw the same thing with the Montreal Canadiens of that era, which is why they were my favourite hockey team, and they played the same way as the Celtics: 'head-manning' the puck the same way the Celtics found the lead man upcourt to run and beat the other team back. No player was better suited to that game than Hondo. He got the nickname because someone thought he looked like John Wayne; I never saw that, but I could see the resemblance in the ambling walks. It beat being called by some rhyming sportswriter thing, like Chet the Jet Walker.

And of course Havlicek Stole The Ball. From Chet.

That was the seventh and final game of the 1965 NBA Eastern final, in the Boston Garden, the Celtics led their fierce rivals, the Philadelphia 76ers, by three when Bill Russell allowed Wilt Chamberlain to dunk the ball uncontested. Now with five seconds to play, the Celtics led by one and Russell would inbound the ball. But his inbounds pass hit a wire supporting the backboard, and possession went over to the Sixers. Russell was the heart of the Celtics' supremacy, and for him to suddenly make a crucial error was frightening. Now Hal Greer of the Sixers looked to pass the ball in, with Wilt lurking under the basket, and Russ, four inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter, fronting him desperately to prevent the pass for an easy shot. So Greer looked upcourt, and launched a pass to Chet Walker, and, in Johnny Most's call on the radio: 'Havlicek stole the ball!” Havlicek, playing off Walker to the inside, had started counting in his head, knowing Greer had only five seconds to inbound the ball, and on four he looked back, tracked the ball, and knocked it away. Sam Jones picked it up, and dribbled the five seconds off the clock. The Celtics advanced to the NBA finals against the Lakers and beat them, as they always did.

I still have, somewhere in my brother's attic, a record album with that 1965 call on it. The funny thing is that Most, and the rest of us, mispronounce Havlicek's name. We say Have-li-check'. But Hondo himself said 'Havel-check', like Brett Favre being 'farve'. I realised this as I watched him speaking on a nice video made on the steal's 50th anniversary. Looking at the grainy black and white footage, I saw something for the first time I've never seen referenced before: when Russell inbounds the ball, he's a full four feet behind the end line, and Chet Walker, with arms up in Russ's face, is over the line, then leaps forward until he's just about touching Russell. Even the official is in front of the two of them. No wonder the ball hit the wire.

What's also touching is to watch the fans mobbing Havlicek, carrying him off the court while ripping the jersey off his back. Meanwhile, Russell pushes through the crowd to hug Hondo as he's being carried off. In a sense, Russell's amazing streak of winning: 11 titles in 13 years, had its most dangerous self-inflicted challenge right there, and Havlicek saved the team from his mistake.

I also wonder now what would have happened had Havlicek not stolen the ball. Walker would have had it 20 feet away from the hoop, with his back to it, and Hondo all over him. In today's game he could have, like Kawahi Leonard did recently, tuck the ball, take three steps, bounce the ball once and take another two steps before throwing up a shot. Or maybe he gets a twisting alley-oop pass off to Wilt that Russell can't get to. Or bounces it back to Greer. I don't know, but it might have been a tough thing for the Sixers to actually get that basketball. Hondo's D on that play was team man-to-man the way I was taught both in basketball and lacrosse, but the deflection of the ball was more like an NFL receiver, which, funnily enough, Havlicek nearly was.

As was the ideal in those days, Havlicek was a three-sport star in Springfield, Ohio; all-state in football, basketball and baseball. He grew up with the Niekro brothers, Phil and Joe, who thought the kid who hit .440 in high school could have played pro. Woody Hayes wanted him to play football; the story goes that he used to tell people that the best quarterback in the Big 10 was at Ohio State, but he was playing basketball (shades of Otto Graham at Northwestern). But Paul Brown, who had coached high school football in Ohio and was still well-connected, knew all about Havlicek. He drafted him in round 7, the 95th pick overall, in the 1962 NFL draft. Hondo lasted until the final cuts, which wasn't that much of a surprise, since the Browns' first pick in that draft was Gary Collins, who won't mean much to folks today, but was your prototype 'flanker', he and Bowd Dowler, both of whom are on the NFL's all-decade team for the Sixties. Big, long-striding receivers who could run deep or catch slants; Havlicek would have fit the role perfectly. The Browns offered him a taxi squad role, and supposedly chased after him again, but Havlicek went to Boston to play for the Celtics, who had taken him with the seventh pick of the first round (ninth overall) NBA draft. I'll explain soon why the seventh pick was the ninth.

At Ohio State, Havlicek was not the big star in basketball; that was Jerry Lucas, an even bigger Ohio high school legend. The team also included Larry Siegfried, a scrappy guard who would wind up on the Celtics, and Mel Nowell, almost as big an Ohio high school legend as Lucas, a sharp-shooting point guard. On the bench was Bobby Knight, who would go on to coach at Army and Indiana and elsewhere, and be the guy who cut Charles Barkley and John Stockton from the 1984 USA Oympic team. Not that they needed them to win the Olympic gold in LA with Jeff Turner and Bobby Alford.

Ohio State beat St Louis for the 1960 NCAA title, Havlicek's sophomore year (and first year on the non-freshman varsity). It was Lucas who played on the 1960 Olympic team, along with Terry Dischinger (whose NBA career was lessened by a severe knee injury) Oscar Robertson and Jerry West; Havlicek might have made the cut had the team not had five spots reserved for players from the AAU leagues and the military. The other college guys included Walt Bellamy and Bob Boozer, along with Oscar the only other blacks, and Darrell Imhoff, coach Pete Newell's star center from Cal. Of course they didn't need Hondo to win that title easily.

Ohio State went to the NCAA finals each of the next two years, losing to the post-Oscar Cincinnati team both times, a team built around its defense and star center Paul Hogue. Lucas was the star; Havlicek was the captain. It's easy to speculate why the Celtics drafted Hondo; it's highly likely GM Red Auerbach was going on a word-of-mouth recommendation...teams often didn't see players who didn't play locally. In fact, Lucas was the first pick of the draft, with a special 'territorial' pick, to the Cincinnati Royals, who already had Oscar after a similar draft. But Lucas had signed a deal, which included a share of the team, with George Steinbrenner of the ABL's champion Cleveland Pipers. The NBA then tried to merge them into their league and kill off the competition, but the Royals complained about their territory, demanding compensation which Steinbrenner eventually defaulted on. Lucas then signed another deal with other Cleveland businessmen. But a team never materialised, and after missing the 62-63 season, Lucas began playing with the Royals, who had retained his rights. and the second pick was Dave DeBuschere, to Detroit; he would wind up both pitching baseball and playing basketball before becoming a 23 year old player-coach of the Pistons.

So Hondo went after Billy 'The Hill' McGill, Hogue, Zelmo Beatty, Len Chappell, Wayne Hightower and Leroy Ellis, all of whom were big men. Big Z had the best NBA career of the bunch. Terry Dischinger went with the pick immediately after Havlicek, at the top of the second round, which also included Chet Walker and Kevin Loughery.

Local 'scouting' might explain why the Celts, with the last pick of round 2, 16th overall, took Jack 'The Shot' Foley from Holy Cross. Maybe they thought he'd attract fans, maybe because they'd had great success with Bob Cousy and Tommy Heinsohn from the Cross. Foley was a 6-4 forward, a white guy with a deadly outside shot. There were a lot of guys like that at the time, the next few years would see Donnie May of Dayton, Larry Miller from UNC, Pat Riley at Kentucky, Pat Burke of Fairfield, Larry Cannon from LaSalle. Soon it became apparent if you couldn't be big enough to play over the rim inside, or make your own shot (ie: beat a man to the hoop) outside, you couldn't play: the type evolved into Billy Cunningham, Doug Moe, Jack Marin types. The Shot lasted only one season.

The pick after Foley was the first of round three: Don Nelson from Iowa, who would wind up coming to the Celtics from the Lakers and being a key part of the 1969 win over LA: the most seemingly un-athletic 6-6 forward imaginable, but a crucial championship part. The Celts' pick at the end of the round was Jim Hadnot of Providence, who had been the center when PC won the NIT (still a big thing in those days) in 1961, beating the same St Louis team Ohio State beat the year before in the NCAA final. That was the team of Connecticut hero Johnny Egan, who led Hartford Weaver High to the New England championship in Boston Garden, and 5-8 Vinny Ernst at the guards (along with future Boston mayor Ray Flynn). Hadnot for to PC from Oakland, because Bill Russell had taken him on as a mentor after Hadnot's father died. He didn't make the Celtics, and played only one year of pro ball, five years later, for the Oakland Oaks of the ABA. Jobs were a lot tougher to get in those days: the NBA had 9 teams, rosters were 10 men, and the money was such that players fought to keep their jobs. Mel Nowell, as it turns out, was drafted in round 12, with the 92nd pick, but still played one season in Chicago, and also later in the ABA.

You see what I meant about diversions? I was a die-hard Celtics fan. So much so that in the spring of 1969, in what was player-coach Bill Russell's final go-round, I skipped hearing Joni Mitchell in the beautiful circular dining hall on my college campus (since torn down in the name of austerity) in order to watch the Celtics and Lakers on TV, and watch my roommate throw something through the ceiling as the Lakers managed to wind up on the wrong end.

When he joined the Celtics, Havlicek fit right into their style of play, and Bob Cousy, in his final season, had someone whom he could find almost at will for open layups. “I made a living off Bob Cousy,” he later explained. At that point Hondo was not a shooter, so he went home after the season and worked at it: the results were evident, and it's noteworthy he was lifetime 81.5% free-throw shooter, up from 72.8% his rookie year.

What else stands out about Havlicek's career? Playing left-handed and scoring 18 against the New York media-proclaimed Greatest Dynasty Ever Knicks on their way to yet another championship, their second!, in 1973. Just imagine, if the Celtics had played in New York, Steve Kuberski would have had his autobiography published. Forget about the Sixties, the Celtics matched that Knick dynasty by winning titles in 1974 and 1976.

I watched some of that 74 final against the Bucks, with Oscar, Kareem, and Bobby Dandridge: the game 6 double-overtime loss is amazing. The defense is tough: Havlicek, Duck Chaney, JoJo White, Paul Silas and Dave Cowens for the Celts; Dandridge's quickness, Oscar's strength, and Kareem's hustle getting back, like a young Russell, to contain the Celtics break. I also marveled at how the officials actually called things like traveling, three-seconds and carrying the ball. In today's game, some of these guys would have gone to town (and they would have had the three-point shot to open things up). Hondo was blessed with having another player who matched his effort, and had even more intensity: Cowens. The undersized center whose physical battle with Kareem was astounding. Cowens fouled out with a bump as Kareem backed in on him; I am still arguing that one now...his replacement was High Hank Finkel.

In 1976, the Celtics took Phoenix in six, including the triple-overtime game that had more controversy than a Farage campaign stop, including a Boston fan attacking Richie Powers. Toward the end of regulation, with the Suns trailing by one, Paul Westphal, who had been traded from Boston to Phoenix, did a Havlicek stole the ball, to Havlicek, and Havlicek missed a rebound, tapping the ball back to Curtis Perry who hit on his second try to put Phoenix up one with six seconds left. But Havlicek hit a soft running bank shot to put the Celts ahead by one as the buzzer sounded. But the shot had gone through the hoop before the clock expired, so after arresting the guy who attacked Powers and sorting everything out, the Suns got the ball back under the basket with a second left. At which point Westphal, knowing the Suns had no timeouts remaining, called time. JoJo White hit the technical foul for Boston, now leading by two, but Phoenix got the ball back at midcourt, and Garfield Heard hit a turnaround buzz-beater to tie the game once again.

Havlicek would always say he thought he should have had two more titles: one in 73 had he not hurt his shoulder, and one more later, in 77, had the Celts not traded Westphal (for Charlie Scott) and later Paul Silas (for Curtis Rowe). They got Scott ostensibly to replace Chaney's D (for some reason they never seemed to trust Westphal) while Curtis Rowe, we'll never know. He was supposed to be a better offensive player than Silas, but he wasn't a Celtics' type, and had they kept Westphal and let him play, they probably wouldn't have needed the extra firepower. The Celts, with Glenn MacDonald coming off the bench in his moment of glory, built a six point lead in the third OT, but Westphal hit two baskets, and nearly stole another inbounds pass, as the Suns finally lost by two. It was Havlicek's eighth NBA title.

Things would go downhill for the Celtics. Red Auerbach traded for Rowe and signed Sidney Wicks, reuniting the UCLA teammates, but they were never the same in the NBA. Wicks' former team, Portland, went to the NBA title without him (and with another UCLA guy, Bill Walton). Havlicek announced the 1977-78 season would be his last. The ill-fitted Celts started out 11-23 and Heinsohn was fired, replaced by his assistant Satch Sanders, who had left the Harvard job just that year. Havlicek scored 29 points in his final game.

After the season, Celtics' owner Irv Levin traded the franchise to John Y Brown for the Buffalo Braves, whom Levin then moved to San Diego to become the Clippers, because he wanted to live in California. Brown was a millionaire from Kentucky Fried Chicken, had owned the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA before the Braves, and was a notorious meddler with his teams. As part of the deal, the owners engineered a trade that sent Billy Knight, Bob McAdoo and Tiny Archibald (all of whom he had acquired in Buffalo) to Boston for Wicks, Kermit Washington, Kevin Kunnert, and Freeman Williams, who had been a number one pick of Boston's but never played for them. On paper it looked good, but in Red's office the ceiling was nearly destroyed by his head exploding. He had a plan, as usual, and he and Brown never could agree on who ran the club. Sanders was fired soon into the season, and Cowens took over as player-coach: he was simply too intense for that job on top of playing. Luckily, the Celts got to keep the extra draft pick they had, which became the rights to Larry Bird, drafted a year before he finished college. It's fascinating to consider what might have happened had Hondo been able to wait out and play one more season, then a final one with the rookie Bird. It would have been a handover of sorts, but the two of them would have clicked immediately.

In retirement, Havlicek moved into a country club resort where Bob Cousy had been comped, and he would get comped as well; he, Cousy, and former Knick Hall Of Famer Richie Guerin would golf. Havlicek carried a fishing rod, and, in some kind of breaking of golf protocol, often stop to cast into the water hazards if he saw signs of fish. Cousy also hosted a regular dinner; one week when Havlicek and his wife Beth didn't show up, he knew something was wrong. He died after suffering from Parkinsons, and catching pneumonia. It was hard to think of Hondo actually running down.

“The good players see the game in slow motion,” Havlicek once said, explaining the play when he stole the ball. “Actually, they see what’s going to happen before it actually happens.” For someone who moved at the pace he moved, it was easy to think of his seeing normal motion as being slow, and it may have explained in part why he was so calm, so pleasant, so friendly off the court. I've spent a month going through the various permutations of Havlicek's career in Boston, and I'm afraid my mind is still running. The long-time Globe sportswriter and basketball savant Bob Ryan called Havlicek Stole The Ball “a moment that is not lost in time”. Neither was John Havlicek.