Jim Lampley: Renaissance Man
The Jim Lampley I have come to know is both humble and accessible; he is also extremely bright, fast, and assiduous…
“It happened…IT HAPPENED!”—Jim Lampley calling George Foreman’s miracle comeback against heavyweight champion Michael Moorer
“I operate from the basic philosophy that the best people in the world are boxing fans. Communicating with them is my life’s blood. So thanks to all the boxing fans for watching the sport.”—Lampley (ESPN CONVERSATIONS)
I am distinctly aware that the man fellow writer David Matthews calls “Boxing’s vibrant expressionist” is capable of engendering polarizing reactions, but I have come to appreciate Jim Lampley pointing to, among many other things, his unabashed passion for and knowledge of boxing. Admittedly, I have not always been a big fan—but times change and so do opinions. That said, the Jim Lampley I have come to like best is the one who is far more than just a blow-by-blow announcer; he is a bright, multi-talented, multi-dimensional person who has done many different things well, stays current with the times, and continues to engage new but relevant challenges.
“On my second telecast as a network sportscaster at ABC in 1974, I showed up seven minutes late for my call time. A truly great broadcast executive named Chuck Howard grabbed me by the shirt collar and told me that if I did that one more time, I would bury my career. And if I learned to show up on time, I would be doing this for 40 years. I’ve been doing this for 37 years. Thank you Chuck Howard.”—Lampley
“…the free-flowing fluidity and emotional color of Lampley’s commentating has become the sport’s signature soundtrack backdrop while watching scientific pugilism take place before our very eyes.”—David Matthew
“As an absolute sports fanatic who pays close attention to the science of commentating in many sports, I can confidently say that Lampley is among the very finest in any sport. His style fits the spectacle of boxing to a T and boxing telecasts without Lampley providing play-by-play are a completely different experience.”—Cheekay Brandon
Lampley was born in Hendersonville, North Carolina, and was raised both there and in Miami, Florida. Jim first popped up on national television in 1974 after he had been selected from a talent hunt to help start a new role called the “college age reporter” on ABC’s national telecasts of college football. After finishing course work at the University of North Carolina graduate school, he spent several seasons on the sidelines in such hallow football locales as Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Columbus, Lincoln, etc. This launched Jim on a 13-year career at ABC Sports where he worked football, baseball, the renowned Wide World of Sports, and an impressive five Olympic Games.
In 1992 Lampley went to work for NBC Sports where he hosted golf and NFL football and anchored late night Olympic coverage at Barcelona and Atlanta. In 1995, he added reporting on the magazine show “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” to his HBO duties, twice winning an Emmy for Best Sports Journalism, along with a third Emmy for writing. In 21 years at HBO, Lampley has called more than 500 fights and has been honored with the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
While Jim has compiled an incredible resume in boxing, he has also covered more Olympic Games for U.S. television networks than any other American broadcaster. In fact, he has covered every major sporting event over the course of his long career.
“Along with his ex-wife [and talented news anchor] Bree Walker Lampley, he also runs a successful entertainment production company in Hollywood and has begun to expand his career in commentary beyond the boundaries of sports into politics and public affairs…”—Huffington Post
The wealthy and self-made Lampley is an astute businessman and entrepreneur who holds an influential place in the power structure at HBO. This is best evidenced by his new and highly successful “The Fight Game.” The show touches on current issues in the sport and interviews famous promoters, fighters, and trainers. “The show also includes nostalgia of previous noteworthy fights,” says Jim on his website. “A regular feature of the show will be ‘The Gatti List,’ named after the man who has become synonymous with such crowd-pleasing, edge-of-your-seat action, which will showcase the ten most exciting fighters in the sport”, the fighters who, in Lampley’s words, “are most worth your time, money and investment to buy a pay-per-view, go to the arena, or see the fight on TV because they hit, they get hit, they take the risk in pursuit of victory, which to me is at the heart of the entertainment value of boxing. I want to glorify that within the culture of the show.” What’s not to like?
Among many other endeavors, Lampley founded Atticus Entertainment, which collaborated with well known filmmaker Peter Berg on the critically-acclaimed primetime HBO series entitled “On Freddie Roach.”
Lampley also combines entrepreneurial creativity with his business acumen. His movie production company, Crystal Spring Productions located in Beverly Hills, has produced a handful of movies, including Welcome to Hollywood, The Last Game, Race Across America, and The Abattoir.
In 2005 Jim began to express his somewhat surprising political views and started posting on The Huffington Post revealing an adroit ability to deal with extremely controversial political topics as well as other issues. In fact, it was here that I first came across what I consider to be the single best article I have ever read on boxing—“Death in the Ring”—in which Jim writes about Leavander Johnson’s death as a result of a fight he called. In it, Jim provided a provocative and much needed in-depth perspective about boxing fatalities—one that got me through a tight knothole on this delicate subject. At one point, he writes, “It’s this simple: if you can’t live with Leavander Johnson’s death, then you ban boxing, because this one came right out of the culture of the sport. There is no obvious flashpoint for criticism or culpability here. Johnson died in the best of boxing circumstances. Either the entire sport is unforgiveable, or this was an unfortunate accident which must be accepted as part of the life.” (The entire article can be read here.)
I could continue to sing Lampley’s praises just as I could list a few of his shortcomings, but in the end I submit that it’s his imperfections that make him a compelling personality. Yes, he can be overly enthusiastic as in “Bang Bang Bang” and yes, he sometimes can be perceived as condescending, but I don’t buy either of those as negatives or criticisms. The Jim I have come to know is both humble and accessible; he is also extremely bright, fast, and assiduous. If I have an issue with Lampley, it probably lies in the fact that he can sometimes show bias towards a certain fighter, but that in my view reflects the imperfection of a true fan. And for that matter, what boxing announcer doesn’t show a bias?
Jim’s jaw-dropping reaction to the bizarre Bradley-Pacquiao decision was as frank as you can get and it reflected what most thoughtful fans were thinking at the time. A dumbfounded Dan Rafael said, “Jim Lampley, who called the fight for HBO, came over to me at ringside after the fight, looked at me and said, in 30 years of calling fights, the single worst decision he’s ever seen. Remember, he called fights like Holyfield-Lewis I. That’s a big, big statement. I’ve been doing this 13 years. That was absolutely horrible. Nothing but respect for Bradley hanging in there the way that he did, but he didn’t win that fight.”
Like a racehorse, Jim Lampley was bred for what he does; he passionately enjoys what he does. Jim also relishes becoming involved in other challenging avenues of endeavor. What more can one want in life? “His journey has been blessed by an unusual variety of firsts, onlys and something entirely different.” (Huffington Post)
“My father died when I was five. My mother’s way of being both a father and mother to me was to immerse me in every sport that my father loved and watched. I can still remember, I was about eight the night that she sat me down to watch Friday Night Fights, Robinson vs. Olson, their second fight. It would have been very difficult for anyone who loved sports to watch Robinson and not fall in love with boxing. I believe I fell in love that night.”—Lampley (ESPN CONVERSATIONS)
Lampley was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame (WBHF) Expanded Category in 2001. In 2012, he was inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame. Also in 2012, Jim married event planner Debra Schuss. He remains deeply devoted to his children Aaron, Andrea, Brooke and Victoria.