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From AJR,   April/May 2007

Celebrating the Silver Quill   

Online Exclusive George Kiseda was a great sportswriter--and a class act.

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.     

I won't attempt to paint the full picture of the great George Kiseda. While I worshiped him from afar, I didn't really know him. And Mark Heisler has told the tale very well in his Los Angeles Times obit.

If you haven't been keeping score, George Kiseda was a spectacular sportswriter in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and an influential member of the sports copy desks at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. A man of matchless integrity and great writing skill, he was, to borrow Heisler's phrase, the person who made it possible to use the words "crusading" and "sportswriter" in the same sentence. Kiseda died Sunday at 80 in an Alzheimer's facility in California.

While I was an ardent admirer of his work, including his unforgettable stint covering City Hall for the Philadelphia Daily News, it was my one personal contact with Kiseda, under awful circumstances, that showed me what a class act he was.

It happened in 1970, when Kiseda was covering the 76ers for the Philadelphia Bulletin and I was a young reporter in the paper's Washington bureau. One day the phone rang in the bureau. It was the paper's editor, George Packard. Packard asked if I could be in Philadelphia the following night. It turned out that he had pulled Kiseda from the Sixers beat. Knowing I was a big basketball guy, Packard wanted me to take over.

He didn't offer up the backstory, and I didn't push for it. (Heisler suggests Packard thought Kiseda was too tough on the team.) All I knew was that I was going to be covering the Sixers and the Phoenix Suns the next night, which meant I would get a chance to write about the almost mythical Connie Hawkins.

As I traveled with the team over the next few weeks, I heard a great deal about Kiseda from sportswriters, radio and TV commentators and players. It was clear he was held in extraordinarily high regard. But there was one thing about him that baffled the players.

The NBA circuit attracted quite a number of attractive women who wanted to meet the athletes. Many were drawn to Kiseda as well. Maybe it was the great hair--former Villanova and 76ers guard Wally Jones had nicknamed him "the Silver Quill." But here's what the players didn't get: Kiseda seemed more interested in getting to know these women as people than having sex with them.

Rather than e-mail my stories to the paper--this was, after all, a long time ago--I had to send them via something called "Western Union." Early one morning at 4 or 5 a.m., the phone rang in my Chicago hotel room. It was the Silver Quill, working the overnight shift (the Bulletin was a p.m. paper). Turns out Western Union hadn't delivered the goods, and so I had to dictate my game story to the Quill.

So here's the picture: the 26-year-old rookie sportswriter dictating his copy to the man the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan called the greatest NBA beat reporter of all time. What's worse, the Quill had been shoved out of his job, and this neophyte who had covered like four NBA games was dictating to HIM. And make no mistake: Having been liberated from covering welfare reform and revenue-sharing, I was, to paraphrase the great old Spy magazine line about Abe Rosenthal, overwriting as bad as I could. No gratuitous, self-indulgent reference was spared. Nor were the readers.

But what was so amazing was Kiseda's professionalism. No snarling at the usurper. No giggling at the overripe prose. He just did his job.

I've never counted humility among my great strengths. But let me tell you, this was a cram course in humility.

So a toast to the Silver Quill. Long may he reign.