By TERRY LYONS (not Lyon)
There’s a very special bond shared with Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon that only the letter “s” could separate. He had a highly demanding job as lead sports columnist in a sports-loving city where the games frequently ended just as his deadline approached. In Philadelphia, no sportsman wore glass slippers, so … somehow, through sheer talent … Bill Lyon endured and excelled. Just as many a writer with a west coast, pacific time zone deadline would be sitting down to craft a game story or sidebar, Lyon would be packing up for the night, computer tucked away in his bag slung over his shoulder with his work already placed in a column, flush-left, adorning the front page of the sports section or maybe A-1 of the newspaper, if the game just concluded was as worthy as his prose.
Bill Lyon was a gentleman and a professional. He covered sports in Philadelphia and his job placed him in press boxes and locker rooms all across America. He wrote about the Phillies and baseball, the Eagles in football, the Flyers in ice hockey, but the bond shared revolved around the Philadelphia 76ers and NBA basketball. Bill rode shotgun alongside the Inquirer’s beat writers for 76ers basketball. From Hall of Famer Bill Livingston to the eccentric style of the late George Shirk to the solid reporting of Frank Lawlor or Joe Juliano (or more recently Keith Pompey) to marching side-by-side with the great Bob Ford, Lyon cranked-out columns, on tight deadlines, with an upbeat approach and depth that few could even imagine, never mind dream up and publish in 20 or 25 minutes.
During his tenure, he covered Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Moses Malone of the Sixers, although Lyon’s personality was undoubtedly more Maurice Cheeks than Darryl Dawkins. As the seasons changed, he covered Steve Carlton or Mike Schmidt of the Phillies, Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb of the Eagles, Rick Tocchet and Eric Lindros of the Flyers, prize fights, golf tournaments and maybe an Olympics or ten, but it was adjacent to NBA hardwood where we met and spoke quite often.
You see, long before the days of electronic mail, voicemail or iPhone 11s, Motorola Razors, Blackberries or any other type of mobile, voice-mail enabled device, Bill Lyon was the recipient of hundreds upon hundreds of my hotel messages. Back in the day, they say with a degree of reminiscence and disdain at the same time, hotel phone operators took a pen and a pad of pink, pre-printed message slips and wrote down the name and phone number of a caller who used a telephone with a hard line and dialed the main number of some joint seeking-out a guest. In our case, we frequently stayed at the same NBA media headquarters and Lyon would appear on the operator’s screen before Lyons, and thus the problem.
Bill and I formed a bond in 1981 or so, and we made a pact, written in stone and not on a pink message slip. That pact was to diligently and without judgement, frustration or fatigue, and neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor first flights out, nor late nights at the hospitality room stay our bond to swiftly deliver the message or voice mail to one another during our appointed rounds. The ratio of Lyons to Lyon messages was probably, oh, roughly 100-3. Bill would either call, or sometimes it was easier to just walk them over. From the Los Angeles Airport Marriott to Boston’s Copley Place, the Lyon-to-Lyons message center was more reliable than a Maytag, more efficient than a GM factory and stronger than U.S. Steel. We traveled the land, undaunted by incompetent hotel operators and mixed up messages.
He marveled at the number of media credential requests, or later, of the sheer volume of international media seeking NBA information. Likewise, his editors or occasionally his wife, the late Ethel, might cross telephone lines into the land of Lyons rather than Lyon. The mishaps were usually met with good-natured laughs and a promise to pass a message along or even better. As the Lyon-Lyons tandem learned over the years, we’d compare notes before a “Game 1” and then be able to say, oh no, he’s in Room 404, let me see if I can transfer your call.
It was a special bond.
Yesterday, Jim Nantz of CBS Sports informed the world of Bill Lyon’s passing and, at the same time, he informed me a fantastic and wonderful bond, formed in NBA arenas and Marriotts across the land, had officially and irreversibly ended.
That made me quite sad.
Rest In Peace, old friend.