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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 3, 2010

For five decades I had the best job in the world

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By Bill Kwon

"This is the end."

The Doors

Where to begin when talking about the end?

At the beginning, I guess.

I knew newspaper ink would be in my blood when in less than five minutes I sold all 10 copies of the Star-Bulletin's extra "War" edition on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. With 50 cents in my pants pocket, this 6-year-old Pālama boy felt rich. Wished, though, I kept one of them. Imagine what a mint copy of the newspaper headlining America's entry into World War II would be worth on eBay today.

Less than a year later, after a life-altering hip injury, I was in a body cast in Shriners Hospital for Children listening to the World Series between the Yankees and Cardinals, enthralled by Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. On radio; there was no television yet.

I told a nurse back then that since I wouldn't be able to play sports, I'm going to write about it. The nurse, Faith Nakano, still remembered what I told her when we met some 50 years later at a reunion of former Shriners patients at the hospital. She and I shared the same amazement at how it turned out: that I became a sportswriter, fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

With that goal in mind, I started following sports, first whetted by watching Shrine Bowl football games as a patient. As a kid, I took an electric trolley from Pālama to watch city high school football games and Hawaii Baseball League tripleheaders at the old Honolulu Stadium and took in basketball and boxing at the old Civic Auditorium.

I worked on the Rough Rider at Roosevelt High School, Ka Leo at the University of Hawai'i and also part-time for the Star-Bulletin before getting hired full time in 1959, the same year as statehood. I retired after 42 years from the then afternoon daily and became a "sportwriter" when I wrote only on golf the last 10 years for The Honolulu Advertiser, which ends its long history as Hawai'i's oldest newspaper with its final edition on Sunday, making Honolulu a one-newspaper town.

It has been a great run, doing something I enjoy and getting paid for it. With a seat in the press box and media parking thrown in. My mom couldn't believe that I got paid to watch a game. What other job would let me go to 15 Super Bowls five at New Orleans, my favorite venue for the NFL championship game six World Series and the Olympic Games in Montreal, Los Angeles and Seoul. Too bad USA boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games. I would have brought back one of those Russian fur hats that Omar Sharif wore in "Dr. Zhivago."

I started my career in the 1960s with what I considered the best beat in town high school sports with Charlie Wedemeyer, Ed "Skippa" Diaz and Jim Nicholson making the Headline 1s. ILH football was king. UH football? It was sub-division, playing the likes of Humboldt State, which didn't excite local fans. Covering Hawaii Islanders baseball was my next assignment for eight years and there was nothing like spring training in Florida, California and Arizona, although I couldn't wait to take the 3:10 out of Yuma.

A 13-year stint as sports editor was sort of a mixed blessing. I got to travel nationally, but there were times when I missed the excitement by not being at an event like the time Chaminade stunned Virginia in college basketball's biggest upset. Relieved from administrative duties, I returned to writing a column and golf before retiring from the Star-Bulletin in 2001. Then a 10-year "mulligan" ending today as the Advertiser's golf columnist.

Golf remains special to me and I owe it to Bill Gee, a former Star-Bulletin cohort. I still remember Gee telling me, "If you're going to be a sportswriter, you got to play golf." So he took me out to a par-3 night course somewhere up in Pearl City, Moanalua and Mid-Pacific Country Club in a three-session crash course. Thanks to taking up the game, I got to play golf with Yogi Berra, Walter Payton, Otto Graham, Ray Nitschke and Archie Manning.

When he wrote "Farewell to Sport," Paul Gallico talked about being fortunate in writing during the golden era of Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, Knute Rockne and Red Grange. I've had the good fortune of writing about and meeting the greats of my time, too Pele, Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Vince Lombardi and John Wooden. And, in keeping with my partiality to golf, Robert Trent Jones, during Mauna Kea's 25th anniversary. Oh, and I eventually got to meet DiMaggio, Musial and Slaughter "Jolting Joe," "Stan the Man" and "Country."

Gallico had a contemporary in Grantland Rice, the most noted sportswriter at the time. I met a few of my contemporaries, too, notably Jim Murray and Red Smith. Murray brought humor to sportswriting; Smith, with whom I clinked a glass or two of Scotch whisky with his vodka tonic, brought sportswriting to the Pulitzer level and made sportswriters look good.

I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to write about sports. It's not often you can say that the best job in the world was your only job. Now, I'm just a sports fan like that kid in Shriners' Hospital back in 1942.


Bill Kwon can be reached at billkwonrhs@aol.com.