A recent story in Sports Illustrated reported that Nick Charles is dying. When the doctors found his bladder cancer a couple of summers ago, it already had spread to his lungs. It was diagnosed then as Stage 4, the worst stage. Around Christmas, the doctors told him yet another round of chemo might give him a couple of extra months. He declined.
Charles is 64. He might best be remembered as a co-anchor of CNN's Sports Tonight. It debuted in 1980 -- almost half his lifetime ago. For the better part of 17 years, he worked alongside Fred Hickman before the show succumbed to the power of ESPN's SportsCenter. The "Hick and Nick" chemistry was electric. Charles was the one with the movie star looks.
Away from the studio show, Charles evolved into a top-notch boxing announcer. He worked a little as a host for HBO pay-per-view events and a lot at ringside for Showtime.
Six paragraphs into the Sports Illustrated story, Charles told writer Joe Posnanski he wished he could work ringside at just one more fight. He followed up saying it wouldn't happen.
"It's OK," Charles said. "I've covered a lot of fights."But it wasn't OK with Rick Bernstein, the executive producer of HBO Sports. He read Posnanski's piece on the train during a morning commute to work. As soon as he arrived at his office, Bernstein passed the story on to his boss, Ross Greenberg, the president of HBO Sports.
HBO had a fight card scheduled for Saturday. Surely, Charles could call one of the bouts, Bernstein reasoned. That Bernstein and Charles have never been more than industry acquaintances and Bernstein cannot recall ever hearing Charles work blow by blow didn't matter. An HBO corporate man at heart, Bernstein could never stomach subscribing to archrival Showtime.
"Still, it was a no-brainer," Bernstein said via telephone from his HBO office late Thursday. "I knew it was easy. We could do this for Nick. To make someone who is terminally ill have his wish happen ... come on ... I can't ever imagine being in a situation like this again."
And so at 8:45 p.m. Saturday, Charles is scheduled to be at ringside in Atlantic City, N.J., alongside Max Kellerman and Roy Jones to call a bout between undefeated featherweights Matt Remillard and Mike Garcia. Bob Papa, who had been scheduled to call the fight, graciously stepped aside.
HBO Sports is second to none when it comes to seeking publicity for its offerings. Vice president Ray Stallone is a one-man blowtorch when it comes to ballyhooing the cable network's staples like Hard Knocks and 24/7. But there wasn't a peep about Charles this time. Not even a mention in the emailed press release.
"We told Nick he could talk to whoever he wants," Stallone said. "We didn't feel right trying to sell this."
On Thursday afternoon, Yahoo Sports boxing writer Kevin Iole updated his readers on Charles' condition and reported that HBO was making Charles' wish come true.
There is a photo alongside the article.
The cancer and chemo have done their work. The movie star looks are gone. The face is hollowed. A cap covers what remains of his hair.
He is smiling with his 5-year-old daughter's right arm hugging him. A mutual friend sent more photos. Charles is smiling in all of them.
"This is a great world with a lot of amazing things and tremendous, caring, giving people," Charles told Iole. "I don't want to give up on all of that just because I am sick. I want to continue to experience it and try to be an inspiration to people who maybe need someone to tell them to keep up the fight."
Now, HBO will be his pulpit.
Soon after Charles accepted HBO's offer, Bernstein sent him an email.
"How do you want us to address your situation," Bernstein wrote, unable to type the word "cancer."
Charles responded that he will try to call the fight exactly as he called hundreds before. His voice may not be as strong as viewers' recall, but his passion for the sport still rages.
HBO wasn't sure if it would have Charles on camera before the fight. It will.
"He told me he knows exactly what he is going to say about his situation," Bernstein said. "His message is 'Live your life to the end.'."
Mike Aresco worries too much. The CBS Sports vice president for programming was actually anticipating viewer complaints about the new format for covering the men's basketball tournament. You know, the sane format that allows CBS and Turner partners TNT, TBS and truTV, to carry every game from tip to buzzer. That is, instead of CBS hoarding all the games and parceling them out to every market.
Sometimes, CBS tried to please fans by leaving one game for another. That pleased some but ticked off those who liked what they were watching.
"You just never know," Aresco said about his worries. "We couldn't be certain everyone would like it. Maybe some people liked the frenzy of us switching from game to game."
Among Aresco's biggest worries was viewers wouldn't be able to find truTV, which has never been a player in sports television. He also feared that some viewers would complain about putting games on cable.
So CBS, as it has done every March, drafted the usual number of employees and assigned them to answer viewers' complaint calls. There haven't been many.
"It's been dead quiet," Aresco said.
Around the Horn
Matt Mosley has a new contract that calls for more airtime on Galloway & Co. on ESPN-FM (103.3), but he has split with ESPN.com and is heading for Foxsports.com. ... Steve Sabol, the face of NFL Films as well as its heart and soul, is set to undergo treatment for a brain tumor. In a note to his NFL Films colleagues, he wrote: "There is no Hail Mary treatment for my condition. To make progress, I just have to move the chains and keep making first downs." ... NBC's Al Michaels deservedly picks up the life achievement award at the annual Sports Emmy Awards in New York come May.