His given name was James K. McManus, and I don't think he never put that aside. His 1973 book, "My Wide World," is copyrighted under the McManus name, and the dustjacket bio begins "James K. McManus, professionally known as Jim McKay. ..."
It takes some doing to hold onto your real, original self in show business -- and sports in the McKay era was definitely a business of show -- but McKay seemed to do it no matter how remarkable his life might be. He had a reputation for courtliness, for manners, and for seeming mild and approachable as he talked to the television audience. To be sure, especially as sports journalism became more of a contact sport, McKay could seem too kindly. But that was who he was, and he did not let that go, either.
In "My Wide World," he opens with a story of surpassing homeliness, about having to move his parked car and then get the sheets from the laundry room in his New York apartment building in the '50s. But on the way to move the car, he ran into a TV producer who invited McKay up to a nearby apartment to meet Dag Hammarskjold, then Secretary General of the United Nations. McKay obliged. Conversation and a couple of drinks ensued. McKay then moved his car and got the sheets. And, when asked by his wife where he had been, he could only say, "If I told you, you'd never believe me."
And who would believe a life at once so ordinary and extraordinary? McKay is most remembered for his work on ABC's coverage of the Munich Olympics in 1972, where his simple declaration was carried by grace and empathy. But while Munich is the capper to "My Wide World," and perhaps the capstone to McKay's career, it was just part of that year for McKay.
The book, he said in its introduction, is "the story of one man's summer of 1972, from late April until early September, from Indianapolis to Munich, from racing to golf to the Olympics, from Mark Donohue and Lee Trevino to Dave Wottle and Olga Korbut, from the beauty of Pebble Beach to the terror of Building 31 in the Olympic Village."
Talk about a summer of "if I told you, you'd never believe me." But we did believe him, because we saw him, on TV, in all those places and many more, and because he was Jim McKay, one of us, in Munich or with an armload of sheets.
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