No single personality in the sport evinced a more obvious enthusiasm for the sport. His passion was overwhelming, his adoration for the sweet science unflagging.
Bronx-born Harold Lederman, a boxing lifer, succumbed to cancer, at age 79, we learned on Saturday, May 10th.
And the sport is now burdened with a hole that cannot and will not be filled, because there was not another being like Harold, who fashioned for himself a legacy that will be as close to eternal as most of the practitioners of the trade.
A pharmacist by trade, he was scoring pro fights since the late 60s, and he was renowned for having a keen eye. Oh yes, he prized aggression, he loved to see those harder, cleaner punches land, and that would gain the edge on his card.
Our thoughts are with wife Elaine, by his side, ever faithful, always smiling, at any and all fight functions. Also, his legacy lives on in daughters Iris and Julie, who inherited dad's passion and skill set, as a ringside arbiter.
The resident of Orangeburg, NY would pass his insights onto Jim, and us, in an accent that had to seem prototypical NYC to the watchers in the bible belt. He talked kinda fast, but wasn't verbose, making him useful to impart colorful information in a short span.
At HBO, he scored more than 1,000 fights in his three-decade-plus career on the air. He was battling a rematch with cancer that he'd rebuffed a few years back, and wasn't so regular a fixture at the local bouts in and around the tri-state as he had been, after HBO faded to black late last year. You knew, probably, in your gut, that it wasn't a good sign that Harold wasn't around, because he gobbled up bouts. He'd watch four round debuters with the same attentiveness he afforded the Jones Juniors, and De La Hoyas, and the like.
Harold was a sharp cookie; he graduated from Columbia University, and in 2006 in Las Vegas he was awarded the Boxing Writers of America Association’s “Good Guy” Award and on June 5, 2009, the BWAA recognized Harold with the “Sam Taub” Award for broadcast excellence. No, you didn't hear a soul grumbling about Harold, such a rarity for this fraternity.
In 2016, they did the right thing, and Harold entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in upstate New York.
“It was one of the greatest privileges of my broadcasting career to work with Harold Lederman, whose unique humanity and lifelong love of boxing brought joy to the hearts of millions of fans, show after show after show,” said another HBO institution, blow by blow man Jim Lampley, who started at the cabler in 1988. Harold was already ensconced there. “They waited for his moments, they were thrilled by his insights, they gloried in imitating his voice. No one in the sport had more friends, because no one in the sport was more deserving of friends. As deeply saddened as I am by his passing, I am equally deeply joyful that he made it to the final bell on December 8. Nothing was more important to the legacy of HBO Boxing, so in that we can all take solace. Now his scorecard is complete.”
We learned more about the man from a 2012 USA Today story. “I judge the fight exactly the way the judges see it,” said Lederman, then 72. “Let me tell you the truth, the headphones magnify the blows and makes it sound like the roof is caving in.” He shared that he didn't want to be influenced, so he'd not be looped in to Jim and Max or any of the fight callers. “I don't want to listen to them. I don't want to hear anything about, say, Pacquiao's family. My job is only to explain to the public how the fight should be scored. I worked that out a long time ago.”
Fans and media, heck, everyone rooted for Harold as he scrapped against prostate cancer in 2011. Longtime HBO exec Lou Dibella grooved on Harold's enthusiasm, he told NYFights. “I’ll miss that…and his humility, approachability, generosity of spirit, realness, lack of malice, kindness and more.”
“Boxing has lost one of our best friends,” said George Foreman, who watched bouts with Harold at HBO. “Here was a man who knew boxing from A-Z. We had many chats. Never a negative conversation about the sport of boxing.” Lederman went way back with George; at Madison Square Garden, Harold officially scored for Foreman over Roberto Davila, 7-1, in 1969.
Longtime director Marc Payton also weighed in. “Harold was many things, but most of all, he was an original. There was nobody like him before, and there is nobody like him now. His passion for boxing was genuine. He ate, drank, and slept boxing, and would spend hours talking about the sport to anyone who would listen. I was fortunate to work with him at HBO from his first telecast until my final one in 2015. He will be missed by many.”
“I judge the fight exactly the way the judges see it,” said Lederman, 72 to the colorful daily paper. “Let me tell you the truth, the headphones magnify the blows and makes it sound like the roof is caving in.”
As for hearing the announcers, Lederman says their points would only be a distraction. “I don't want to listen to them. I don't want to hear anything about, say, Pacquiao's family. My job is only to explain to the public how the fight should be scored. I worked that out a long time ago.”
Gosh, did he love the fights; the 1982 Wilfredo Gomez win over Lupe Pintor was one of his faves. This skills pay the bills era wasn't his cup of sweet tea. but the man had a savvy, and didn't let fighting style or politics impact his place in the HBO family.
Harold was detail oriented, and driven. He showed an NYC style forwardness when he cold-called then HBO boxing boss Ross Greenburg, in '86, to clue him in that the shows were maybe not handling scoring the right way. Now, in the social media age, judging became even more of a provocative topic than in decades before. Blind, corrupted, all the terms were thrown at the opiners…but Harold pretty much stayed above the fray. Yeah, he liked those forward movers, and volume. “Effective aggressiveness is just supposed to be 25% of scoring. But that's the textbook version. The true story is that 99% is for clean punching,” he told USA Today.
Harold and Eileen's relationship started when he was at Columbia, and she liked that he loved the sport. Her dad was on the NY State Athletic Commission, she recalled to writer Bob Mladinich.
“It was my father that got Harold involved in the sport as a judge. In the early days, Harold would take any and all assignments in any crazy place. I remember him doing a fight at a firehouse in Pennsylvania,” she shared.
“As a child, boxing was my life,” Harold told Mladinich. “My father was a huge fan, who took me to the fights almost every week. One of my favorite venues was the old Long Beach Stadium on Long Island. At one time or another, everyone fought there. I saw Roland LaStarza, Rocky Castellani, and Tommy Bell, who twice fought Sugar Ray Robinson. Not a day goes by that I don’t think back fondly to those days, and today I have the same passion for boxing that I did then. I’m like an old fighter that just can’t get out of the game.”
That passion made his 9 to 5 at times choppy. Bosses would get irked that he had that sideline passion, and so he'd have to find a new homebase to dispense pills and meds if an over-seer wasn't accommodating to his side hustle. Boss, I gotta tell ya something, Harold would say, and then he'd hunt for a new gig. He loved boxing more, truth be told; his dad had a drug store and Harold was helping out since he was four.
He will be missed, OK Jim!…And he will not be replaced, because he originated that role, and crafted it with his punchy delivery and verbal combos that made him a cult legend. We thank Harold for his service to the sport and are not afraid to admit, we will miss him, for his signature style and enduring affability.
Funeral services will take place on Tuesday, May 14th, 11:00 A.M., at Hellman Memorial Chapels, 15 State Street, Spring Valley, New York, 10977.