McKay's Day


On the day he passed, the TV sports calendar paid tribute to Jim McKay.

The face of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and a commentator/host of a dozen Olympics for three networks, McKay died of natural causes at age 86 on June 7. From cliff diving to wrist wrestling, gymnastics to weight lifting, track and field to the links and the ponies, plus countless other forms of competition in between, McKay was on the scene. Spanning the globe, he did bring the constant variety of sports into our living rooms, including the tragic news of the Israeli massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

News about Paul Pierce’s status for Game 2 of the NBA Finals and Major League Baseball aside, the June 7 calendar reflected the gamut and internationalization of games, that McKay, along with the late Roone Arledge, had helped usher in nearly five decades earlier. Wide World‘ s push, which began on April 1, 1961, and featured over the decades profiles and stories about otherwise obscure athletes from Siberia or Sao Paulo, ultimately opened the door to ESPN and what has become a 24-hour global sports universe and industry.

NBC yesterday morning delivered its café and croissant serving from Roland Garros with the ladies’ French Open final. The Peacock later teed off a celebrity golf tournament (the Superstars was a Wide spin-off and an early celebreality iteration), followed by the women vying for the Visa U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

Later, ESPN Classic was home to the first two Group A soccer matches from Euro 2008 in Switzerland. ESPN and ESPN2 carried the College World Series, with the latter eventually shifting gears to an array of motor sports action..

The Tiffany Network, led by his son Sean McManus, the president of CBS Sports and News, had third-round coverage of the St. Jude Classic golf tournament from Memphis and the LPGA’s McDonald’s Championship from Havre de Grace, Md.

Perhaps fittingly, ABC, the network where he left most of his imprimatur, was deep into the Belmont Stakes on June 7. McKay loved horse racing and Big Brown was a shoo-in, a 1-4 favorite, to end a 30-year Triple Crown drought.

Well, whether the vagaries of the equine, the heat, the gods of racing, or some illness/injury that has yet to be disclosed (the hoof problem has largely been dismissed), Big Brown was a big bust, finishing ninth in the field of nine.

Or maybe, he just didn’t want to upstage McKay, whose legacy in his field extends well beyond the back stretch.