On Saturday afternoon, word spread quickly throughout the boxing world that Harold Lederman had died at the age of 79 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
To those in the industry who had known him for years, it was like losing your favorite uncle, or your best friend — or at least someone who made you feel you were his best friend. He was that kind of guy.
Knowing Lederman, the greatest regret he might have had is that he couldn’t make it through Saturday night’s big cards on ESPN and Fox. He would’ve watched every fight intently and then talked at length with anybody who wanted to discuss what had just taken place.
He was the ultimate boxing guy. Nobody loved boxing and the fight scene more than Lederman, whose day job for years was as a pharmacist at ShopRite in Carmel, New York. Lederman came from a family of pharmacists, with his father, grandfather and four uncles having been in the same trade, but boxing was his calling.
To all of us, he was “The Judge” for HBO Sports — a role that began in 1986 with the heavyweight title fight between Trevor Berbick and Pinklon Thomas.
With his distinctive rapid-fire delivery and infectious personality, he became a staple of boxing — not only as a staple of the HBO broadcast, but a friendly and trusted voice for generations of boxing fans. The HBO crew, which for years was the gold standard in boxing — if not all of sports — with the likes of boxing legends Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Emanuel Steward and Roy Jones, Harold was the most relatable voice to the average fan.
In the immediate aftermath of his passing, there has been a multitude of tributes written and spoken about the generosity and graciousness of Lederman, whether it was to fans who wanted to snap a photo with him at weigh-ins, to writers who wanted quotes for stories or broadcasters who were always given his time and patience.
I can say with great certainty that all these stories are true, because I can attest to it myself. Back in 1996, as I was cutting my teeth on this boxing beat, I was doing a show called “The Main Event” on KIEV-AM 870, a small radio station in Los Angeles, which was devoted exclusively to boxing. My co-host, Tim Abrams, and executive producer, Oscar Valdez, had actually bought airtime, and hired me to be the co-host. My main qualifications were that I had interned at a radio station (at the short-lived and notorious KMAX), I had watched boxing as a child of the 1980s, and, most important, that I worked cheap. I got paid $250 a show — 25 rolls of quarters weekly, as Valdez owned vending machines throughout the city.
Our show, which ran for about a year on that station, aired from 11 p.m. on a Saturday night ’til 12:30 a.m.. Yeah, not exactly drive time.
This was my first full-time, regular gig in boxing, and we probably had dozens of dedicated listeners.
In the spring of 1996, I happened to see Lederman in a hotel lobby, I nervously approached him and gave him a business card for our program. “Hey, how you doing?” he said to me, as if I had known him for years. He handed me one his business cards, which had the WBO logo (as he was one of its championship officials) and his phone numbers. Back then, before he had a cell phone, you either called him at the ShopRite or at his home.
I told him that one day, if he was ever back in town, we’d love to have him in studio. Of course, there was the problem that we started awfully late on weekends, but to my surprise, he said he would the next time he was in Los Angeles to work a fight.
And guess what?
That’s precisely what he did when he was back in town to be ringside for the HBO broadcast from the Forum on the night of Sept. 14, when Marco Antonio Barrera stopped Jesse Magana in 10 rounds. As Lederman’s duties for HBO ended, we whisked him away to our modest studio in Burbank, where he became the main event of “The Main Event” for a full hour and a half. It became a tradition — any time he was in L.A., we would take him out to dinner at some point during his time on the West Coast and then bring him into the studio.
It’s safe to assume that whatever audience we had probably multiplied when Harold was with us. He certainly enjoyed taking phone calls from fans. He really got a kick out of me introducing him as the “Conscience of HBO,” as well as the notebook where I wrote down all the topics, news and notes that we would discuss on the show.
There is nobody else of his stature in boxing who would have done that for us. For that, I am forever indebted.
I was more than happy to repay his generosity by agreeing to send him any newspaper articles from my side of town. “Hey Steve, can you send me clips?” were his exact words.
That basically meant cutting out any article from the local papers, or anything else related to boxing — even stories on this newfangled thing called “the internet.” Every few months, after saving up a stack of boxing-related items, I’d put them into an oversized, padded manila envelope and mail them to his home in Orangeburg, New York.
For him, these deliveries must have been like Christmas every few months. Years ago, HBO did a feature on Lederman, and it turns out he kept (or collected, or hoarded, depending on your perspective) press kits that are given to the media at news conferences. Most of us discard them as fights come and go and the information within is no longer useful — but Lederman kept his and treasured them as if they were original pages from the Canterbury files.
As the years progressed and I moved on to other media outlets, Lederman remained a great resource, and any time I requested an interview, he would gladly oblige. Harold was like this to hundreds of us in the media throughout the years, and in his own way, he aided our careers by lending his name and credibility to our bylines and, later, podcasts.
The final interview I did with him was on “The Next Round,” which was co-hosted by Gabriel Montoya. We brought Lederman on when he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2016. As always, he was a fantastic guest — informative, entertaining and engaging, as only he could be.
As HBO signed off its boxing coverage for the final time in December, it was the final time many fans heard Harold’s voice. Most might not have even known he was fighting cancer over the past few years. My view is that perhaps a part of him died as HBO left the boxing business, because nobody loved that job the way he did and, beyond that, being around the fight game. He would routinely go to small club shows the night before working his HBO gig — and in both instances, he would be there from the very first bout to the last.
The fights will go on, but it won’t be the same without Harold. The sport has lost its greatest ambassador.
All I can say is this: Harold, thanks for everything you did — for the fight game, and for myself.