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When It Comes to Breaking Stories, Jim Gray Is Still Red Hot

If you were going to pick a color to describe ESPN reporter Jim Gray it would be, well, gray. There’s nothing flamboyant about him. He’s a laid-back, easygoing young man who doesn’t have distinctive looks, a distinctive voice or a gimmick.

All Jim Gray has is a knack for breaking big stories.

Last Halloween night, Gray got Eric Dickerson to drive from his home in Malibu to a studio in Hollywood to announce that he had been traded from the Rams to the Indianapolis Colts.

Gray was the first to report that Brian Bosworth would sign with the Seattle Seahawks, and he was the first to report that Dan Fouts had worked out a contract dispute with the San Diego Chargers.

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Gray told his bosses at ESPN that Billy Martin would be back as manager of the New York Yankees 3 1/2 weeks before it happened.

He got the Raiders’ Jerry Robinson to talk after being arrested on a drug charge, when Robinson wasn’t talking to anyone.

Denver Broncos cornerback Mark Haynes doesn’t talk to anyone, but he talks to Gray, whom he knew at the University of Colorado. Haynes’ coach, Dan Reeves, has told Gray: “He talks to you more than he talks to me.”

And this week, Gray broke the story of Tom Flores’ retirement as the Raiders’ coach.

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How does he do it?

“I really don’t know,” Gray said. “I said to a friend that I’m not going to change my clothes, comb my hair or do anything different. I’ve been really lucky the past six months or so.”

Gray is unusually modest for an on-air television person. That may help him. Athletes, coaches and sports executives, used to pushy TV types, seem to regard Gray, who is a little on the shy side, as a breath of fresh air.

“I’ve made a lot of good friends, and with that has come a lot of good contacts,” Gray said.

One of those contacts--Gray isn’t saying who--called to tip him on the Flores story.

Add Gray: A little-known fact about Gray--something he never talks about--is that his father is Gerald Gray, oilman Marvin Davis’ partner in a real estate firm that owns, among other things, the Aspen Ski Corp.

Even Gray’s closest friends don’t know about his father. Nor do his colleagues at ESPN.

“I don’t know how you found that out, but I wish you wouldn’t print it,” Gray said.

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“Don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of my father. He’s been a big help. Besides my mom, my father is my biggest fan.

“But what I accomplish on a daily basis is as foreign to him as what he accomplishes on a daily basis is to me.

“I want people to judge me because of what I do, not because of who my father is.”

Gray, 28, has done pretty well on his own. He worked for the ABC affiliate in Denver, his hometown, during his college days at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then went to work for Prism, a Philadelphia cable channel similar to Prime Ticket.

He later worked for producer Bud Greenspan on the Olympic film, “16 Days of Glory.” Then it was on to ESPN.

Gray, who is single and lives in Marina del Rey, heads ESPN’s West Coast bureau.

“I think I’m pretty realistic about my limitations,” he said. “I’m not going to set the world on fire with my looks. Nor am I ever going to be a Brent Musburger, a Bob Costas or a Chris Berman.

“So I just plug away and try to break a story here and there.

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“Yeah,” Gray said, in a flash of immodesty, “I’ve been on a pretty good streak.”

Fight game: Will Mike Tyson toy with 38-year-old Larry Holmes during tonight’s fight on HBO?

Well, consider this: Tyson has a seven-fight deal with HBO that will reportedly pay about $26 million. This is the first fight of that deal, and a loss to Holmes would jeopardize the whole thing. So Tyson, a heavy favorite, may not want to take any chances.

Even if the fight turns out to be a dog, tonight’s show, which begins at 7, should be worth watching. Producer Ross Greenburg has put together several pertinent features.

The show will open with a look at three heavyweights who had ill-fated comebacks: James Jeffries, who, after a five-year layoff, was stopped by Jack Johnson in 1910; Joe Louis, who was stopped by Rocky Marciano in 1951; and Muhammad Ali, who was stopped by Holmes in 1980, when Ali was 38 and Holmes 31.

Also, during the prefight show, there will be a feature on Tyson’s training regimen and one on Holmes’ continuing battle with the media.

The fight is scheduled to start at 7:25 p.m. The announcers will be the regular HBO crew of Barry Thompkins, Sugar Ray Leonard, who knows something about comebacks, and Larry Merchant.

Big fights are rarely carried on radio anymore, but tonight’s will be broadcast on KNX. The announcers will be Randy Gordon and Trevor Berbick.

Also, a few bars in Southern California are authorized to show the fight. They include Harry C’s in Riverside, the Strand in Redondo Beach and Lola’s Lounge in North Hollywood. There may be a cover charge or a drink minimum.

TV-Radio Notes

Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder has been dropped from John Madden’s Super Bowl special, which will be televised Jan. 30 by Channel 2 at 7 p.m. “We got about 20 calls on Monday from stations carrying the show,” Bob Horowitz, the show’s executive producer, said. “They were concerned about the Greek being on the show. That’s why we decided not to use him.”

For the record: It has been erroneously reported that Ed Hotaling, the TV reporter who did the infamous interview with Snyder last Friday, is black. He is white. The error was first made by the Washington Post, then edited into The Times’ story that appeared in last Sunday’s late editions. In the same story, CBS spokesman Doug Richardson was cited as the person who interrupted a conversation between Times reporter Jay Sharbutt and Snyder. Richardson said he was not on the phone; it was Snyder’s son-in-law, Jim Robinson.

Channel 4’s Fred Roggin and Channel 5’s Keith Olbermann were presented with Golden Mike Awards last Friday night. Roggin won in the A Division and Olbermann in the B Division for having the best nightly sports shows. Olbermann also won a Golden Mike for a series on the Raiders and their proposed move to Irwindale.

Howard Cosell’s new show, “Speaking of Everything,” makes its debut at 12:15 a.m. Monday on Channel 4. Cosell’s guests include Billy Crystal and Jack Lemmon. . . . It was announced this week that Bud Greenspan’s two-hour film of the Calgary Winter Olympics will make its television premiere on the Disney Channel in March 1989. . . . NBC has signed Marv Albert to a new multiyear contract, ending speculation that he might be jumping to CBS to announce pro basketball. NBC also gave Ferdie Pacheco a new contract.

Recommended viewing: ABC’s tape of the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii on “Wide World of Sports” Saturday at 4:30 p.m. . . . Attention journalist Jim Healy: The new sports-movie channel scheduled to go on the air in April is a project of American Spectacor, a merger of American Cablesystems and Philadelphia-based Spectacor, not American Spectator , as you reported several times Wednesday night. Who goofed?


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