Jimmy Jacobs, who had become prominent in such widely diverse enterprises as handball, film collecting and fight management, died Wednesday in New York.
Jacobs, known chiefly these days as heavyweight champion Mike Tyson’s co-manager, was 58. According to close friends he had been suffering from lymphocytic leukemia for nine years, although the cause of death was listed as pneumonia.
Jacobs had an oddly varied career, although he had the most exposure lately as the man who helped steer an untutored Tyson to $10-million paydays. To many, though, he will be remembered as perhaps the greatest handball player of all time. To others, he will be recalled as an obsessive collector, with the greatest fight film collection in the world.
Those who saw Jacobs as a bespectacled and balding behind-the-scenes player, lecturing boxing reporters at Tyson’s many press conferences or instructing them in the obscure history of the sport, may be surprised to learn that he was an accomplished athlete himself, beginning with his days at Los Angeles High School.
According to Duke Llewellyn, vice president of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and a longtime friend, Jacobs was a sensational athlete in high school, even though he never graduated.
“He had the record for points scored in basketball and was second in the city in the 100-yard dash,” Llewellyn said. “He could play tennis, Ping-Pong, baseball. The coaches used to say he was a frustration to them. He could have excelled in any sport.”
Fellow fight film collector Nick Beck, who became a friend of Jacobs when the two were in their teens, said that Jacobs often boasted of being named All-City in basketball but said he had been unable to collect the award because of his expulsion from high school. That became a source of amusement among his friends.
“He talked about that the rest of his life,” Beck said. “How he was denied this honor.”
Jacobs won others, though, after taking to handball. According to Beck, he became a nationally known prodigy while still a 17-year-old playing at the Hollywood YMCA. “Guys came from all over the country to see Jimmy,” he said.
Jacobs, who won 12 national championships, later represented the L.A. Athletic Club and then the New York Athletic Club. According to Beck, when Jacobs finally learned that the New York Athletic Club had a restrictive policy for membership, he took his game to the Young Men’s Hebrew Assn. in New York. There, a court is named for him.
From 1955 to 1969, Jacobs won every match he played in United States Handball Assn. singles and doubles competition.
But another childhood pastime launched him into wealth, and eventually his role as Mike Tyson’s guiding force. According to Beck, Jacobs was curious about the controversial Joe Louis-Jersey Joe Walcott fight of 1947. So, the 17-year-old boxing fan purchased his own film of the fight, thus beginning a vast collection that today numbers more than 17,000 films, dating back to the 1890s.
Jacobs was an obsessive collector in general, and his trove includes a vast collection of comic books, now in a warehouse. According to Llewellyn, Jacobs got into much of his high school trouble for reading comics in class.
Beck, however, says Jacobs made his misbehavior pay off. In his collection are at least six issues of a rare 1938 Detective Comics, each worth as much as $10,000.
The fight film collection--he eventually joined forces with another film collector, Bill Cayton, to form Big Fights Inc.--made him a rich man.
But fight management returned him to sports’ front lines. In 1979, he became manager of three-time world champion Wilfred Benitez.
Jacobs also had a long friendship with Cus D’Amato, then Tyson’s trainer and manager. The two shared a New York apartment for 10 years, but when D’Amato could no longer live in the city, Jacobs bought him a house and gym in Upstate New York.
Jacobs continued to subsidize D’Amato’s boxing activities. When D’Amato died in 1985, it was only natural that Jacobs would assume management of his fighters, who then included Tyson.
Bringing Tyson along quickly, Jacobs and Cayton negotiated multimillion-dollar contracts with HBO for his fights and soon maneuvered him into championship bouts.
Jacobs also had something of a father-son relationship with Tyson, who shared Jacobs’ interest in fight history. As press conferences dragged on, Tyson would sometimes put his head on Jacobs’ shoulder.
Jacobs was not at ringside in Tokyo for Tyson’s most recent fight and had, in fact, been visibly declining by Tyson’s previous fight, against Larry Holmes in January.
Various reasons were given for his wan appearance and his increasing absences. But Beck said that Jacobs had informed him of his leukemia in 1985, asking Beck to look out for his mother if he died first.
Survivors include Jacobs’ wife, Lorraine, and a sister, Dorothy.
Funeral and entombment will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Hillside Memorial Park Chapel in Culver City.