Legendary sports broadcaster Jim Gray says Baltimore native, Morgan State legend and former NBA player Marvin “The Eraser” Webster helped him build the relationships that catapulted him into the sports broadcasting business.
Webster played at Morgan State from 1971-1975, recording 1,990 points and 2,267 rebounds in 114 games. He led the Bears to the Division II national title in 1974 as well. The 7-foot-1 center then played in 617 games in the ABA and NBA for the Denver Nuggets, Seattle SuperSonics, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks. He averaged 7.0 points and 6.8 rebounds during his career.
Webster was selected in the first round of the 1975 NBA Draft. He saw limited action as a rookie with the Nuggets due to a form of hepatitis. He sat in the stands during games and struck up a friendship with Gray, a fan of the team at the time.
“Just the way [Webster] took me in and was able to introduce me to Larry Brown, David Thompson, Monte Towe, all of the great players, Dan Issel,” Gray said on Glenn Clark Radio Nov. 24, “that led to me being able to see how sports work and being able to get a firsthand impression at a very young age.”
“His greatest contribution was the way he treated people, even better than he was a basketball player,” Gray added. “… He and his wife, Madeira, became very close friends [with me], and Marvin actually got me to be able to be a ball boy for the Nuggets because he would work out on his own because of the hepatitis. And he was a wonderful guy. He was a terrific player, had a heart of gold, rose up through the ranks and got over his illness.”
Gray recently released a book about the various memorable experiences in his career called, “Talking to GOATs: The Moments You Remember and the Stories You Never Heard.” Among these experiences is a 1978 interview with Muhammad Ali, whom he built a relationship with afterward. Gray was also able to conduct Ali’s final interview in 2004.
“Muhammad Ali was my first interview, and he let me do his last interview,” Gray said. “I called Muhammad and Lonnie Ali, his terrific wife who was just sensational with the way she took care of him and now is taking care of his legacy with the [Muhammad] Ali Center and so forth. But anyway, I called them and said, ‘I’d like to do an interview, and I want to gather America’s greatest living Olympians. Would you do this interview, Muhammad?’ He said yes, and he said this is the last interview he’ll do on television.”
Gray said the interview “was the greatest moment I’ve ever seen connected in sports and maybe in life, other than personal things with my family.”
“That moment resonates because what you see there is everything that we all hope we can be: pride, courage, talent, dedication, humanity, gratitude, fragility,” Gray added. “Here’s a man standing up there, fighting Parkinson’s, and, there for the grace of God go I, it was … a symbol of strength and the greatest being the greatest all over again.”
That broadcast included the most decorated Olympian of all time, Baltimore native Michael Phelps. Phelps holds a total of 28 Olympic medals — 23 of which are gold medals.
“Phelps did not believe that he belonged on the show. He thought he was out of place with all these great Olympians but I told him, ‘No, we’re coming to see you because you’ve got greatness in your future and we’re betting on you,'” Gray said.
Gray described a special moment between him and Ali during this broadcast as well as a moment between Ali and Phelps.
“The last thing Ali said on television — I asked Ali who did he want to fight next, and he pointed at me and said, ‘Me,’ meaning me, and then he got up,” Gray said. “We had these torches flown in from Athens, and Ali took the torch and he walked up. He stood up, and he handed it to Michael Phelps and said, ‘I’m the greatest, you’re the latest. It’s now up to you. Go win all those medals.’ And if you ask Michael Phelps, to this day, what that did to his spirit, to his confidence — obviously he was going to win those medals anyway … but he always says what that moment with Ali meant to him.”
For more from Gray, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credits: Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ESPN Images and Courtesy of Morgan State Athletics