Thursday, May 21, 2015

Remembering Bryan Burwell

For many years, I enjoyed reading Bryan Burwell's articles about the NBA. He covered the league for a variety of publications. I never had the opportunity to meet him face to face--and I regret that I never will, since he passed away from cancer last December at just 59. Bernie Miklasz, a St. Louis sportswriter who was a colleague of Burwell's, penned a warm and loving tribute to his friend titled
Bryan Burwell Will Always Live in Our Hearts. Here is an excerpt:

Day in and day out, Bryan Burwell was the happiest person you could find in any press box, or in a media work room. In a profession of notorious grumps, he was good for morale. You'd show up, and grouse about something, and Burwell would turn and smile, offer support, and then get to work on repairing your mood.

And you didn't have to be a media star, or a colleague, or a longterm friend to get Burwell's attention or empathy. He always treated nervous young journalists with respect and caring, giving them so much of his time you'd think these kids were Pulitzer Prize winners. Burwell didn't care about your status, or where you ranked on the ladder of journalism. If you shared a press box with Burwell, you were his equal. And if you needed his advice, he would patiently and generously offer it. There was no time limit on his kindness.

Until the end of his life, Bryan maintained the kind of enthusiasm that often wanes when sportswriters and broadcasters have been in the industry for a decade or two. Well, it was impossible to diminish his joy or take away his laughter...

Burwell saw the best in everyone, but he had the courage to take a stand and express a strong and unpopular opinion. And as you probably can understand, it wasn't always easy being an outspoken African American sports columnist who didn't hesitate to take a stand. I cringe at the memory of some of the emails he received; you can only imagine. He would show a few to me every now and then and it made me crazy with anger. But you know what? The nastiness couldn't take Burwell down. The viciousness probably stung him more than he'd let on, but he'd brush it off and continue being Burwell. A first-class man, all the way.

Astounded by his relentless civility, I once asked him: Why do you respond to people who are so vile and hateful? I'll never forget Bryan's answer. "Because they took the time to write," Burwell said. "That's the first thing. The other thing is, I can't change the world we live in. But by having a conversation, I can try to change one heart at a time."

And he meant it. Burwell put that into practice, every single day.

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