If you are 50 or older and grew up in North Louisiana loving sports, the light and lyrical name of Lanny James likely brings back some happy memories for you.
Lanny was a sports reporter for KNOE-TV in Monroe and, from 1974 to 1989, the CBS-affiliate’s Sports Director. His career included his Sportscope TV show and coaches shows and lots of play-by-play for high schools like Neville and Ouachita but also for Grambling, Louisiana Tech, now the University of Louisiana-Monroe (NLU then), LSU, and even the old Shreveport Steamer of the World Football League.
But what’s had me thinking about him since the day he passed away — February 2, age 82, and fittingly I was at a basketball game when I heard — was that Lanny James, with the simple and playful name and flamboyant, welcoming personality, so perfectly captured for me such an important time in my little life. I think of it, and I have to think of him.
We’d just moved to West Monroe from a tiny town in South Carolina in 1974. I’d just become a teenager, knew my cousins and that was it, and this was the biggest town I could ever imagine besides Atlanta, where we’d gone a few times to Six Flags. For a kid who grew up 43 miles from an interstate, it was overwhelming.
And there was Lanny James, in his mid-30s, young but naturally I thought he was old, anchoring the sports on television, which was at a TV station just across the river. My god!; this man was within my gravitational pull! He was like right there. I might even see him one day.
And I did. Down there on the court at NLU basketball games with Mike Rose and Calvin Natt and Jerry Jingles and other players, probably in the annual Pacemaker Classic at (then) Ewing Coliseum.
How did I know it was him? You’ve got to be kidding. A small and well-proportioned guy, filled out, tanned, full head of hair perfectly parted, open collar, a necklace or two — guess you’d call them chains? He was beautiful, is what he was. Smooth talking. “The TV Sports Guy.”
I could count on him. He entertained me. And he lived in my town. Covered my teams.
I would meet him later. He did not disappoint. Never did. He was always the same Lanny James. (It was hard to call him just “Lanny” when “Lanny James” rolls off the tongue. Seemed to fit him better. Just perfect.)
Once at Louisiana Tech after a media basketball game before a real game, he sent one of us to the store to get him some hair spray while he showered. True story. Wasn’t the least bit ashamed to ask for it either.
Not a big guy, but bigger than life to me back then.
Once I saw some TV guys hauling a big case up to a football press box. They were struggling. “What’s in the box?” I said. “Need help?”
“No,” one of them said. “It’s just Lanny.”
There is a street in Monroe called Lamy Lane. Once Lanny was picking up his daughter at elementary school and another student saw him and pointed and screamed, “Look! It’s Lamy Lane! It’s Lamy Lane!”
Honest mistake, but I love that kid. Ever since I’ve heard that story, Lanny’s been “Lamy Lane” to me.
He’s gone now and I won’t get to call him that anymore. He’d moved to Florida — loved the sun and golf — and then to Texas around Spring near Houston, and we hadn’t seen him in maybe 20 years. Which hurts me. He was a legend and fun to be around, just because he was Lamy Lane. I wish I could tell him that, and thank him for being my friend before he knew I even existed.
He’d probably thank me for the hair spray.
It’s an interesting coincidence that another local legend, Bob Griffin, passed away at age 85 on February 3, 2020, in Shreveport, almost three years to the day before his Northeast Louisiana sports counterpart. Bob’s career lasted more than 60 years and we all felt we knew him, he was on television and at the ballparks so much. And of course, the world went crazy and closed, you might remember, a month after he died, another interesting coincidence but hardly a surprise.
Lanny and Bob made their living in life’s toy department, but they didn’t take it for granted. If they were going somewhere, they took you with them, and made sure you learned something and laughed along the way. You can’t help but miss guys like that.
Contact Teddy at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @MamaLuvsManning