As Rick Reilly talked about his dreams to be a pro golfer or someone like Derek Jeter, it was difficult to ignore the sign near where he stood at the Newport Beach Library Saturday afternoon.
The sign read, "The Witte Lectures: A forum for ideas with distinguished speakers."
It probably wouldn't be appropriate to describe any sportswriter as distinguished, even Reilly. He was more of a comedian during his, "lecture," when he cracked jokes about Kobe Bryant — "Does Kobe hang around at this library? Is he at the marriage section?" Dennis Rodman — "You should have to read a book before you write one." And, Tiger Woods — "I keep a list of sentences on my computer that would never be uttered in the English language … 'Tiger, meet my sister.'"
Overall, Reilly was entertaining and kept many in the room laughing with stories of his fascinating career.
During his recent work for ESPN, he has become more marked for criticism, a punching bag for Deadspin.com, yet heralded and beloved by his readers and fans from his remarkable days with Sports Illustrated.
Eleven times he has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year. If you go to his Twitter page, you'll see an avatar of Jim Murray. It's safe to say Reilly has reached the notoriety of the legendary columnist for the Los Angeles Times, where Reilly also worked at one time.
Whether Reilly can wax as great as Murray is for others to decide. Sure Reilly wants to deliver his best.
After his lecture, he left time for questions from the audience. I provided one. He did not know I was a member of the press.
How do you deal with negative criticism?
"Moi?" Reilly said, tongue-in-cheek, playfully acting as if he never receives any.
"How does any one deal with it," he said. "It's now in this age with Twitter and all these bloggers, if you have a wi-fi connection you're suddenly an expert on everybody … Like you, people probably talk behind your back, but no one is posting it on Deadspin. You know? I make mistakes … I try to tell them the truth. I hope it says on my gravestone, 'Try to write well. Try to give them the best.'"
Reilly has authored 10 books, and he talked about his work on a few of them, namely, "Who's Your Caddy," and, "Sports From Hell, My Search for the World's Dumbest Competition."
He didn't hold back with profane language, and sometimes used his middle finger to imitate characters in his stories. He talked about his desires to be a pro athlete or a sports broadcaster, but also of his adventures from his life as a sportswriter.
His lecture was titled, "Playing the Game from the Inside Out," and it was meant to be light and sometimes silly. Yet Reilly also talked about his charitable side, and a few human interest pieces that he cherishes, including his column about Ben Comen, a high school cross-country runner who competed despite having cerebral palsy.
Overall, Reilly came across as an everyman, a guy who you'd enjoy having a beer with.
He was mostly honest.
A man in the audience asked a question: "What do you think of the 24 hours of sports over and over again with all the ESPN channels? It becomes numbing."
How did Reilly respond?
"This is what is known as a front-loaded question," Reilly said. "I already know how you want me to answer that question, but they tripled my salary so screw you.
"We have all this leisure time, we have to fill it with all kinds of crap. Thanks for depressing me."
The Witte Lectures, in its 17th year, closes with New York Times Op-Ed columnist Frank Bruni (March 21 and March 22) and actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith (April 25 and April 26) at the Newport Beach Library.