Still slap-happy after 29 years as a reporter
By Stephen Tsai
Editor's Note: Stephen Tsai has been a reporter with The Advertiser since 1981. The author of popular Hawaii Warrior Beat blog whose followers call themselves the "Tsai-kos," Stephen is a Roosevelt High School and University of Hawai'i graduate.
I started at The Advertiser when I was 20, and 29 years later — after three kids, a grand-daughter and an unfortunate year of a Billy Ray Cyrus mullet — I've learned a green card is pink, an airplane's black box is orange, and the defensive specialist in volleyball is the libero.
I know the latter because I once asked men's volleyball coach Mike Wilton if I could interview his "libido."
UH's journalism professors insist there is no such thing as a bad question. Diver Greg Louganis would disagree, scolding me for asking about his biological family who lived in Hawai'i.
So annoyed for questioning his skill, kick-boxer Dennis Alexio said he could part my hair with his foot. Fortunately, he did not threaten the mullet.
And a visiting college basketball coach said: "Of all of the dumb things you've asked me, that's the dumbest thing."
Maybe I'm the reason UH no longer has a journalism department.
Through the years, I've learned to cultivate like-hate relationships with subjects.
Basketball player Dennis Johnson told me he did not like reporters because they take "things out of content."
Once, after reaching my alcohol limit — 1 1/2 lite beers — I stumbled out of an El Paso hotel restaurant and then nearly tumbled over an eighth-floor railing. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my collar. The angel of mercy was . . . UH basketball coach Riley Wallace. Years later, he said his biggest regret was saving my life. He then slapped the back of my head.
Before a local boxing card, promoter Mario Silva, angry over my lack of promotional stories, reminded me that in the old days, he would have settled disputes with an uncooperative writer "in the back room." He then left for a few minutes. Soon after, I saw another writer. I told him: "I think Mario wants to see you in the back room."
Several years ago, I saw a a former UH quarterback, who is red-headed.
Me: "Hey, there, Napoleon Dynomite."
Quarterback: "How are you, William Hung?"
I also have learned that it often is better to be lucky than good. After an afternoon practice in 1996, I used the restroom in the UH athletic complex. Later, I discovered the side door was locked because it was after business hours. As I walked toward the front entrance, I heard a loud argument between athletic director Hugh Yoshida and football coach Fred vonAppen.
VonAppen was listing his 30 demands; Yoshida was offering his counter-points. The next day, I asked each about the 30-point list, which was supposed to be a secret. Later, they accused each other of being "leaks" — an ironic term, I suppose, given the reason I was in the athletic complex in the first place.
I've been fortunate to have covered Chaminade's upset of Virginia, the 1992 Holiday Bowl, the 2007 unbeaten football season, the 1994 NCAA basketball tournament, and the final of the 2002 NCAA men's volleyball tournament.
But the most memorable moment was in the National Invitation Tournament in Las Vegas in 1997. UH had lost to UNLV, which had a great advantage in free-throw attempts.
I was waiting outside the UH locker room, when I felt a tug on my collar. It was Wallace, who ordered me to go into the locker room.
Wallace then told the players that although the officiating was unjust, adversity was part of sports. Wallace then spoke of the pride of representing the state, and his own feelings of respect for a team that played to exhaustion. One by one, the players embraced Wallace.
Afterward, he led me to the door, and said: "Now you understand."
And then he slapped the back of my head.