Just moments after signing off, local sports talk show host Ron Paradis gave me his succinct review of my performance as his guest back in 1984.
“That was the show’s worst half-hour ever. I might as well have put up dead air. It would have been more interesting.”
Nice. Those are the kind words no one forgets. Yes, I said kind words. That simply was Ron Paradis. Praise was never one of Paradis’ great strengths unless he was talking about himself – which he did often. A compliment usually came along with the back of his hand, but those that knew Paradis also knew that somewhere in his harsh words, one could still find respect.
The passing of Ron Paradis last Sunday is sure to sadden and puzzle his friends and his detractors once again. I am sure of one thing. Paradis was a man often ahead of his time, and that wasn’t always good.
On a cold winter night in 1960 when older friends took me along to a Washburn Rural home game southwest of Topeka, the Rural name actually did apply to the school. We arrived at the old high school which is now part of Jay Shideler Elementary School. Even though the tip-off of the junior varsity game was well over an hour away, a long line of fans already circled the gym waiting to get in to see the Ron Paradis Show.
Paradis was a marvel with a basketball in his hands. His long-range shooting remains legendary. He also was a marvel to watch on the court in ways beyond shooting. In the age when every player sported a buzz cut, Paradis’ long carefully greased locks made him seem as foreign to most basketball fans as Elvis Presley had been to many music fans. Like Presley, Paradis also had a flair for the theatric.
When Paradis helped lead Rural to the state championship in 1960, he was lifted up by the delirious fans for a victory ride. Instead of sitting upright on the extended arms and shoulders, the showman laid back and folded his hands in a victory prayer as he looked to the heavens. The Capital-Journal’s Rich Clarkson made an iconic image of that moment. That image was one of the first photographs I dug up in the archives when I began my work at the paper.
His career at Kansas State, while distinguished, never could match his high school heroics. Yet, through it all, Paradis remained a show in a way that wasn’t about to end after college. In 1969, long-time WIBW and Kansas City Royals broadcaster Fred White told a group of us that he had just hired a new sports reporter that was going to be “the next great one.” That hire was none other than Ron Paradis.
Paradis immediately turned up the heat with his extremely pointed questions to players and coaches in post-game interviews and on his radio show. Today he would be hailed for his blunt tact. His irreverent Paradis Productions were sometimes very funny and often completely insane, but by the day’s standards of sports production, they also were revolutionary.
Paradis took the old theme song to the Davy Crockett show and rewrote it to fit his piece on where Silver Lake great Lon Kruger would play his collegiate basketball. Lonnie, Lonnie Kruger, which school will he choose! Born in the little town of Silver Lake… It truly was a campy classic, but that was Paradis. He was never afraid to make himself the fool in his productions.
When it came to his playing career, though, I learned painfully that Paradis would never allow himself to be made a fool. One winter night my departed friend Mike Turnbull sat with me in a local bar and began to put together two Topeka all-star basketball teams. One was based solely on high school careers. The other included both prep, collegiate and, in some cases, professional careers. Turnbull loved this sort of trivia, so I really had little to add. I just sat back and enjoyed the process.
On the prep career team, Paradis was the first name on Turnbull’s bar napkin. However, when it came to the other team, debate went back and forth before Turnbull eliminated Paradis from the starting five which included some outstanding players.
That spring Paradis and I sat in the Fort Myers, Florida, airport waiting to fly home from coverage of the Kansas City Royals spring training. Foolishly, I mentioned the teams. When told he was not on both teams, Paradis rose and with arms waving and feet stomping began to call me and Turnbull every name he could think of at the time. He was completely out of control. Airport security had a difficult time calming him down. Thankfully, we were well separated on the flight home.
Later in life, Paradis and Turnbull became good friends. After Turnbull tragically took his life, Paradis delivered an on-air tribute that was both compassionate and filled with anger over Turnbull’s decision. At some point, the friends I watched the tribute with – even through our tears – came to the uncomfortable realization the tribute was just as much about Paradis’ demons as it was about Turnbull’s.
So it was, that not long after Paradis was dismissed at WIBW in 1997, I ran into Kansas State coach Jack Hartman and Washburn coach Bob Chipman at a restaurant. Joining them, the conversation immediately turned to worry about Paradis and fears that led all of us to be on suicide watch.
Instead, the verbose Paradis fooled us all by becoming a recluse. He turned his back on many friends and many friends did the same to him. In the ensuing years, I saw Paradis only three times. All came while running in south Topeka. Paradis was walking his dogs. The first two conversations were always cordial, yet too brief. The third time I saw him, Paradis quickly re-routed himself and his dogs to avoid speaking to me. I was very saddened.
However, Robert Taylor, an usher at the KU basketball games, mentioned two years ago that he, his brother and Paradis had become good friends. He told me that Paradis was beginning to emerge again into the world of Topeka. My name had been mentioned with Paradis speaking well of me along with a few barbs about me. I passed along my best wishes as I will in my prayers at his memorial service. The fact the service comes on New Year’s Day seems fitting in some grandiose Paradis Production way.
Everyone that knew Paradis certainly is debating back and forth why they liked Paradis so much when so much of what he did in life was unfathomable. Dan Lauck called from Houston to recall playing golf with Paradis.
“As with anything involving Paradis, it had to be a competition,” Lauck said. “We were playing match play. I closed the match out on the 11th hole at Topeka Public. On the 12th hole, he stopped on the bridge over the lake to throw his golf clubs, then his bag and finally his shoes into the water.”
“He then began to walk home in his stocking feet,” Lauck went on to say. “Here I am driving down 21st Street begging him to get into the car, but he never would.”
Yet, Lauck went on to recall Paradis’ knack for asking the really tough question to a coach or player and how that helped make Paradis a respected journalist. Coming from one of the finest writers I know, that is a worthy compliment.
What I’ll remember is Paradis at the 1993 Final Four in New Orleans. He came running out of the restroom in the press area of the Superdome like a little kid. He wanted to tell me how he had just been standing next to the New York Daily News columnist and ESPN personality Mike Lupica.
He had casually told Lupica, “Isn’t it a great world that a small-town television sports reporter like me can stand here peeing right next to the great Mike Lupica?”
That simple truth – yet completely off-the-wall statement – was pure Paradis. It is a great world, and many will miss Ron Paradis taking up his small part of that world.