Lee Leonard, who said the first words on ESPN, died Sunday in South Orange, N.J. He was 89.
Leonard and fellow SportsCenter anchor George Grande were the first faces to appear when ESPN took to the airwaves on Sept. 7, 1979. Leonard welcomed viewers with the words: “If you’re a fan, if you’re a fan, what you’ll see in the next minutes, hours and days to follow may convince you you’ve gone to sports heaven.”
Grande shared this memory of Leonard with Front Row: “He was a unique blend of confidence, intelligence, culture, curiosity, personality and humanity that was seldom equaled in our profession . . . Lee served as the ‘Yoda’ of the early days of SportsCenter imparting knowledge, experience and levity to what at times was a chaotic atmosphere as we embarked on a journey that had never been done before in sports TV.”
Bob Ley, who also joined ESPN in 1979, said of Leonard: “His presence and friendship in the early months of ESPN meant a lot both personally and professionally. Lee brought a great deal of credibility and needed experience to ESPN at a critical time in the network’s development. He was also a great dinner partner.”
One of Leonard’s most recent appearances on an ESPN platform was in the 30 for 30 film Requiem For The Big East in 2014.