Some people light up a room with their smile. Ken Rappoport could energize an entire arena or stadium with his laugh.
Not to mention his zest for life, sense of humor and compassion for anyone who knew him.
Rappoport, a long-time sports writer for The Associated Press and author of more than 100 books, died Tuesday at age 85 after a brief illness.
With the AP, Rappoport was a lead reporter on college basketball, baseball, pro football and hockey. He joined the wire service in 1963 and retired in 2000.
“Kenny Rapp” was a fixture on the night desk for AP when he wasn't covering events, and even in the busiest, most tense times, he kept his colleagues relaxed and on point.
“Working nights at AP Sports, with a steady stream of game copy flooding in, could get pretty combustible,” said Terry Taylor, the AP's sports editor from 1992-2013. "The one person who never lost his cool was Ken Rappoport, whose presence lightened our mood whenever he reported for duty at 7 p.m.
“Kenny possessed a hearty high-pitched laugh that could be heard well beyond the walls of our workspace. He made us feel good. He was dependable, knowledgeable, versatile and, above all, a true friend to many.”
A graduate of Rider College, now Rider University, in New Jersey, Rappoport entered the Army and served in Germany. He worked as a reporter for the Doylestown Intelligence before being hired by the AP. Throughout a career marked by versatility he became a mentor to dozens of sports writers and editors, regardless of their beats.
“An enormously comforting presence for any young sports staffer, just to know he was there,” AP national writer Hillel Italie said.
“I wouldn’t have gotten to know him if not for Wayne Gretzky signing with the Kings,” added AP sports writer Bernie Wilson, who was based in Los Angeles in 1988. "Kenny was a huge help in getting me up to speed in covering a sport I’d never covered before. It was always super reassuring when he was on the other end of the line, especially during the ’89 playoffs.
“If we were all as nice as Kenny was, the world would be so much better.”
Rappoport was a regular at World Series, Final Fours and Stanley Cup playoff games.
“I definitely remember his laugh and him being one of the nicest guys around,” said AP sports writer Doug Feinberg. “And of course who could forget him coming back from New York Rangers games and bringing a whole tray of brownies and cookies from Madison Square Garden for the office.”
Rappoport also made his mark as an author of sports books that include such, well, classics as “The Classic,” and “The Big Dance,” both in-depth histories of the NCAA basketball tournament. He also wrote highly acclaimed books “They Changed The Game,” “Girls Rule,” “On The Clock” and “The Little League That Could,” plus histories of the Army-Navy rivalry and many college sports programs.
“In the pre-internet days, I found one of his hockey books at the Glendale (California) library and after reading it, felt like I’d covered the NHL for 10 years,” Wilson said.
Rappoport also had a passion for photography, travel — his favorite city was Paris — and Mel Brooks movies. That contagious laugh was never heartier than when Kenny Rapp was watching “Young Frankenstein” or “Blazing Saddles.”
After leaving the AP, Rappoport continued his prolific writing, saying, “I could no less stop writing than stop breathing.” He lived in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, for much of his retirement.
He is survived by Bernice, his wife of 59 years who he met on a blind date; daughters Felicia, Sharon and Larry; sons-in-law James and Evan; daughter-in-law Becka; and grandchildren Griffin, Camryn, Kayla, Adina, Shayna, Madeleine and Samuel.
The family is holding a limited memorial service due to the coronavirus pandemic. Memorial donations in his memory can be made to Beth Israel in Northfield, New Jersey. Condolences can be sent to the family through the J.S. Goldstein Funeral Home at https://www.jsgfunerals.com/.