You would have enjoyed Marc Splaver, whose enjoyment came from making life a bit easier for others. His special talents and personality seemed destined to someday force him into the sporting spotlight, until the killer leukemia grabbed him 10 months ago and took his life yesterday.
It is impossible to appreciate Splaver without understanding his job, public relations. He was paid not to be noticed, to draw as much favorable attention as possible to the Washington Bullets. But one could not escape being drawn to Splaver, for he brought flair to a profession that encourages laziness, dignity to matters that often require deceit.
Splaver's natural inclination was a smile - and not one of those paste-on models other in the business so often affect. His information always was accurate and swift, usually more thorough than anyone else's, and funnier.
With the exception of Jones Ramsay of Texas, Splaver had more good lines appear under the byline of othrs than anyone in sports.
When Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner was chosen in a low round of the NBA draft last year, Splaver grinned and said:
"Well, he is the best athlete available."
Splaver's passion for basketball led him to uncover odd facts, many of which appeared as trivia questions at Bullt games at Capital Centre. He was quick to notice that a nookie starter for Golden State this year, Ricky Marsh, had been drafted after Jenner and a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Lucy Harris of Delta State.
Basketball and music, the rock-n'-roll variety, were dominant to Splaver growing up in Bridgeport, Conn. But his freshman year at American University brought the reality that the moves and shots from his slender frame would not lead him to basketball stardom.
His mind soon would lead a largely unknown AU forward, Kermit Washington, to the place Splaver might have reserved for himself in playground fantasy years earlier.
As AU sports information director after graduation in 1970, Splaver pictured the foreseen pominance of the basketball team, under Tom Young, as "The American Revolution," and Washington as its leader.
Teams and athletes must justi-originally attract, and Washington the attention their publicists on developed from a skinny sophomore into the 6-foot-8 essence of a power forward, the fifth player chosen in teh draft after his senior season.
But Splaver was the major reason Washington became an All-America. Washington was only the sixth major college player to average 20 points and 20 rebounds, so Splaver developed an eye-chart to illustrate this 20-20 notion.
Other players, among them Julius Erving, were lettered in eye-chart fashion and an influential wire service man later admitted that publicity elevated Washington to first-team All-America by the Associated Press.
Still, Splaver would remind anyone nearby of his own basketball skills. The night before his death some friends were in Room 2124 of George Washington University Hospital and the conversation drifted to a Maryland recruit from Connecticut.
Somebody wondered who had been the last great basketball player from Connecticut. Splaver extended his right arm and pointed to his chest.
"Me," he said.
Elvin Hayes had alerted the public to Splaver's latest problems - and the special affection he had among the Bullets - during halftime of game five of the San Antonia playoffs. Hayes refused to discuss his own performance during that interview, wishing Splaver good luck instead.
Tuesday night Splaver seemed in good spirits, clearly in pain now and then but anxious to show visitors the autographed game ball from the Bullet victory over the Spurs five days earlier and the softball his team had given him.
In his column in the Capital Centre paper "Good Times" Splaver had written of his illness and said, "Last summer I turned down and offer from the NBA in New York to become the league's PR director. I was happy in Washington, though intrigued with the possibility of working with a vibrant man like Larry O'Brien.
"Then I realized that the man I was working for was special in his own right. That Abe Pollin is a special man was never more apparent than during those six weeks I spent in George Washington Hospital . . . He and Jerry Sachs spent 4 1/2 hours in my room the day they learned of the doctor's diagnosis, making absolutely certain I would receive literally the best care in the world."
That was Splaver, drawing attention away from himself again. But because public relations men often are the most competent on the management side of sports, they are in fine position for future authority. Dozens have become athletic directors. Pete Rozelle became commissionr of the NFL.
Splaver had a brilliant future. His job is the least measurable in sports, his efforts largely unappreciated until, at 29, he is gone.