Penny Marshall’s storied Hollywood career spanned sitcoms and movies. She produced and directed for both the silver screen and small screen. Some of her films — “A League of Their Own” and “Cinderella Man” — helped define an era of sports at the movies. Tom Hanks’s “No crying in baseball” monologue has been recited countless times in major league broadcast booths and Little League dugouts. And her sports memorabilia collection is legendary.
Marshall died Tuesday of complications from diabetes, a family spokeswoman said. She was 75. And with her passing, Hollywood lost one of its biggest sports fans.
She had season tickets for both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers. She worked on a documentary about Dennis Rodman, who became one of her close friends. She once told the Chicago Tribune about owning Christy Mathewson’s chess table and a phone that would play Michael Jordan’s United Center introduction, and about how she would keep Robert Horry’s son on her lap during Lakers games. The NBA, in particular, wasn’t a idle pastime for Marshall; it was part of her life.
“Last season almost killed me because of the lockout,” she told ESPN in 2012, after the league’s labor-stoppage-shortened season. “There were games every night when they came back.”
The Clippers said in a tweet they were “deeply saddened” by the death of “a passionate member of Clipper Nation.” The Dodgers also mourned her passing. “Thank you for all support to me and my family, we will miss you,” wrote Sacramento Kings General Manager Vlade Divac, a former Lakers star. “A great NBA fan,” wrote Doug Christie, another retired player. “One of the biggest NBA fans you could ever wish to meet,” wrote Marc Stein of the New York Times.
Many fans and former players on Tuesday posted photos with Marshall, taken at various NBA venues. And she always approached her fandom with a sense of humor and levity.
“I like to see guys with the least amount of clothes possible,” she joked to Vanity Fair in 2013 about her love of the Los Angeles NBA teams. “They are great and beautiful players. They are getting younger a little bit. I know now mainly the coaches and the announcers and a couple of the players.”
She became close friends with Rodman, the NBA’s wild man, whom she’d invite over for Thanksgiving dinner, she told ESPN in 2012. When he played for the Chicago Bulls, he’d call her, “Miss Marshall,” while she sat courtside. Her documentary on his career and impact on the modern NBA is set to be released next year.
She chose seats under the basket at Staples Center, just out of the range of the cameras that panned the bleachers to catch cheering, dancing and smooching fans. Jack Nicholson, another legendary Lakers fan, loved the attention and sat in plain view. But Marshall was after something better than screen time.
“When you sit near the Lakers, they don’t let you near the players,” she said to the New York Times in 2008. “Here I have clear access to the players. I’ll talk to them and we’ll carry on conversations.”
“I’m not on camera most of the time,” she said later. “Poor Jack’s on camera all the time. I don’t want to be on camera. I’m usually eating and things are dribbling out of my mouth.”
“People go crazy!” she added to Vanity Fair. “That kissing thing. They wave! They jump. I’ve been on television. Been there, done that.”
The night of the Times interview, Los Angeles hosted the Utah Jazz, headlined by star player Andrei Kirilenko, to whom she waved and winked, according to the Times.
Former NBA journeyman Donyell Marshall remembered Tuesday when Penny Marshall once asked for his game jersey. “You said you would go around telling people I was your nephew,” he said in a tweet. The NBA called her one of its super fans. “No celebrity went to more Clippers games than Penny Marshall,” wrote ESPN anchor Michael Eaves.
Liz Habib, a local sportscaster in Los Angeles, tweeted a photo of Marshall seated between Chevy Chase and Bill Maher studying a box score.
Marshall grew up in the Bronx a fan of the New York Yankees, whom she rooted for her whole life even as she moved west with the Dodgers and Giants when her career took off.
“Yankee Stadium was the only thing we had in the Bronx. It was an institution. They were so winning and they had all these legendary players — Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mantle and Maris — and to have them in the Bronx, which is not the fashion capital of the world, I think is pretty cool,” she wrote for the New York Times in 2008.
As a student, she and her friends would skip school and catch Yankees home games, where tickets went for 75 cents. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris roamed the outfield, along with whatever stars the visitors brought to town.
Her memorabilia collection, at least in concept, started early. She collected baseball cards with packs of gum and made sure the Yankees in each pack stayed in pristine condition. Later, her collection bulked up in size: It included dozens of signed baseballs in Plexiglas containers, hundreds of bobbleheads and collectible figurines, an old stop light from outside Yankee Stadium, even a seat from the original House that Ruth Built.
In 2012, in recognition of her rabid fandom, Leaf Trading Cards cut Marshall her very own trading card.
She’s dressed as a baseball catcher on the card, wearing a silly grin, oversized mitt and Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. The card calls her a “Legend of Sport.”
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