The Man. The Myth. The BSK. Remembering Kendall Lewis

This week wasn’t the first time I have cried because of Kendall Lewis. But unlike all of the previous times that were tears of laughter, the tears over the past couple of days have been of sadness.

When I heard of his passing on Tuesday, my immediate reaction was one of shock. I checked with a couple of people who I know had relationships with Kendall to see if they had heard the same news. Once it started to circulate that yes, he indeed had passed away, I cried. Hard.

The BSK 2Kendall Lewis may have been known to most as “The BSK”, the Big Sports Kahuna, a sports radio host and personality who specialized in the NFL Draft. But to me, he was more than that. He was someone I looked up to, a mentor in the radio business and most importantly, a friend.

I have a cornucopia (one of Kendall’s favorite words) of memories of Kendall Lewis. Or “The BSK”. Or “The Big Baller, Shot Caller”.

As I shared on social media, when I was looking to start at The Ohio Center for Broadcasting, I told them I wanted to intern for Kendall one day. And that’s the truth. In my first meeting with the school, I was asked what I would like to do and if I had any ideas on where I would like to intern. I told the admissions person, Kathy, that I wanted to intern for Kendall Lewis at WKNR. Little did I know that her husband, Gary Wenner, happened to be Kendall’s producer at the time.

I got the opportunity I wanted and Kendall (and Gary) treated me like family, taking me in as if I was a sports radio veteran. Kendall taught me so much and as time went along, we had a blast working on stuff together, especially for the NFL Draft.

One thing you learned early on when working with Kendall was that his show didn’t run on Eastern time like the rest of the station. His show ran on BSKT, Big Sports Kahuna Time. If you tuned in at the beginning of the show and thought we were running a lot of commercials and promos, oh we were. That’s because we were still waiting on Kendall. It was commonplace for the show to start late because the host just wasn’t in the building yet.

One of my favorite memories of Kendall running by his own watch was when he and I had set up an NFL mock draft show one evening. The two of us had reached out to a media representative for each NFL city and set up a lineup for each media member to make the selection for their team on our show in the exact order of the upcoming NFL Draft. The trick to this was going to be timing because some of them only had a small window of time in which they could come on. Five minutes before the show, no Kendall. I looked out the front window just three minutes until the show was set to go on the air to see Kendall pulling into the parking lot. He made it with about 30 seconds to spare and then made fun of me for sweating about it. Of course the show went off without a hitch, giving Kendall something to hold over me for a few weeks. And he did, with a laugh of course.

Yeah, that laugh. It was one of a kind. And NEVER did it ring louder than when Kendall thought he was performing on stage and broke into song. Usually it was The Ohio State University fight song, but with Kendall’s own lyrics. There were times that I wondered if he really knew the actual words to the song. But he would break into a LOUD rendition and as he would change up the words, he would laugh. Again – LOUD. If you were on the other side of the glass watching him sing and carry on, your laugh would end up being just as loud as his.

He loved the Buckeyes. And he loved the NFL Draft. So it was no surprise that heading into the 2009 NFL Draft, Kendall said that Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells was the best player in the draft and should be the No. 1 overall pick. He didn’t say the best running back. He said best player. And he believed it. Or at least I think he did. We had many arguments over this leading into the draft and he held steadfast that Wells was his guy. There were times when I thought he was doing it just to get me going but other times I believed that in Kendall’s head, Chris Wells really was that good.

The reason Kendall and I were able to have those kind of discussions was because of our mutual love of the NFL Draft and the work that went into things like his draft guide or draft shows. Even this year, we had talked about players we liked or didn’t like in the draft. I would remind him of the ones I got right in years past and he would fire back with the ones he got right.

And then I would hit him with “Beanie Wells is the best player in the draft” while laughing. His response was as it always was – “SNARK”. He always reminded me that I was full of snark, sometimes out of nowhere just to keep me on my toes.

In fact, my snark was one of the reasons he called me a few years back. Kendall was going to be doing a podcast on More Than A Fan, a site I was writing for at the time, and wanted to see if I would be interested in working on it with him. I am not sure I have ever said yes to something that fast in my life. The podcast was going to be Sunday nights during the NFL season and we would recap each game that day, while previewing the Monday Night Football matchup. While Kendall wanted me on because of my knowledge and insight, he mostly wanted me to be his “snarky sidekick.” It was a role I relished.

Kendall was a big talker and anyone who knew him knew that about him. His biggest talking came when he would talk about how good he was at Madden. Back in the day at WKNR, he would tell everyone that he was the best Madden player at the station. When we got a copy of the latest version of the game, we decided to hold a Madden league to see just how good Kendall was. It didn’t take long for everyone to realize his bark was way worse than his bite. But even when he lost, he would still chirp as if he was the champion. I always sucked at Madden (still do), but those tournaments were some of the best times we had as a group at the station.

Over the past couple of days, I have seen multiple stories of people who were listeners of Kendall’s show who talked about how nice he was to them. And he was. Kendall really was a man of the people. I remember when he did the Browns pregame brunches at The Hard Rock Café for Browns home games. He invited me each week to help him with the contests and to hang out to talk football. The Hard Rock’s general manager, Rick, always took great care of us. He made sure we had plenty of food all morning. The funny thing is that sometimes it would take Kendall a while to finish his plate because he was talking to a fan.

When someone approached The BSK, they didn’t get some pretentious radio host who thought he was better than them like you unfortunately get from some. If you wanted a minute of Kendall’s time, you got five minutes. Ask him about Bootsy Collins and you would get 10 more minutes. That was Kendall. When we did get Kendall out of studio for a remote broadcast, there were times we would come out of a commercial break and not have a host. Kendall was over talking to someone and debating with them about who was the best offensive tackle in the NFL Draft.

I was lucky enough that the two radio hosts I worked with the most were the same in that respect. Kendall Lewis and Kenny Roda have always been more than generous with their time when it comes to their listeners and fans.

Kendall’s loyalty is something I will never forget.

When he was hired at KSUD ESPN Radio in Memphis, he had been telling me about the job for a few weeks and that he had been interviewing. What I didn’t expect was the call I received from him after he accepted the position. He called to tell me he had taken the job and I congratulated him. He thanked me but said that wasn’t why he was calling. He said that he had told the program director he wanted the job but wanted to have a say on who would produce the show. He then asked me when I was available for a phone interview with the program director. I was on the phone the next day with a program director in Memphis discussing the possibility of me going down there to produce for Kendall. Unfortunately, we couldn’t come to an agreement on the financial aspect of the deal. Even though I ultimately ended up not taking the job, I always remembered Kendall looking out for me.

Perhaps that’s why in a way I looked out for him later down the line.

A few years ago, I was contacted about a sports radio producing job that was open in Cleveland and I was invited in for an interview. When I showed up, my interview was with the program director and the two hosts of the show. We went through the typical interview questions and then one of the hosts asked who I like to listen to on sports radio and why. I named a few and when I started talking about Kendall, I told them I liked that Kendall brought different perspectives and talking points to his shows. Condescendingly, the one host looked at me and said “is that because he is African American”?

The way he said it really got under my skin.

I told him that Kendall’s skin color and background wasn’t why I liked his show or what I meant by different perspective. I said that Kendall is one of the smartest sports people in the area and unlike most, he thinks for himself and thinks outside the box. He is someone who can formulate his own opinion based on what he sees with his own eyes, not what someone tells him.  I told him that maybe if more hosts in the area tried doing what Kendall does, we wouldn’t have the same boring shows on every station in every time slot.

It was right then that I knew no matter what, I wasn’t taking the job. I respected Kendall too much to work with someone who thought the way this host did.

Kendall was the one who taught me to question everything, especially the things that seem great on the surface. It’s what led him to having his own line of thinking and it is part of why I have so much skepticism when it comes to certain things in the world of sports. It was also why I loved listening to him on the radio, talking to him off the air when we worked together or the phone calls we shared throughout the years. And it was the reason I answered the question in the interview the way I did.

If you looked at Kendall Lewis and then looked at me, you would see so many differences. One older, one younger. One black, one white. One big, one small. One from Cleveland, one from Akron. But at the end of the day, Kendall and I formed a bond that lasted a lifetime. It was one I will never forget. As I said Tuesday on social media – very few people outside of my family could make me cry with their passing. Kendall Lewis is one of those.

With the first pick in the 2017 draft, heaven selected Kendall J. Lewis, Cleveland, Ohio. While the Browns can never seem to get the draft right, it seems as if heaven did.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryanisley23@gmail.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.