If Mitch Albom has the book, “Tuesdays with Morrie,” then I was lucky enough to have Fridays with Les. A twist of fate allowed me the honor to co-host my daily radio show on 92.3 The Fan with the late Les Levine for the past few years, primarily on Fridays. When the Browns Radio Network came to our station, it opened the door for me to spend at least four hours once a week with him.
Les, who wrote a column for the Cleveland Jewish News from 2011 to 2020, was the primary back-up for “Baskin and Phelps” pretty much from the first day Jeff (Phelps) and I hit the air almost 10 years ago. Phelps’ schedule shifts from Sunday to Thursday during the Browns season so he can host the Browns postgame show. Behind closed doors, Les and I called Fridays, “Corky and Lenny’s Radio.”
The inside jokes that only those who grew up on Cleveland’s east side made me forget about the microphone. Naming old stores and getting gas at SOHIO was a typical storyline that would sidetrack normal sports topics. The easy and free flowing conversation all seemed so simple.
I still remember him teaching me the radio trick to say “Let’s take two more calls!”
He created the illusion it is a badge of honor to get your call on the air. Fully knowing that every phone line was open. When the lines filled in seconds, he would look at me with a gigantic smile as if his radio wisdom just won a Nobel Peace Prize.
Here I was talking with a man who was a part of my life long before I really knew him.
Les and Hal Lebovitz, the longtime Plain Dealer sports editor, are the hall of fame of sports influencers from my neighborhood. Everybody read Hal. We all listened to Les. Let’s face it, they were big voices in our community who crossed the bridge between being the fans and having inside information about Cleveland’s sports heroes and villains.
Growing up in the Heights in the 1970s was a cross between the TV shows, “The Wonder Years” and “The Goldberg’s.” Some of the best times in my life were the moments when I would watch my father and brother make my mother and sister laugh so hard they would have to make a mad dash to the restroom.
Sadly, we have lost both my brother and father over the last 15 years. It has been hard to find that same humor and joy since they passed away. Les always made me feel like I was at home.
I am not sure if it was laughing at some of the dumbest “how come quickies” or the fact I started driving him to work because I once witnessed him driving on Interstate 480 so slowly that he must have had 20 road raged drivers behind him. He made me feel like family.
He was my mom’s neighbor, too. Each week, he would call me to see if she needed someone to take out her garbage. Here is a guy who’s battling Parkinson’s disease, asking me if my mom needed help. It was a testament to his kindness.
Les, like my brother, did not look at bad news as the end. He looked at it as a beginning. When Les found out he had Parkinson’s, he stepped into the fire to help others who he was now connected to. Looking not only to get answers for him, but for anybody in search of help. Giving you a face and a voice of raising awareness for those with Parkinson’s.
My brother, Bruce, choose not to let cystic fibrosis run his life. He chose to help try to find a future for families. His mission was see a world free of the pain CF causes. Two men, one common bond. Think of others before you think of yourself.
My brother would call me after doing the Indians pregame and postgame shows on Fox Sports Ohio to let me know what Les had on his nightly cable TV show. “Les said this and Les said that,” he would repeat his show segment by segment.
There is no way to replace a legend like Les. What I hope to do in this column is share a moment in time with you. Sports is about the stories of people. I want you to know the stories I know, just like Les, I just drive a little bit faster.
Maybe Albom had it right all along. His next big book was, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” I’m at three. I do know that at Mount Olive Cemetery in Solon, there are three men within a first down of each other - Bruce, Hal and Les. Together, they push me with every keystroke of this column. To make us think. To make us care about others. To make us smile.