Mitch Chortkoff Remembered
Observer Editor Was "Dean of the Lakers Writers"
August 9, 2018
My friend, my coworker, my editor Mitch Chortkoff lost his battle with diabetes and related illnesses this week. He was 78.
Mitch was a renowned sports writer in Los Angeles for 50 years. His knowledge and zeal for writing sports was incredible. He was regarded as the "Dean of the Lakers Writers."
Services for Mitch will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday July 23, at Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills - Mount Sinai Chapel, 5950 Forest Lawn Dr., Glendale.
During my career, I have been blessed to work with some fine people and Mitch was one that's at the top of the list. We worked together for almost 20 years and I saw first-hand his dedication to his craft and loyalty to my newspaper.
Mitch was proud of his work and the sports department he built at the Culver City Observer.
In February 2014, when Jim Fregosi died, Mitch wrote: "Last week I was jolted into a trip down memory lane. I was fresh out of college in 1963 and had an ambition to become a sportswriter.
"I sent out resumes and received a call from Bud Furillo, sports editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. We set up an interview." And he got the job.
Steve Bisheff, lifelong friend and retired sports columnist, commented that Mitch Chortkoff covered the Lakers for six decades. "He covered UCLA basketball, USC football, baseball and other sports. But covering the Lakers was his great joy."
Bisheff went on to say that Mitch loved the travel, ordering room service, jumping in the Jacuzzi then going to the cover the game. "That was heaven to Mitch," he added.
Mitch traveled with the Lakers for many years and boy did he have stories to tell. One that stood out in my mind was when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. He was headed to catch a plane to a Lakers game when he received a call from the publicist telling Mitch that he had to attend this press conference in the morning. Magic ended his remarks thanking various sports reporters and commentators, including Mitch Chortkoff for showing him the ropes in the NBA.
One of his favorite stories was when he was a cub sports reporter for Furillo and was invited to Furillo's home for a Christmas party. While everyone was socializing, Furillo was glued to the television set, watching a sporting event, maybe boxing or horse racing. Mitch thought it was rude that the host was watching the television. Suddenly the sporting event was over and Furillo jumped up and said he had bet on the event. According to Mitch, Furillo exclaimed, "I won. Now I can give you all Christmas bonuses."
After Copley closed the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, Mitch was unhappy with his situation at the Daily Breeze. When we met at Nichol's restaurant in Marina Del Rey 20 years ago, we hit it off immediately. He came to work with me as sports editor. It's hard to describe the feeling. A big-time sports writer working at my weekly?
At that time, I was the publisher of the Culver City News and when our editor retired, Mitch asked for the job. While his knowledge of the news side was limited, Mitch brought it longtime friend and reporter Ari Noonan to cover that beat.
If he had a question, he could pick up the phone and reach the unreachable people, Shaquille O'Neal, Magic Johnson, Jerry West and too many to name.
I still remember the morning Ari called me and announced, "they just amputated Mitch's leg." It was like an earthquake, I was immediately wide awake. Speaking to him later, he said it was no big deal and expected to be back at his desk the next week. Of course, his recovery took a bit longer than that.
Because of his diabetes, he had part of his other leg amputated several years later. Amputate his leg was no big deal to Mitch, but if one his writers wasn't paid on time, he would raise holy hell with me.
When I was forced to give up the Culver City News, Mitch was enthusiastically onboard with our new newspaper the Culver City Observer. I think it was the love of newspapering that kept us together through some very tough times.
He would come to work in a van and roll in with his wheelchair ready to tackle the day. He loved his job and it showed. In the past 20 years, we rarely disagreed. Each of us would defer to the other based on who felt more strongly about the issue.
Controversy was no stranger to Mitch when Lakers owner Jerry Buss died. Mitch thought the announcement that -- as per Jerry's wishes -- the team would remain in the Buss's family was the worst news possible.
In his column in May of 2013, after Lakers' disastrous season ended with a first round playoff sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, Mitch wrote: "What happened? Who's to blame? Let's go back through the season together.
'Jim Buss: the first mistake was made by Jerry Buss, one of the league's all-time great owners, who, in failing health, left his son Jim Buss in charge a year ago.
"Jim Buss, whose previous work was in thoroughbred racing, hired the wrong coach, Mike Brown and seemed determined to quickly end the influence of Phil Jackson.
"A logical move would have been to make Brian Shaw the coach. The players respected Shaw, one of Jackson's assistants, and Shaw would have kept Jackson's triangle offense, making for an easy transition.
"But Jim Buss wanted something different. Then he fired Brown five games into this season and hired Mike D'Antoni, who teaches all-out go-go basketball, a style all wrong for an aging starting five backed by an inferior reserve corps."
Mitch went on to write more Lakers' disaster columns and he was always spot on.
If you asked him who was going to win a game, he would just answer "we'll see." He made it his mission to not predict outcome of games. "I just report what happened and what I see," he once told me.
In his Lakers column "Part 2: Anatomy of a Disaster," Chortkoff wrote: "Sure, they'll sign some. But the most attractive ones will be looking for a team with a chance of winning a championship. That's not the Lakers anymore. And when will it be the Lakers again? If you know, let me know."
I had hoped to see my friend again. I never got to ask him about LeBron James joining the Lakers. I'm sure he would give me his take, and whatever he would have said, I wouldn't see it coming.
I hope Mitch would be proud of the way we portrayed him today. I wanted to give our readers more than just the basic facts. I wanted them to understand the reporter and person Mitch was, dedicated, hardworking, always thinking a step ahead and loyal to his newspaper.
Mitch, as you always told me, I have some unnecessary commas in the story. I hope I did you proud. After all you, will always be my editor.
Goodbye my friend.