Lifestyle: LA sports personality who I met in 1975 and played pick up basketball with at Cortland State. Tenacity pays off.
On this day, the voice is still strong. The words still fire out from that shrubbery of a beard in a wonderful mix of Brooklyn and Spanish and Japanese and Zen, the words of a city that only the city can understand.
“Yay, yay Dodger fans, I’m feelin’ you! The blue is busy y’all … Segs, Joc, CT3, AWood … Doc’s Clips, the nitty gritty dirt band, the selfless tsunami, still atop the West … who knew? … Los Lakers, will Zo go? … fifty-fifty to ball against Indy in the downtown hoop dojo!”
On this day, in 90-second bursts for KLAC-570 radio, as he has done for more than three decades on various airwaves across town, Vic “the Brick” Jacobs is still feelin’ you!
The problem is, he’s not really feeling himself.
His eyes are weary, his arms are splotchy, his steps are slow. His back hurts. His fingers tingle. He wears an ostomy bag. He sleeps a couple of hours a night. He doesn’t go anywhere without a giant plastic bottle of pain pills.
“I have been to the abyss,’’ he says.
The longtime beloved Southland media figure and chronicler of this city’s greatest sporting battles has spent the last two years engaged in a personal fight with rectal cancer and its collateral damage. Even though the cancer is in remission, resulting ailments, including a broken back and blood clots, have continually sapped his strength, kept him away from stadiums and locker rooms, and threatened the legendary power of his vocal chords.
On this Thursday, as gaudy as his trademark fur coats and caps, the voice is there.
“During terrible times, we can go to the darkness or to the light,’’ he says. “I’m going to the light.’’
The cancer may have torn through his insides, but every day, speaking to thousands even when he can barely keep his head up, Vic the Brick is countering its evil with the power of the symbolic bamboo he once brought to athletes to summon their strength.
“Be the bamboo, bend but don’t break,’’ he would tell them in one of his impromptu Zen lessons, and Shaquille O’Neal would laugh, and Kobe Bryant would smirk, but they would all touch the bamboo because it came from the heart.
“I used to pound it into Kobe, now I’m pounding it into me,’’ Vic the Brick, 65, says quietly. “Now I’m the one who has to be the bamboo.’’
You’ve missed seeing him, haven’t you? Admit it. We all have.
You’ve missed seeing Vic the Brick’s Lakers poncho and matching fur hat looming in the background of a victory, exulting over the shoulder of a game-winning hero.
“My soul is the Lakers,’’ he says. “I’m immersed in their flow.’’
You’ve missed seeing his Dodgers mink in the middle of a postgame clubhouse scrum, appearing out of nowhere next to a confused player who inevitably smiles and pats him on the back like a crazy uncle.
“I live off the azul,’’ he says. “Dave Roberts is sensei.”
You’ve missed hearing his voice asking news conference questions, the strangest of questions, filled with a mixture of languages and cultures but somehow always making sense.
“Kob, what happened in that fourth quarter, sort of a crossroads play, I mean, que pasa in that fourth quarter, you’re going in tied, and the ball seems to always bounce to the Celtics flow?’’
Yet, far from being simply stunt or shtick, Vic the Brick is actually quintessential Los Angeles, a human melting pot, a fearless and flaunting showman who espouses Jewish and Japanese and Spanish and Zen and light, always that light.
“My first years on the job, I was like, ‘Who is this guy, and what is he doing?’ ’’ says Joe Jareck, the Dodgers’ senior director of public relations. “But you watch him work and he goes from questionable to endearing really quickly. Nobody loves Los Angeles and Los Angeles sports more than this guy. He brings the poncho and the bamboo and a breath of fresh air.’’
What other Los Angeles media type has been atop the City of Los Angeles float in the Rose Parade and the Lakers bus during their 2000 championship parade? He was invited on the float, he was sneaked on to the bus by O’Neal.
“You could never get mad at him, he was impossible not to like,’’ says John Black, former Lakers media relations director. “He is always so happy and full of life and full of love.’’
He has been this sort of free spirit since he left his hometown of Brooklyn, roamed through the likes of Tahiti, Fiji and Thailand in search of enlightenment, then finally began a media career covering cockfights and sail fishing for a TV station in Guam. From there he went to Roswell, N.M., where he began throwing Styrofoam brick at the camera in anger, thus resulting in his nickname that he carried with him to Fresno, then finally to Los Angeles, where he settled 30 years ago.
His initial TV gig has long since become only radio. His brick has long since been retired to a garage. He slowly became a philosopher-cheerleader embraced by sports fans weary of the increasing negativity.
“Vic is the life of what we are here,’’ says Don Martin, executive vice president for iHeartMedia sports and Jacobs’ boss. “Sometimes you have to have that little extra something something, and that’s VTB.”
All of which made it so stunning when, in December 2016, this giant life was summoned to a doctor’s office after a colonoscopy and informed that he had Stage 3 rectal cancer.
“I was freaking out, I was like a zombie, it was a death sentence for me,’’ Vic the Brick says.
At his side was his wife Yuko Sakamoto, who Vic the Brick married 16 years ago even though they had not been on a date. They had been friends, she had just learned she had breast cancer, so he quickly married her so she could have his insurance.
“He took care of me, so it was my turn to take care of him,’’ she says. “And the resilience I’ve seen from him has been astonishing.’’
He underwent radiation, then surgery, then chemotherapy. He spent four months in the darkness of his bedroom, worn out from the pain, praying he could find his way back to the microphone.
“I cried in the abyss,’’ he says. “Then I said, I will not separate myself from the ways of the warrior.’’
He was coaxed by texts from Martin to get out of bed and walk. He would stare at a tiny Japanese Daruma doll, which, whenever he knocked it down, it would pop back up.
“There is a saying that goes with the doll — ‘Fall down seven times, get up eight,’ ’’ he says. “That’s me.’’
After only a four-month absence during which his condition wasn’t made public, he suddenly showed up at work, far earlier than expected, and literally with some baggage.
“I was rocking three bags, man,’’ he says.
He indeed did updates while wearing an ostomy bag, a urine drainage bag and an IV bag. Yet, he continued to connect with listeners even if it took him several long minutes simply to walk across the hall from the station’s bullpen into the actual studio.
“He announced his condition, but 99% of the people listening had no idea about his pain,’’ says Tim Cates, producer of the “Petros and Money Show,’’ which includes Vic the Brick. “They don’t know how hard it is for him to even come to work every day.’’
You want hard? This summer, on a 115-degree day, Vic the Brick drove his aging Lexus with broken air conditioning to Anaheim for a “Petros and Money Show’’ tour stop.
“I’m worried he’s going to have heat stroke,’’ Cates says. “Yet, he steps out in front of the crowd and everybody goes crazy, the listeners just love him.’’
When they see him, fans chant his name, his initials, and even chant his trademark, “Feelin’ You!’’ In return, he offers them his bamboo and his blessings, a sports healer even as he struggles to be healed.
“He’s handled his sickness and the setbacks with more grace and dignity than I’ve ever seen,’’ says Petros Papadakis, who co-hosts the “Petros and Money Show” with Matt “Money’’ Smith. “In a world of hot takes, everybody trying to out-ass each other, Vic is the opposite. He’s 100% positive. He’s an unbelievable force of good in the world.’’
The force is being tested. Its future is uncertain. His bones have weakened such that he has broken his back twice in the last couple of months. His immune system is depleted. The steroids that help keep his voice strong are eventually going to have to be reduced.
“He’s still fighting, he’s still struggling,’’ says Sakamoto. “But every day, he gets back up, it’s amazing.’’
And if Vic the Brick is walking, then he’s talking, to sports fans throughout a city that now, more than ever, need to hear him. And he promises, as long as he can talk, you will hear him.
“There will be a rebirth, there will be a renaissance, it’s all about the key, the Chi, the energy,’’ he says. “This city runs through my veins, it’s in my blood, and the Brick will be back.’’
Vic the Brick shows up for this interview wearing a leopard cap and board shorts. He brings a weathered paperback titled “Bushido: Way of the Warrior’’ and two pieces of paper upon which he had scrawled the name of every doctor who has treated him.
Sorry, docs, there’s not enough space to list each of the names here, but rest assured, he wanted this story to celebrate every one of you.
Vic the Brick also brings one of those Daruma dolls, a tiny black-and-white creature that fits in the palm of your hand. Throughout the interview, he keeps idly knocking it over, and it kept bouncing back up, again and again.
When the interview ends, saying he wants to share the inspiration, he gives me the doll.
“Are you sure?’’ I say.