I have never spoken a word to Boston Celtics sideline reporter Greg Dickerson, but I feel like I know him well. Watching a man speak 82 nights a year tends to provide a feeling of intimate knowledge even where it doesn’t exist; at various times during every season, I get the urge to play croquet with Mike Gorman, pound full bottles of scotch and crush 50 buffalo wings each with Tommy Heinsohn, and accompany Dickerson to his granddaughter’s dance recital. Never mind that Dickerson is too young to be a grandfather — he just seems like he’d be the perfect man to visit 20 or 25 times a year, like he was built to open the front door with his arms spread wide, and young, giggling children should sprint out of their car to embrace him, the children’s parents lurking a few steps behind with smiles draped over their faces.
I know strikingly little about Dickerson’s personal life, but in my imagination he’s a soft-spoken, funny man who would roll out of a deep sleep at 3 a.m. if a drunken friend needed him. There’s something about the way Dickerson speaks, the way he interacts with the Boston Celtics — and again, I know very little about him, this is all my imagination — that causes me to picture him as a grandfather despite his being just 41 years old. There’s a jolly nature to him, like he could gain 50 pounds, strap on a white beard and sling a bag of gifts over his shoulder, and every reindeer on earth would immediately flock to his side and follow his commands. This is not to say I find Dickerson old or boring — on the contrary, grandparents in my eyes should be vibrant balls of joy, who can tell stories all night long and still have millions left in reserves for the morning.
We never knew this before, but Dickerson has battled some serious health issues and learning disabilities to become the voice we trust on the sideline every game. In addition to epilepsy, which led to two recent seizures, Dickerson has spent his entire career and life battling dyslexia, Tourette’s Syndrome and OCD. He never told his employers about his struggles, but felt compelled to reveal them during a recent interview with Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.
“I’ve never really felt comfortable talking about it,” Dickerson said. “I’m pretty private, but the reason I decided to be honest about all this stuff is I didn’t want a lot of speculation, and I didn’t feel like lying to everybody.”
Dickerson said he has informed his family and a few close friends that he has Tourette syndrome and OCD, but not anyone at CSNNE or with the Celtics.
“Whether they notice or know, I don’t know,” he said. “If they know, they are superior people because they’re willing to let me battle through this and do my job.”
Before you continue reading this piece, devour Doyle’s story about Dickerson. You’ll learn Dickerson blacked out during a seizure and came to on the side of I-95 with policemen asking him to get out of the car. You’ll learn he sometimes has an urge to twitch his neck during a live broadcast, but clenches his fist or taps his foot instead. You’ll learn he rates his Tourette’s a six out of 10 in severity. You’ll learn the seizures have weakened his memory and made it even more difficult for him to form words. You’ll learn he considers himself lucky.
You’ll learn one of the main reasons he decided to tell his story at long last.
“Maybe if there’s a 10-year-old kid out there,” Dickerson told Doyle, “who’s dealing with stuff like this, I can be an inspiration. I can say, ‘If this idiot here who can’t talk and twitches all over the place can be on a major NBA broadcast, then they can stand up in front of a class and give a speech.’ ”
Again, I don’t know much about Greg Dickerson. But I know he’s far from an idiot. I know he can speak quite well, even if the process of formulating words is more difficult for him than it is for others. I know I thoroughly respect his reporting and have never wished to replace him with anybody. I know all the Celtics players seem to treat him like a friend. I know I genuinely missed his presence during the telecasts he missed due to health issues.
Dickerson has persevered through a mountain of issues for years; during his stint with the Celtics he’s been like a close friend to all the team’s serious fans. We don’t know him, but we feel like we do. We feel like we could knock on his door and he would open it with a batch of cookies in the oven, his child on his lap and his wife sitting on the chair across the living room, enjoying the warmth resonating from the fireplace. We feel like we could talk to him for hours, and he would smile his gentle smile, and for some reason everything would feel comfortable even with someone who’s technically a complete stranger.
I once read that we can tell a lot about a man by the way he works. Greg Dickerson works with a smile on his face and he works despite a number of issues he needs to scale on a nightly basis. I know little else about him, but maybe I know enough.