Jim Jacobs' legend is firmly established to handball players throughout the world.
In a 1966 article on Jimmy titled "Really the Greatest," Sports Illustrated observed, "Jacobs might be the greatest athlete of his time in any sport." Former pitcher and author Jim Bouton, a good friend of Jacobs, claimed that Jacobs would have been the last of the .400 hitters if he had chosen baseball as his sport of passion.
Cus D'Amato, the famed boxing manager and long-time Jacobs's friend, believed only Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson carried the same aura of a champion the Jacobs possessed.
Jacobs was born in St. Louis in 1930, but raised in Los Angeles, where sports is a year round obsession. As a teenager, he excelled in football, baseball, basketball, track and skeet shooting. He had, in fact, clocked a 100-yard dash at 9.8 at a state championship meet while in high school in Los Angeles. Because of his prowess in basketball, he was asked to try out for the Olympic basketball team but declined to concentrate on handball.
He was that good. At everything.
But handball was his destiny.
Handball, as sporting aficionados know, demands extreme athleticism – speed, power, agility, balance, hand-eye coordination. This is the sport that the multi-talented Jacobs chose.
Jacobs loved both the athletic nature of the sport and the gladiatorial persona that surrounded it – two opponents in a 20x40 foot court, four walls and a ceiling, battling shot to shot until the 21st point.
His love of handball – and later, boxing – were to affect his entire life and his obsessive concentration on both were only interrupted to serve in the U.S. Armed forces in Korea, where he was awarded the Purple Heart in 1951.
Jim Jacobs never played handball for fun. He played to be a champion. After his discharge from the service in 1952, Jacobs worked to perfect his skills, including the remarkable use of his left – "off" – hand to become essentially ambidextrous.
As you'll see for yourself in the DVD "Jim Jacobs, The Legend of Handball," Jacobs was a precocious 13 year old on the handball court; by the time he was 25, in 1955, he was the United States singles champion, having defeated the great Vic Hershkowitz. This match is shown in its entirety on the DVD available here.
Thereafter, his illustrious career in handball continued for over two decades, recording six National Singles Championships and six National Doubles Championships – in fact, he and his long-time doubles partner, Marty Decatur, played for twelve years and never lost a match. He also won the National Three-wall Championship three times, three AAU national titles, four YMCA national titles, countless regional championships, as well as the World Singles Championship.
Handball, as it turned out, was not Jacobs' only passion. Beginning in the 40s and accelerating in the late 50s and early 60s, during his international handball travels, Jacobs began to indulge his passion for boxing and collecting rare fight films. Boxing, like handball, was the perfect individual sport, man against man in the ring - to Jacobs, "the truest physical and intellectual test."
Jacobs began collecting fight films during these travels oversees because, throughout the 1910s, 20s, and 30s, great footage of Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey and other pugilistic immortals had been shipped overseas as a result of a 1912 law passed by Congress banning interstate commerce of fight films. The law-makers had wanted to avoid a repeat of the race riots that broke out when films of the Jack Johnson versus Jim Jefferies fight played in packed movie houses across the country in 1910. The law was repealed in 1940, but by that time many valuable and rare films had been spirited away to foreign countries.
In 1961, while still handball champion of the world, Jacobs merged his collection with Bill Cayton. Together, they created Big Fights, Inc. and expanded their collection to the largest in the world, ranging from the first fight films made in the 1890s to the present day.
As Big Fights, Inc., they also produced more than 1000 boxing features, three of which were nominated for Academy Awards. In 1970, Jacobs directed the MGM film, "AKA Cassius Clay, " which began his long friendship with the great Muhammad Ali. Filmed after Ali had been stripped of his heavyweight title and before his landmark first bout with Joe Frazier, the film, according to a USA today review of its recent release on DVD, "captures the champ in career limbo but still full of sass. Director Jacobs maintained the best boxing footage archive, so the key Ali contests up to that time are well represented."
From fight film collector to film director, Jacobs the renaissance man soon moved into his next, post-handball champion role – fight manager. Included in his stable were Wilfred Benitez (three time world champ); Edwin Rosario (two time world champ); and Mike Tyson in his prime.
Jim Jacobs lived a full, multifaceted life before succumbing to Leukemia in 1988. As Handball Magazine wrote upon Jimmy's death, "Jacobs was a remarkable, diverse man, the consummate champion, promoting the game wherever he went, helping others improve and living his life in a manner that any aspiring champion should emulate."
Purchasing these classic, digitally remastered DVDs will help support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's research programs.