And that's always been plenty good enough.
As we found out as part of our long-running "Daily News Live" show on Comcast SportsNet, you can give DJ a total makeover but he's still DJ. No haircut or new suit or even a manicure is going to change him. But it made for must-see TV. Just as anything he writes is must-read. Some of the priorities in the newspaper business have shifted over the years. Yet as he's often told me, he was brought here by then-sports editor Mike Rathet for one reason: to write good stories. He hasn't disappointed. He came here to be our horse-racing guy, to coincide with Garden State Park's reopening. But it didn't take him long to become much more than that, the most prominent of which was covering college hoops. I don't know who's done it any better.
On a staff that's been littered with memorable talents, DJ didn't take a backseat to anyone, although I'm not sure he ever thought of himself that way. He's just doing his job, and doing it well. And apparently some other folks have noticed, because this morning in Dallas, at the U.S. Basketball Writers Association of America's annual Final Four breakfast, Dick Jerardi will be inducted into that organization's Hall of Fame. It was merely a matter of when. A former DNer, Dana O'Neil, who has moved on to ESPN.com, will make the presentation as the USBWA's incoming president. I'm sure DJ wouldn't want it any other way.
What I'm not as certain of is whether he saw the need to get any additions to his wardrobe for the occasion. My sense is probably not. Yo dog, as he might point out, it's all good. Hope he at least packed one of those John Chaney Armani ties from one of our classic Christmas Eve "DNLs.'' It would be fitting, considering it was DJ who coined Chaney's "Goongate" incident. Or maybe because John dubbed him as the "Digit" in his "Digit and the Midget" twosome. Care to guess who was the little one?
By the way, a late rumor had DJ going to the original Neiman Marcus because he forgot to pack an extra pair of pants. Can only imagine what the salesperson might have to say about that fitting.
I've had the privilege of getting to know DJ as a colleague and a friend. He's never let me down in either capacity. He once gave me one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received: Write like I talk. It took a while to sink in, but I think I finally got it. He was telling me to just be me. Because he's never been anything but himself. And it shows.
The best compliment I can give him is that he's the one byline that I will always go to first. And the one I'll never skip. I don't care if he's writing about cricket. I have little doubt it would still be interesting, well-thought-out, different. Because he doesn't know any other way. He's one of the few writers who, when I'm finished reading his story, I wish there was more. He's not afraid to take on an issue, express an opinion, explain what happened. If you're looking for by-the-book, look elsewhere. But if you want to be entertained and enlightened, keep reading. He's worth the dollar all by himself. If I only had a buck for every time I've finished one of his game stories and wondered why I couldn't come up with something that flowing and insightful. Or one for every time I've reread him, sometimes more than once, because it was that worthy. And the DJ you get on the printed page is the same DJ you get in person.
You've got your images, I've got mine. Like the time at the Final Four in Charlotte when I was trying to figure out a way to send home a bunch of bulky souvenir sweatshirts before I headed to the Masters. DJ said no problem. He got his duffel bag, which was the only piece of luggage he brought with him other than his computer, and stuffed them all in. What problem? Or the time he took me to my first Steak and Shake in Indianapolis, after we couldn't get into St. Elmo's Steakhouse. Or the time he taught an annoying Arizona fan a lesson or two at our annual Final Four media poker game. And proclaimed as only he can when the guy went broke, "Gone." Or the time he and his 40-handicap made an impossible birdie putt with a miniature-golf putter at an outing on a big-boy course and acted like he did that all the time. Then, a few holes later, he did it again. Or the time when his pick, Da Hoss, won his race at long odds at the Breeders' Cup and I asked him how he'd done and he said, "I was the bank." Or the time he was covering a Villanova game for me at Rutgers on deadline and Rutgers rallied from way back to win on a four-point play at the buzzer, and he said, "The only thing I'd written that I could save was 'Piscataway.'"
My only regret is that I couldn't be down there to celebrate this moment with him. But I'll be on a plane for Augusta. At least I'll get to read his coverage of the national-title game tomorrow. I can't wait. Yo dog, you had me at "Piscataway."
On Twitter: @mikekerndn