JIM FOX FEATURE: SLY AS EVER
He and fellow rookie teammates Larry Murphy and Greg Terrion found a house to rent on the Manhattan Beach strand, where they could see dozens of surfers every morning from their front window. But there wasn't time for any culture shock from someone who grew up in a small town of Coniston, Ontario, and rarely ventured out of Canada except for anything that was hockey related.
"I had heard about Hollywood and all that, but I really didn't have time to figure out what the difference were," Fox remembers. "I didn't even know what kind of hockey town L.A. was. I just knew it was in the NHL and it had a franchise. I just wanted to play."
Twenty-five years later, Fox has more than just learned the lay of the land. He's been an essential part of creating the hockey experience for Southern Californians.
Through the carousel of changes with teammates, coaches and team ownership, with logos, uniforms and even arenas, Fox feels fortunate to have been able to secure an important spot in the Kings' organization for this long.
But it's been mostly a result of his own perseverance that has brought him this staying power. Fox fought through injuries that eventually forced him into retirement after 10 seasons, eventually reinventing himself as a front-office fund-raiser and team broadcaster.
The 1980 draft was fruitful for the Kings. Not only were Fox and Murphy first-round picks, but Bernie Nicholls, Steve Bozek, Darren Eliot and Daryl Evans were all apart of that class.
For the 1980-81 season, Fox was a right-wing on the fourth line for coach Bob Berry's team that had the Triple Crown line in full gear. Often paired up with Terrion, Steve Jensen and Glenn Goldup, Fox pounded in 18 goals and 25 assists in 71 games. His first career goal was somewhat of a fluke; it came in the season-opener, toward the end of an 8-1 win over Detroit, when a shot hit a Red Wings' defenseman and found its way into the net. The Kings finished with 99 points, second in the division, and lost to the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.
"That whole first year was a career highlight for me," said Fox. "It was a veteran team and a lot of fun. It was a great way to break into the league. More than anything, that year was my first experience in what a team was actually like. Coming up from juniors, the goal is always to get to the NHL and the thought is focused on how you're progressing. Now you realize you have to work together and it's a team sport.
"We had a great mix of young guys and veterans, and Bob Berry was hard on me, but he was a great communicator."
Through 10 seasons, Fox reached the 30-goal mark three times and was consistently among the team's top goal scorers with Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, Dave Taylor, Nicholls, Jimmy Carson and Luc Robitaille. Despite nine coaching changes over that time, Fox became a staple in the lineup and a fan favorite, finishing with 186 goals (third in franchise history for a right wing), 293 assists and 479 points (currently seventh on the team's all-time scoring list) in 579 games played.
In 1988-89, Fox was out the entire season rehabbing surgery on both knees. That same year was Wayne Gretzky joined the Kings. Volunteering to work in the front office, Fox got his first taste of both the business and media side of the game.
"Experiencing Wayne coming here was really something to see," said Fox. "We had an explosion of season seats and so many people interested in the team. It was incredible."
Fox became the team's director of community and player relations, setting up public appearances for players. He helped new players become acquainted with L.A. But the essential part of his job became fundraising two years later.
Through business classes and self-help books, Fox established three nonprofit groups -- Kings in the Community, Kings Wives for Kids Foundation and Los Angeles Kings Youth Hockey Foundation. Today, they've all been combined under the umbrella of the Kings Care Foundation, a legacy that Fox was so instrumental in developing that he was honored as the first recipient of the Kings' Community Service award in '98-99.
"I have to admit that I would have liked to say I did OK as a player, but the foundation we have now -- they weren't new ideas -- but someone had to start them here and I ended up as that guy," Fox said. "I can look back and know I helped start Tip-A-King, and the charity golf tournament and the youth camp. I'm still proud to be apart of those things."
Meanwhile, a broadcasting career blossomed, although it was hardly an easy transition at first. When the team split its TV/radio simulcast into two teams, Fox was the natural choice to join Bob Miller in the TV booth since he had been doing between-period analysis during his rehab season. Admitting he was "totally unprepared" for broadcasting, he learned on the fly, taking Miller's lead and the help of current Kings producer Bob Borgen to develop into one of broadcasting's top analysts.
"The biggest thing Bob Miller taught me was to have pride in your profession, that you have to work at it and build a comfort level, then let others decide if you're good or bad at it," said Fox, who has been Miller's partner for the last 16 years. "By watching him prepare, he did teach me all those things that are still with me today."
Looking back on a marriage to an organization that's lasted just about as long as the marriage to his wife -- he and Susie will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in July -- Jim Fox flashes back to a day when he and Larry Murphy were driving home from practice together one day.
"It was our second year in the league, and we moved out of that beach house into a condo in Culver City. We were driving home one morning after practice and talking about our future. We thought that it would be something just to play 10 years in the league. Larry ends up playing the second-most games ever in the NHL. I got my 10 years in and, 25 years later, I'm still here.
"I guess we've exceeded our expectations from that standpoint."