My Thoughts on Steve Lipscomb’s “Lifetime Achievement Award”
Steve Lipsomb was honored recently with a special “Lifetime Achievement Award.” The honor was presented at the 2015 American Poker Awards, held last Friday evening at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. Those in attendance included about 250 poker luminaries, including 14 other honorees.
I’d like to share a few thoughts about Mr. Lipscomb, which aren’t widely known. I’d also like to tell a personal story about a somewhat lengthy encounter I had with Lipscomb many years ago which made quite and impression on me and is indicative of the type of person he is. It also explains, at least in part, why he was the perfect recipient for this inaugural recognition.
First, I’ll borrow a line from Lipscomb spoken during his acceptance speech. As he was handed the award and stepped up to the microphone at the APA, Lipscomb remarked something to the effect, “just in case you’ve only been in poker five years of less, I’m Steve Lipscomb.”
To which I reply — how could we forget?
Fact is, and this is really hard to admit now, I wasn’t very fond of Lipscomb, at least in the early going. My first reaction was — who is this guy? Who does he think he is, coming into poker and suddenly taking over and telling us all what to do?
The far bigger concern was — Lipscomb was launching a new poker tour and creating a television show, which was to be the first of its kind. Since I worked for that far more traditional entity known as the World Series of Poker, I looked upon what would become the World Poker Tour as a serious threat to what we were doing. I even took their intrusion onto our turf very personally. I’m not proud to admit this, but it took me a long time to get past that resentment and see the much bigger picture. I’ve ultimately come to recognize the greater good served by having more events and certainly more poker on television.
That night at APA, I saw Lipscomb and even enjoyed a nice exchange with him just prior to him being presented with the award for all he’s done for our game. I wasn’t fully aware that before he rolled out the World Poker Tour back in 2002, Lipscomb was heavily involved in television production. One new show he worked on included a close association with the legendary television executive Norman Lear, best known for creating and writing several classics, including All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, and other popular shows that redefined situation comedy. Certainly, there’s no one better to learn the art of television from — than Lear himself.
When Lipscomb entered the poker world around 13 years ago, the game wasn’t anywhere nearly as big, as diverse, nor as promising as it is today. The game wasn’t even particularly welcoming, especially to outsiders. Consider my own hostility when I heard about this new vision by someone with a background exclusively linked to Hollywood who probably didn’t know that a flush beat a straight.
Lipscomb seemed to make all the right decisions, especially early on. First, he met all the right people, most notably Lyle Berman who provided much of the money for the new venture, and Mike Sexton and Linda Johnson, who joined with Lipscomb in giving the newcomer some much needed direction and advice in navigating a tricky poker industry minefield.
Prior to the first show ever being produced, I had a chance to meet Lipscomb for the first time. I’d like to tell you about that incident and why it sticks in my mind today, many years later. I doubt that Lipscomb even remembers it, and so if happens to read this, perhaps his memory will be jogged just a bit.
Right about the time I moved to Las Vegas and began working for the WSOP, I was still writing for Card Player magazine. I was having lunch at the Bellagio Buffet one afternoon. Linda Johnson came in, sat down, and introduced me to a man I’d never seen before. His name was Steve Lipscomb.
Now, you have to understand how many fly-by-night dreamers and scam artists were floating around back then. It seemed everyone had a great idea, but no one could deliver. With online poker just taking off, hustlers were coming out of the walls, desperate to meet anyone with any amount of influence in the game to advance their agenda, or (more often) make a quick buck. Outsiders were rightly viewed with skepticism and even suspicion. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I’ve met over the years who approached me with new products and services related to poker, and then disappeared off the face of the earth. Lipscomb might as well have been part of the lost herd.
But since Lipscomb was escorted by Johnson, this was different. He must have been credible, I figured. Since Johnson was one of poker’s most influential personalities, just being in her company merited being taken seriously. Credibility was instant.
Johnson and Lipscomb sat down and I heard the worlds “World Poker Tour” for the first time. Indeed, his vision was a grand one. A natural-born salesman and savvy marketer, you couldn’t help but be impressed by his drive and energy. The more he talked, the less cynical I became. But also being human and with my own allegiances, I had two reactions: First, that this new television things would be great for poker (remember, ESPN hadn’t inked a deal with the WSOP yet). Second, I thought to myself — holy shit, we’re in trouble down at Binion’s Horseshoe. This guy is going to roll over us with Lyle Berman’s bankroll, and Linda and Mike’s street cred.
Now to me, this is where the story gets interesting. The three of us were together for perhaps 45 minutes. But then Linda had to go to another meeting. So, Steve and I were left alone at the buffet. This is one of those awkward moments we’ve all encountered at one time or another. You meet someone new, and then the introductory party has to leave. Normally, this is when the meeting ends, and everyone says their goodbyes. I even considered standing up and leaving once Linda was gone. But something told me to stay.
Lipscomb continued to share his remarkable vision. He knew full well I was working the other side of the fence, yet he was as transparent as anyone I’d ever met. Moreover, although I wrote a bi-weekly poker column, I certainly didn’t merit that much attention from someone who would ultimately turn out to be such a force. After all, I hadn’t promised to write up anything. I wasn’t interviewing Lipscomb. He had nothing to gain by continuing our conversation and sharing many of his ideas on making poker better for everyone. But he did.
We talked for two more hours. That’s a lot of time to spend with someone you don’t know and without the pretext of expectation. Looking back now, I think Lipscomb sat there with me so long because he loved what he was doing and couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. That should have been the sure sign he was destined to succeed.
I doubt Lipscomb will remember that two-hour conversation with a much younger and less connected poker journalist back then named Nolan Dalla. It was probably one conversation of many he had in his tireless pursuit of success. That freewheeling exchange of ideas encapsulated the much larger visionary of who Lipscomb truly was, and would ultimately become within the poker industry — as one of the game’s most important figures in its history.
Indeed, in matters of business and in interpersonal relationships, it’s often the little things that matter. It’s the routine, seeming inconsequential encounters we have which leave us with lasting memories and mold indelible impressions which become unshakeable. It’s said the greatest gift you can give someone is time, and Lipscomb certainly gave me a gift that day.
Friday night, as Steve Lipscomb walked onto the stage to receive his “Lifetime Achievement Award,” which was so richly deserved, he called up by name many of those around him to join him during his own shining moment of glory — including Mike, Linda, Adam Pliska, who would ultimately fill shoes that were impossible to fill, and others who were so instrumental to the WPT becoming a pillar of the poker industry.
And as I watched all this from afar, I couldn’t help but flash back to our meeting so long ago. How far Lipscomb has come along in poker and how great his vision turned out to be, not only for all those connected to the World Poker Tour, but to all the rest of us, as well.