The transition to life after hockey wasn’t always easy, but the former Los Angeles Kings player has triumphed in not one – but many – post-playing careers.
Jim Fox remembers a day when the transition from professional hockey player to a career off the ice seemed beyond reach.
“I remember about two years after retiring, sitting upstairs in my house and starting to cry because I realized I’d already done what I wanted to do and I was only 29 years old,” Fox said. “You have to find something else.”
Mission accomplished. Today, the 55-year old Canadian native juggles a remarkably full plate of responsibilities that would challenge even the most energetic. Fox is entering his 26th season as the Los Angeles Kings’ television color commentator, serves as commissioner of the Kings’ newly-created High School Hockey League, is co-founder of the wine label, Patiné Cellars, and serves as a Special Ambassador for many of the Kings’ community development and charitable efforts, as well as a board member for a number of other charitable organizations. But life off the ice wasn’t always this full.
For Fox, the need for a post-hockey career came sooner than he had expected. After 10 years playing right wing for the Kings, a knee injury ended his career.
“It was kind of sudden. I missed a full season and I asked the Kings if I could work for them in community relations, anticipating I’d play the following year, but that didn’t happen,” he said.
What started as an interim job became a full-time career for Fox who has since received a number of accolades for his broadcast work including being named “Best Analyst in Hockey” by Sports Illustrated in 2006. But ask Fox and he’ll tell you that broadcasting didn’t come naturally.
“It was difficult jumping into broadcasting; it has to do with ego. Being on top of my field as a professional athlete to getting involved in something I had no experience in, didn’t understand and considered ‘less than’ what I was doing before, was tough. I was embarrassed and not able to feel successful.”
Fox credits the Kings organization, Fox Sports and Prime Ticket with having the patience to allow him to learn his craft and train on the job. “I think about it now,” he said. “It was way more difficult than being a rookie hockey player.”
Fox also had help from key individuals in his transition to broadcasting. A couple of years into his new gig, the Kings brought in a media consultant name Andrea Kirby, whom Fox credits with giving him a “step-by-step approach” to tackling his on-air duties. He also credits his wife, Susie, not only for her support throughout his career both on and off the ice, but for the assistance she provided during his early days as a broadcaster.
“She would have her legal pad out while watching the games from home. I’d call her and ask her and she’d rattle off a list of things that I could work on,” Fox laughed.
One of the primary reasons Fox has received so many accolades for his work as a broadcaster is the unique level of analysis and objectivity, that both he and his on-air partner – play-by-play announcer, Bob Miller – bring to the games. According to Fox, the Kings organization deserves credit for allowing the impartial commentary for which he and Miller have been applauded.
“First, I would hope that everyone would realize, we’re local broadcasters. We’re not national and there’s a big difference,” Fox said. “Bob has helped with his style and experience. He was given the opportunity by the team to be as objective as possible. And the Kings gave me the same. Some organizations make the decision to have a more controlling factor over their broadcasts and I’m fortunate that I’m part of an organization that allows me to be objective.”
Fox also brings his on-ice experience to his broadcasts, taking pride in his ability to use his expertise as a player to break down plays as a broadcaster. “I’m more of an analyst, not a color commentator,” he says. “I’m more technical and I think that fits this market better.”
While being the Kings’ broadcast analyst keeps Fox busy enough, he somehow finds time to participate in a number of charitable organizations and community activities that are important to him. His community roots go back to his days as a player in the mid-1980s when he remembers talking with then-teammate, Phil Sykes, in the Kings’ locker room about why the Kings didn’t have a charity golf tournament.
“The Kings didn’t have anything going on in the community at the time,” Fox said. “It was just a conversation, but then when I was injured and working in Community Relations, it changed”. And the reason it changed? “It’s very simple: Wayne Gretzky is the way to explain it.”
Fox is referring, of course, to the arrival of “The Great One” to Los Angeles in 1988. According to Fox, Gretzky’s arrival was a turning point in the Kings’ community relations efforts – and in Fox’s next career move.
“Before Wayne arrived, no one cared what the Kings were doing around the L.A. sports scene. Wayne came and all that changed. Part of it was selfish – we had some people working on community relations, but it wasn’t a full time job and suddenly we needed it. People were calling and asking us and I felt I could fill that role.”
Fox essentially acted as an intern for his first year heading up the Kings’ Community Relations department since he was still receiving his player’s salary and hoped he would return to the game the following season. When it was clear he’d no longer be playing, he took on the role full-time, working from 9am-4pm daily in the Kings’ offices at the Forum, then heading down to the ice to prepare for his broadcast job at night.
During his tenure with the Kings’ Community Relations, Fox is credited with starting the Kings Care Foundation, as well as a number of the Kings’ annual fundraising events including the team’s charity golf tournament and the Tip-A-King event which raised more than $300,000 last year – a huge increase over its humble beginnings. According to Fox, the inaugural Tip-A-King event raised about $80,000, with even the players and their families purchasing tickets to participate and ensure the event’s success.
Although community relations is no longer a full-time job for Fox, he remains heavily involved with Kings Care and its associated events. He is also involved with Long Beach-based, The Guidance Center, a provider of comprehensive mental health treatment to disadvantaged children and their families struggling with mental illness and abuse. The Center’s executive director, Patricia Costales, is a close friend to Fox and his wife, and the couple work with the center to put on an annual “Sunset Sip” event to raise funds for the children and families the Center serves.
“I have a keen interest in that area,” Fox says. “Throughout my playing and broadcasting career, the mental aspect comes up quite a bit.”
The Sunset Sip event also allows Fox to pair his charitable work with another passion of his – wine. Three years ago, Fox decided to turn his long-time love of wine into yet another career path, starting the wine label, Patiné, with his wife, Susie, business partner, Dean Nucich and winemaker, Mike Smith.
“It offered me something I didn’t really experience in pro sports. Sports is only about the final score – and it should be, but the wine business, as our winemaker, Mike Smith, says, is the ‘crafting’ of a wine. There is more gray area, more nuance and art.”
Fox says that living in Southern California where we have “more access to a larger range of good wines than anywhere else in the world” helped him develop his love of wine. He and Susie have frequented a Hermosa Beach restaurant called The Bottle Inn for years where Fox says the wait staff would always bring them new wines to try. “I started taking classes, traveling around wine and learning about it and the next step to take was to see if I could create a brand.” Patiné (which fittingly means “to have skated” in French) was the result.
Said Fox about Patiné’s naming, “The association with skating is obvious, with my playing history, but when we thought about it, there are two things you need in hockey: power and balance. That’s exactly what we have in our wines. California offers more of a ‘powerful’ style of Pinot Noir and the ultimate in a great wine is balance. So the name was a perfect fit.”
As if all this wasn’t enough, Fox’s post-playing career now includes acting as Commissioner of the Kings’ newly created High School Hockey League, which hopes to pick up where the successful Lil’ Kings program leaves off and develop a league of competitive, high school players. Fox said when Kings’ President of Business Operations, Luc Robitaille, asked him to get involved, he simply couldn’t say no.
“From the moment Luc brought it up, I could tell how important he felt this program was to the Kings,” Fox said. “The Lil’ Kings program has become hugely successful – doubling every year – but the high school hockey league might be the first time that the Kings are getting involved where they’re not teaching the game to someone. They’re getting kids that are already playing the game and tying that to the high school passion and experience. When I saw Luc’s plan for it, I felt I couldn’t say no. It’s right up my alley.”
Any fan who has watched Fox in the broadcasting chair for the Kings knows that his excitement for the game is palpable and he seems to carry that same enthusiasm to his work with the High School Hockey League.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done. But there will be a day when kids are as passionate about their high school hockey team as they are about their football and basketball teams.”
Between his broadcast responsibilities, charitable duties, the Kings’ High School Hockey League and Patiné, Fox may be busier in his post-playing career than when he took the ice every night. But he says the discipline he learned as a professional athlete informs his work today.
“When you’re a pro athlete, you’re on a timetable. You don’t show up when you want to, but when the team wants you to. That helps prepare you, gives you the structure to stay on top of things.”
Beyond this, Fox confesses to being “Type A” and emphasizes the importance of hard work, personal responsibility and preparation.
“Not to be cliché, but nothing good comes easy. A little bit of hard work never hurt anyone. You have to be prepared to do more than the next person – bottom line. Some are more talented and more highly skilled, but you’ve gotta find a way to be confident and get there. My experience, particularly with broadcasting, has led me to understand the importance of preparation – what to worry about and what not to worry about. Preparation equals confidence.”
Fox says that one of the key challenges of moving to a career off the ice has been the fact that his other jobs are not physical but, rather more cerebral, endeavors.
“There were times when playing games, if things were going wrong, you could just go out there and work. I wasn’t a physical player, but I could hit. You can’t do that in this world. You can work longer hours, but you’re directing the lack of physicality into something that’s more mentally challenging.”
Fox’s multi-faceted career has kept him close to the hockey world and close to the team that drafted him in the first round, 10th overall, back in 1980. Though the first few years of transitioning to his roles in community relations and broadcasting were tough, there were also many rewarding moments including the two Stanley Cup wins in 2012 and 2014.
“We weren’t working that night, but we did the DVD for the fans. During the first parade, we were doing the complete coverage on Fox Sports – pre-parade, post-parade and rally. I just thought that was the best thing: to be on TV but not have to worry about who would win or lose, to recap and look at highlights and go back to top moments. There was a bit of analysis to do, but it was all part of enjoying it. To me, that was a great moment.”
With his continued excitement for the game of hockey and the Kings’ organization, his desire to continue giving back to the community, and his wine passion-turned-business, it’s unlikely that Jim Fox will slow down anytime soon and that suits him just fine.
“I don’t see myself as a person who will ever retire from anything.”