In May 2018, as I worked on a Tulsa World package that would commemorate T. Boone Pickens’ 90th birthday, my interview with him was conducted by email.
At that time, he was fairly healthy but had difficulty with his speech. It was an effect from a series of strokes that began in December 2016. He agreed to do the interview in writing, and it was great.
Of course it was great.
From 2005-18, I interviewed Thomas Boone Pickens Jr. at least 30 times. He always was totally accommodating and generous with time and tremendous quotes.
While recognizing the value of this particular quote, I didn’t like it a bit: “I’m clearly in the fourth quarter and time is not my friend,” Pickens wrote last year. “I have come to accept and even embrace my mortality.”
With his death in Dallas at 91, Pickens’ fourth quarter ended Wednesday.
While he was a giant in the oil-and-gas universe and became a world-renowned presence in the investment business, he was best known for being super wealthy. He’ll forever be celebrated by Oklahoma State people as the man whose generosity was a driving force in the transformation of Cowboys football.
Terry Don Phillips, Les Miles, Mike Gundy and Mike Holder are among the figures who changed Oklahoma State football, but the Cowboys wouldn’t play in such a beautiful stadium — or have such a striking and spacious locker room — if not for Pickens’ football-specific donations of more than $250 million.
His January 2006 football gift of $165 million made national headlines.
OSU’s stadium project was labeled a “renovation,” but essentially, the university got a new stadium.
For last week’s home opener at Boone Pickens Stadium, the opponent was McNeese — a Louisiana school that competes at the FCS level. Not so long ago, for a game like McNeese-OSU, there would have been a crowd of 30,000 at Lewis Field.
At Boone Pickens Stadium last week, there was a sellout crowd of more than 55,000.
Pickens has been a fixture at Oklahoma State football games since 2003, but he was unable to attend the McNeese game. A source indicated that day it might be impossible for the 1951 OSU graduate to attend any games this season.
I didn’t want to believe it. I always got a kick out of seeing people’s reactions when Pickens would stroll through the suite level on the stadium’s south side. In Stillwater, he was a rock star.
Pickens and I first met during the spring of 2005, at a Rotary Club of Tulsa luncheon. We immediately clicked — probably because we both had a history in the Texas Panhandle.
Pickens was an Oklahoman who hailed from Holdenville, but he attended Amarillo High School and was an undersized but skilled guard for the Sandies basketball team.
In a 1946 state tournament quarterfinal game in Austin, Pickens converted on a half-court, buzzer-beating shot that gave Amarillo High an 18-15 halftime lead over Brownwood.
I attended Borger High School, located 50 miles northeast of Amarillo and 50 miles southwest of the 68,000-acre spread that ultimately became Pickens’ Mesa Vista Ranch.
In 2008, Holder and I boarded a tiny prop plane for a flight to the ranch. Holder and Pickens had a best-friend relationship.
We had lunch with Pickens and I fact-checked a few pages of his book, “The First Billion Is the Hardest.” In Pickens’ helicopter, we were given a comprehensive tour of the ranch.
It was an unforgettable Sunday at an unforgettable place.
While I can and do objectively cover people and teams, friendships happen. Pickens became a friend, although in 2011 he chewed me out for my coverage of Gundy’s contract negotiation.
Boone was my friend. Not my editor. That negotiation was rife with hard feelings on both sides, and it occurred during the most successful season in OSU football history. It commanded extensive coverage.
During the 2018 interview, Pickens was asked about his massive investment in Oklahoma State football and his role in elevating the Cowboys program to sustained, unprecedented success.
“People laughed us at the time we began talking about it,” he replied. “Not anymore.”
As an everyday beat writer, I covered OSU football in 2004-11 and again in 2014-15. It has been the most eventful period in program history, and it’s impossible to overstate the significance of Pickens’ involvement.
As a bonus, I really enjoyed getting to know such an interesting man.