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James Leslie Jacobs

JACOBS, JAMES LESLIE (Jimmy, Jim; 1930–1988), U.S. handball champion, considered along with Vic *Hershkowitz as the greatest handball players in history; boxing manager and film historian, member of United States Handball Association Hall of Fame, World Boxing Hall of Fame, and International Boxing Hall of Fame. Jacobs was born in St. Louis, but when he was five his family moved to Los Angeles, where as a teenager he excelled as a shortstop in baseball, half-back in football, and forward at basketball, but primarily in handball. He was a remarkable all-around athlete who once ran a 9.8 100-yard dash, and was offered a tryout for the U.S. Olympic basketball team. After serving with the U.S. army in Korea – he was awarded the Purple Heart in 1951 – Jacobs developed his handball skills and became ambidextrous. As a four-wall handball player, Jacobs was the best ever, winning every match he played between 1955 and 1969. He won the Three-Wall Men's Singles three times (1959, 1960, 1961), the Four-Wall Men's Singles six times (1955, 1956, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1965, and the Men's Doubles five times (1960, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1968). Jacobs was the first to coin the "sword and the shield" theory, relying on his left hand as a shield and his right hand as his sword, and is credited as the first handball player to use the ceiling shot as a defensive weapon. He also won three AAU national titles, four YMCA national titles, and countless regional championships. He was inducted into the United States Handball Association Hall of Fame in 1972.

Jacobs was also a boxing enthusiast, and while traveling around the world to give handball exhibitions for the armed services, he began to collect films of old boxing matches not available in the United States. Jacobs became one of the world's top boxing historians. In 1961, he merged his collection with that of Bill Cayton to form the largest collection in the world, and the two worked to restore and preserve old boxing films dating to the 1890s. Their corporation, The Big Fights, Inc., produced over 1,000 boxing features, and three of their productions – Legendary Champions, The Heavyweight Champions, and Jack Johnson – were nominated for Academy Awards. Jacobs himself directed the 1970 documentary AKA Cassius Clay.

Jacobs – a nephew of boxing promoter Mike *Jacobs, who managed Joe Louis – also managed fighters together with Cayton, including three world champions: Wilfred Benitez, Edwin Rosario, and Mike Tyson. The Boxing Writers' Association of America awarded Jacobs the Al Buck Award for Manager of the Year in 1986, and he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.

Jacobs also loved comic books from when he was a child, and his collection of 500,000 issues was said to be the largest in the world. He died at 58 after a nine-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.