Growing up as a first-generation Korean-American in the mostly Mexican-American L.A. suburb of Montebello in the 1980s, Steve Kim did not fit the stereotype, emerging even then, of an overachieving, academically stressed child. "I was not your typical 4.0 Asian student," he says. "I did not have the 1600 SATs. I just liked sports. I probably read more Sports Illustrated than my textbooks."
That voracious appetite turned him into a daily reader of the Los Angeles Times and the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Though he didn't realize it then, Kim belonged to the last generation that got to watch the drama of boxing regularly on network television.
From his early childhood, Kim dreamed of becoming a sports reporter, but his average grades made that seem all but impossible. He and his working-class parents couldn't afford to continue paying the relatively modest tuition at Cal State L.A.; instead of completing his college degree, Kim ended up a reluctant dropout. He had no marketable skills and was looking at a future consigned to factory work.
He landed jobs at Aramark and Toyota, "sorting out parts and loading them — it was hard work, but the money was fair, so I really did get lucky," he says. At work, he was drawn to late-night sports radio, namely KMAX's cultish The Sports Gods With Dave Smith and Joey Haim, and discovered he had talent after all — he couldn't keep his mouth shut about sports and he had interesting things to say.
After leaving work each night, Kim would call in with his fresh if quirky views. "I became the running joke of the show," he recalls, and "finally, a producer said, 'We have an internship.' So I just kind of cheated my way onto the front of the list."
"They had no standards," Kim says gleefully.
Eventually, his boxing obsession and radio experience landed him jobs as a commentator and self-appointed boxing scribe. Today Kim is internationally recognized for his commentary and opinion preceding major pay-per-view boxing bouts. He's a sought-after expert, at turns tolerated and respected by the boxing establishment, and known for standing firm in service to the fans.
Kim says he won't be the guy who writes a "glorified press release." He sees himself as a fan advocate who accepts any ill will from the boxing world as a badge of honor.
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"My job is to tell uncomfortable truths — that's what our job calls for," he says. "If you are not pissing off somebody in this job, you probably are not doing it correctly."
Kim most prides himself on how he influenced reforms in universal ticket access after calling attention to institutionalized price gouging.
"More than ever we [boxing journalists] play a role in shaping what happens in the game," Kim says. "I love this job."