He’s a noted filmmaker, a teacher, an honorary Oscar winner, a crazy New York sports fan and now this: Spike Lee is the next grand marshal of the New York City Marathon.
“It’s gonna be a great day in my life,” Lee said in an interview about his new title, to be announced by race officials later Monday. “All those runners, coming from all over the world to New York? It’s gonna be a fun time.”
Lee, 58, is known as one of his hometown’s great boosters, and so it’s apt that he becomes the first New Yorker to get the title of grand marshal.
He’s also only the third person in the race’s 45-year history to have it, race officials said, after Czech running star Emil Zatopek in 1979 and Grete Waitz of Norway — winner of a record nine titles, who died in 2011 — in 2003.
“When we looked at having a grand marshal for this year’s TCS New York City Marathon, we envisioned someone the world would immediately recognize as a sports enthusiast and quintessential New Yorker, and Spike was the perfect fit,” said Michael Capiraso, president and CEO of the New York Road Runners, in a statement.
Lee professes to having no idea why he was chosen for the honor, but notes he’s a lifelong fan of the race, which takes place this year on Nov. 1.
“When I was in college, at Morehouse in Atlanta, this was really my New York fix, watching the marathon,” he said. “Because I will go to my grave, you know — hopefully no time soon — saying that New York City is the greatest city on God’s planet! And I think the marathon is a big demonstration of that, people coming from all over the world, to do their best. There’s no better city in the world to do that than New York City.”
An added bonus for Lee: The race goes through the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn, where he grew up, and where his film company’s office is now. He used to put his kids in their strollers and greet the runners. As part of his race duties, he’ll ride the 26.2-mile route in the grand marshal’s car.
Lee, known as one of New York’s most avid sports fans for his die-hard support of the New York Knicks and also the Yankees, says he’s not a huge runner.
“I used to play softball,” he said. “But I have Joe Namath knees now,” he added, referring to the travails of the former Jets quarterback.
It’s been a big year for Lee. In August, it was announced he’d be getting an honorary Oscar at the academy’s Governors Awards on Nov. 14. He’s a two-time nominee but has never won, and he has freely criticized the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the past for what he’s seen as a lack of diversity in the awards. He’ll be the youngest recipient of an honorary Oscar, which is tantamount to a lifetime achievement award.
Lee said he hadn’t planned yet what he was going to say in his speech, but was going to “try to keep it positive.”
And he noted with a generous laugh that “I love my man Michael Jordan, but it’s not going to be his Hall of Fame speech,” referring to Jordan’s emotional and also biting 2009 speech, in which he detailed past slights.
“Here’s the thing, though,” Lee added. “It’s a great honor and I’m glad I’m getting it, but I don’t think it’s a validation of the work I’ve done. History has validated my body of work. Any time you’re an artist, you get acknowledged for what you do and that’s a good feeling … but if this honorary Oscar never happened, I’d still not have thought less of my body of work.”
Lee is certainly having an eventful end to 2015. In addition to the marathon and the Oscar presentation in November, he’s working toward an end-of-year release of his new film, “Chiraq.”
“We’re looking forward to ending the year with a bang,” he said.