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East County Wednesday, Jul. 29, 2009 8 years ago

Delaney's 'Covert' a hit in Hollywood

by: Michael Eng Executive Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — For someone who once went by Bobby Covert, Bob Delaney sure doesn’t keep a low profile.

Last year, the Lakewood Ranch resident and NBA referee released his book, “Covert: My Years Infiltrating the Mob.” Co-written by “St. Petersburg Times” writer Dave Scheiber, the book chronicled Delaney’s years as an undercover agent with the New Jersey State Police.

And now, after garnering praise from The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated, among others, the book is heading to the silver screen. Appledown Films and Scott-Burns Productions of Los Angeles bought the motion picture rights to Delaney’s tale. Director Ron Shelton, whose credits include “Bull Durham,” “Tin Cup” and “White Men Can’t Jump,” has signed on as writer/director.

“This is beyond anything I had envisioned,” Delaney said of a “Covert” movie. “But if this story can help others, that’s the most rewarding part.”

Although “Covert” contains dozens of tense mafia scenes that would seem natural in a season of “The Sopranos,” Delaney’s purpose for writing the book wasn’t only to entertain or intrigue but also to inform and enlighten. The true conflict isn’t the New Jersey State Police versus the mob. Rather, it’s Delaney working through the post-traumatic stress disorder his undercover work induced.

Since the book’s release, Delaney has traveled throughout the world, sharing his tale with police officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and soldiers. He offers his advice about dealing with the demons that surface from high-stress careers, and his subsequent success stands as a beacon for those still in the trenches today.

“What happens when you’re dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder is that your body doesn’t know the stage or theater it’s in,” he said. “So, you don’t have to be a police officer or a soldier or an undercover agent to have post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The most rewarding part is someone reading the book and saying, ‘I’m going through something like that,’ and this book helped.”

Although he had been approached before about a potential movie, Delaney said he chose Appledown because the studio’s partners, Larry Spiegel and Judy Goldstein, understood that his story was more than the mob setting in which it takes place.

“They’re willing to tell that emotional side,” Delaney said.

Goldstein, a longtime NBA fan, first learned of Delaney’s previous life after a story aired at halftime during the 2006 NBA Finals.

“When I saw that piece, I thought, ‘Oh my God. That’s a movie right there. Everybody in town is going to be all over this.’”

After “Covert” was released, Goldstein and Spiegel approached Delaney’s agent about the movie rights.

“I think this really is a story of a journey of a man,” Spiegel said. “He’s following in his dad’s footsteps, and he winds up victorious, yet he’s left feeling so down. It’s one of the low points of his life, but he keeps pulling himself up and reaches great heights in personal success. And now, he has made it his life’s mission to help other people suffering from the same thing.”

Goldstein agreed.

“It’s an inspirational tale,” she said. “We don’t look at this as just an undercover cop tale.”

After securing the rights, Goldstein and Spiegel tapped Shelton, who will write the script with partner John Norville.

“We’re thrilled (to have him),” Goldstein said of Shelton. “He’s the perfect guy for this.”

Goldstein and Spiegel hope to have a script done by wintertime, with shooting commencing following the 2010 NBA season. But that timeline will depend on a variety of factors — including securing financing, the availability of the actors and more.

“It is quite an involved process,” Spiegel said. “There are a lot of moving parts.”

Delaney and Scheiber will be involved throughout the making of the film to ensure accuracy and direction, and Delaney may even appear in a cameo role.

“It would be hard to believe that he won’t get on the screen somehow,” Goldstein said. “Bob is such a dynamic guy.”

However, Delaney said one decision he won’t make is which actor will play him in the movie.

“Every night when I go to work, people second-guess my calls,” he said, laughing. “I’ll stay out of that one.”

For a related story about Bob Delaney's launch of the paperback edition of his book at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, click here.

Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].

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