Archive | October, 2012

Stern’s Retirement Is Jeff’s Triumphant Moment

28 Oct

JEFF IS HOLDING THIS POSE IN HEAVEN NOW IN CELEBRATION OF DAVID STERN’S RETIREMENT ANNOUNCEMENT

When Jeff began his crusade in earnest, in the spring of 2009, to raise awareness of what he believed to be NBA Commissioner David Stern’s repeated manipulation of the playoffs, through directives given to his referees to ensure that his favored teams and superstars made the finals, I knew it was only a matter time before he wore his man down and caused him to step aside.  Yes, it all sounds very nice that Stern has decided to retire on the 30th anniversary of the day he started as Commissioner, but by all accounts, he is a healthy and vigorous man with a coveted job, and I believe he is simply burnt out by having to deal with the movement against him that Jeff began about 3 ½ years ago and that a multitude of NBA fans have carried on for him since Jeff’s tragic death.

Alex Feintuch wrote on Facebook that “This would literally be the happiest moment of Jeff’s life.” He may be right, because what separates Jeff from many of us is that he brought unparalleled soul and passion to the people and the causes that he cared about the most.  Putting an end to Stern’s alleged wrongdoings, for the purpose of restoring the NBA’s standing as a respected sports league, was one such cause.  The election of President Obama was another, and I’ve written about that in detail.  He was passionate too about his family and friends, and anyone who partied with Jeff over the years can attest to the passion he brought to those evenings.  As his friend Tarzan from London wrote in his blog post last year,

“he immediately became the go-to guy when somebody needed a pick-me-up, whether this meant chilling in his room and watching Entourage or a basketball match, or going out somewhere, anywhere, after a few American-sized shots of vodka at the kitchen counter…But more clearly than that, whenever I want to remember his voice in my head I can’t help hearing words of drive and encouragement – “Alright. Why not? Let’s do it.” We had many memorable nights out that would otherwise have been sitting by a laptop with the stench of the sewage-filled Ifor Evans corridors creeping into our rooms, if it wasn’t for Jeff.” (“Cawfee”, October 18, 2011)

The following emails and article excerpts written by Jeff document his 16 month impassioned crusade to ultimately achieve the Commissioner’s ouster, which finally came to fruition on Thursday.

May 27, 2009: “Here are some examples of espn.com posters responding to the state of officiating in the playoffs right now.  So you can continue to be naïve and think nothing is going on, but just know that there are plenty of people who think the exact same thing as I do.”

May 28, 2009: “Yea, they definitely choked, but it’s awfully hard to win when you’re fighting the other team, yourselves, and the refs at the same time. I hope the Magic close it out tonight, and if not tonight, home in Game 6, because we all know there’s no way the refs would ever let the Magic win game 7 on the road, especially if the Lakers have already clinched.”

May 28, 2009: “And I completely agree – if it’s not Lakers-Cavs, the league loses, which is why I can tolerate a Lakers win. Actually, the thing is, I think the league wants the Cavs even more, because LeBron is the up and coming star, and Stern wants him to be the face of the league. In other words, I think he would much rather have Nuggets-Cavs than Lakers-Magic, which is why it’s even more important that the Magic win. I really think they will, though – the Magic are the better team, and I don’t think he can get the Cavs into the finals without starting an outright scandal.”

June 8, 2009: “Read Bill Simmons’ latest column if you get the chance. Just when I was starting to think that the officiating might be somewhat fair in this series, Simmons points out the fallacy of that thinking.”

April 28, 2010: “What NBA commissioner David Stern has done over the past few years is package his brand as a game glorifying individuals at the expense of the team.  It’s all about the superstar.  It’s about LeBron’s breathtaking dunks.  It’s about Kobe’s schooling three defenders on a ridiculous fadeaway.  What it’s not about any longer is the team.  And that’s sad…because the last time I checked, basketball was a team sport.” (“Why I Don’t Want a Lakers-Cavs Finals…and Why You Shouldn’t Either”, www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com)

May 3, 2010: “There are enough of us who care, even as the majority of people in the U.S. continue to be complicit in this scandal. Back in the ’70s, most people thought Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were crazy when they came out with their initial accusations about Watergate.”

May 4, 2010: “Apparently David Stern wants LeBron to stay in Cleveland because it would “validate the spirit of the collective bargaining agreement.” This morning’s ESPN poll question is “Was David Stern out of line in voicing a preference for the outcome of LeBron James’ impending free agency?”

After Game 1, Doc Rivers sent 4 plays into the league to be reviewed. Asked which plays they were, he wouldn’t say because he said he was ‘scared to tell you which ones because I may get fined for it.’ Boss Stern at his finest.”

May 5, 2010: “That’s good news that LeBron seems certain to stay. But you know what’s great news? Last night David Stern was at the Magic game and before the game he went to center court to announce that the 2012 All-Star Game will be in Orlando’s new arena. And the crowd booed him heavily!!! (the writer of the article i’m reading thinks it’s because of all the bad foul calls that went against Dwight Howard in the first round). I’m so happy the Magic fans are recognizing how Stern is trying to screw them. Again, in a fairly reffed series, the Magic would beat the Cavs in 5 or 6.”

June 17, 2010: “I think the way the whole league operates—the tyrannical nature of its commissioner with regard to stifling criticism and doling out fines, the blatant star treatment, the lack of consistency and accountability among referees, the multitude of adoring fans who vicariously soak up all the glamor and glitz of a few players’ superstardom—is sickening.” (“Celtics-Lakers Game 7, www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com)

June 24, 2010: “You’d think that over time, the tendency would be toward reform as more and more people have caught onto the egregious way in which the league operates (type in “The NBA is” on Google and the first three terms that the search engine provides to complete the sentence are “fixed”, “rigged”, and “a joke”).”  (“Personal Foul: A Telling of a Corrupt Enterprise”, www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com)

September 24, 2010: “I’m not sure if this is more egregious or laughable (definitely some of both), but with each reign-tightening, dictatorial maneuver by Boss Stern, the NBA loses more and more credibility as a professional sports league to be taken seriously…But once again, Stern has erred badly here.  Look at how his league has been criticized by fans and players alike in the last couple of postseasons concerning the officiating.  Does he really think that this is just going to go away?  That ruling with an even more iron-clad fist is going to fix the league’s image and credibility problem?  News flash, Mr. Stern: this is just gonna make it worse.  Much worse.” (“Stern Tightens Dictatorial Hold on League”, www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com)

In the end, Jeff was right.  In his last blog post above, written just 46 days before all of his passion for life inexplicably flamed out and he cut out on all of us, he made it clear to Stern that the fallout from his egregious behavior would not just go away.  And it didn’t.  As Stephen Babb of The Bleacher Report wrote on October 25th, the day of Stern’s announcement,

“Once we get past the understandable elation surrounding the departure of an increasingly unpopular NBA commissioner, we probably owe David Stern a fair shake.  Barring any scandalous revelations confirming years of conspiratorial speculation, history will almost certainly judge Stern more kindly than we have…Stern’s dismissive attitude and heavy-handed reprisals against criticism earned him a reputation bordering on the tyrannical, and there was certainly truth to that perception.”

I have received nearly a dozen emails since last week’s post in which I shared Jeff’s article about the 2006 playoff elimination of the Yankees by the Tigers (“Hey Yanks, Be Happy Jeff’s Not The G.M.”), all of which noted how eerily relevant Jeff’s 2006 article was to the 2012 Yankees’ playoff flop.  And how similar the circumstances are.  In that article, Jeff called for the Yankees to trade Alex Rodriguez in light of his “chronic postseason failures”.  Today, in the aftermath of the Yankees’ 2012 playoff collapse, speculation is again rampant that such a trade may finally happen.  As usual, Jeff was way ahead of the curve.

So too with the David Stern situation.  Three and a half years after Jeff began his crusade to get rid of Stern, he finally got his man.  And just as Jeff noted that the Commissioner “packaged” the NBA as a game glorifying individuals at the expense of the team (see April 28th above), Stern has now packaged his retirement as a happy 30th anniversary party.  I guess that could be the case and perhaps appropriate for a 70 year old man, but I don’t buy it.

The movement that Jeff spawned only intensified after his death, as did the vitriol from NBA fans everywhere who resented Stern’s initial blocking of the Chris Paul trade and his role in last year’s NBA lockout.  I believe the pressure on Stern from those who called him out on his controlling behavior became unbearable, but rather than retiring now, he figured he could save face by announcing that it would be on his 30th anniversary.  Expect him to maintain a low profile until then in an attempt to somehow salvage his legacy

There are no words to describe the agony of my not being able to share this moment with Jeff, to not be able to receive a triumphant text from him on this occasion, and to not even be able to post on his Facebook page, as I was not a member when he was alive and am therefore not a Facebook “friend” of his.  There is some consolation, though, in knowing that for those closest to him, Jeff was the first person they thought of when they heard the news.  As Alex Feintuch posted, “Jeff was the first person/thing/thought in my mind when the news broke.”

And at the end of that day, doesn’t that say it all about Jeff’s own legacy?  When things happen in subject areas that Jeff was passionate about, people think of him first, and I believe they always will.  Just like Mike Philson did when he commented on my September 26th post on Jeff’s support of Obama by saying, “Jeff woulda been supporting the campaign in 2012.  No doubt I’ll think of him on election day.” And just like Dan Roberts did when he sent me a link about an egregious preseason call involving LeBron and posted on my wall this past Wednesday, “Jeff would have had a lot to say about this one.” These comments are the ultimate testaments to the joy and enthusiasm with which Jeff lived.

And to this day, that passion is what defines him and is what causes people to instantly think of him in relation to important sports and political topics.  I am very thankful for this, as it is a clear indication that he remains alive in so many peoples’ hearts and minds.  And as his father, that is part of what enables me to slowly heal—knowing that he may be physically gone but that his memory is anything but.  It is alive and vibrant, and even two years later, current events have his name and imprint all over them.  I still have the email I received almost 5 months after Jeff died from a former travel basketball teammate and friend of his.  He wrote,

“Although Jeff and I did not keep in touch after graduation, I would always think about his reactions to sports.  In fact, if there was ever a trade, upset, David Stern reading, etc., my brother and I would always say to each other, ‘wow, I can’t wait to see what Jeff posts on his blog or on facebook.”

Tragically, neither this young man nor anyone else will see any posts from Jeff regarding Stern’s retirement.  However, Drew and I, as well as some of Jeff’s friends, have done that for him.

And on behalf of Jeff, I say to David Stern: “good riddance”.  I hope the noise from the party going on in Heaven didn’t keep you awake at night this weekend.

-Rich Klein

Advertisements

A Political Fervor That Spawned Facebook Classics (And would Jeff still think Obama’s got the right stuff?)

23 Oct

“Man I like Obama but I hate his sports picks.  Biggest frontrunner ever.”

-Jeff Klein, text message to Dad, June 3, 2009

 

Four years ago, raucous celebrations broke out on college campuses across the country upon the official announcement that Barack Obama had been elected President.  At Middlebury, it was no surprise to anyone that Jeff was right in the thick of the action.  I am so thankful that one of Jeff’s friends took photos at the party he attended and thus captured the joy of that historic night and the early hours of the following day.

There is no question that the 2008 campaign was a turning point for Jeff in that he developed a heightened interest in politics and social issues which continued throughout the last two years of his life.  Evidence of this lies in the fact that before the summer of 2008, the vast majority of the emails and texts that I received from Jeff revolved around sports.  Once the campaign began, however, and until his final days, I would estimate that I received just as many emails and texts from him about politics and social issues as I did about sports.  As an example, I enjoyed the following email that Jeff sent to me just three months after the election, at 1:50am on February 12th, 2009:

 “Tonight I went to hear Al Sharpton speak at Mead Chapel.  He gave an excellent speech—he was very eloquent and made some great points.  He exuded a much different persona than the one that is normally attached to him.”

That simple email says so much about the type of person Jeff was.  He always formed his own views on people and issues.  He never pre-judged anyone, and he ignored generalizations and stereotypes.  He formed a view on Sharpton based on what he heard in his speech, not based on the reputation that preceded him into Mead Chapel that night.

The 2008 election took Jeff’s passion for politics to such a high level that it spawned incidents that have gone down in Facebook lore as instant hall of fame classics.  I can’t resist sharing the two best examples, and those who are Facebook friends with Jeff will likely remember these memorable posts.

On November 29th, 2008, just 3 ½ weeks after the election, Jeff’s Facebook status read that Jeff Klein is “sorry for the mass drunk political text last night!  Happens sometimes.”

When two of Jeff’s friends responded that they had not received the text, Jeff posted, “Haha well maybe it wasn’t mass then.  all i know is i woke up this morning and got like 5 texts from people in some form of either “yay obama!” or “boo obama!” or “i love how you talk politics at 3 in the morning.”  good times.”

Jeff’s status and his follow-up post were vintage Jeff, but in my view, the best part of it all was a response he received from someone who DID receive the text.  It was from one of his KDR brothers, DeHanza Merritt who, as a testament to the sheer uniqueness of Jeff’s post, wrote with exasperation:

“yeahhhhh jeff.  wtf.  you are quite possibly the only person I’ve ever met that does drunk political texts.  for serious.”

I’m sure he WAS one of the only people who sent drunken political texts, because Jeff’s uniqueness and genuine nature are large parts of what defined him.  He frequently did things that no one else would do, because there really is no one else quite like him. And in my opinion, that’s what made him so irresistible.

The next example might lead one to conclude that by April 25th, 2010, Jeff’s interest in talking politics had gone a bit too far and had begun to get in the way of, shall we say, more interesting pursuits. On that day, he posted a status that has to go down as one of the most classic ones in the history of social networking sites.  I recently discovered this on Jeff’s relatively new Facebook timeline.  He wrote the following:

“went to UNC Chapel Hill for the [first] time last night. Met a gorgeous blonde girl at the bar and somehow thought it would be a good idea to start talking politics with her. She thought George Bush was a great president and I was trying to tell her differently…instead of asking what her plans were for the rest of the night. Why am I such a retard?”

The humorous anecdotes above are simply meant to illustrate Jeff’s growing interest in the political arena as he got older, and they lay the groundwork for the more serious question at hand, which is whether President Obama would still have had Jeff’s vote in 2012. 

Surprisingly, the answer to this question is not a no-brainer and is complicated by the fact that despite Jeff’s unequivocal support of Obama in 2008, he was not just some left wing ideologue who blindly waved the Democratic flag regardless of the country’s situation.  In fact, it seemed that Jeff had an epiphany in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day in 2009, just weeks before Obama’s inauguration.  After partying that New Year’s eve in the NYU area, it became clear to him, based on his interactions that night, that he had no tolerance for extreme views on either side of the political spectrum.  Jeff’s first text message to me of the New Year made that abundantly clear:

“I’m no longer a liberal.  I’m a moderate.  These stupid quirky liberal intellectuals at NYU disgust me almost, if not as much, as social conservative Palin supporters.”

Though his words were a bit crude after a long New Year’s celebration, the message behind them was clear.  Jeff was extremely analytical, and he had always believed that a close examination of issues and the facts surrounding them was essential to forming a view.  He abhorred the partisan politics that lead members of both parties to take uncompromising positions and result in government gridlock.  Jeff would have thoroughly analyzed Obama’s performance these past four years and would similarly have given Mitt Romney every opportunity to convince him that he had the best plan to reduce unemployment and the deficit, to stimulate economic growth, and to do so without compromising our military strength and important social programs through excessive spending cuts.

Not even two months into Obama’s presidency, Jeff was already monitoring his approach to and progress in dealing with the financial crisis.  On March 4th, 2009, he sent me the following email sharing the latest article he had read on that topic:

“Here’s a counter to the idea that Obama’s not doing anything to fix the financial crisis”.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/us/04states.html?_r=1 

When I pointed out to Jeff that it wasn’t surprising that such an article was published in a newspaper that was known as a left wing publication, he was shocked.  He emailed back:

I explained to Jeff that I was half joking when I wrote that about the article but that it was certainly true that the papers’ editorial page is where one would find the left-leaning views that I referred to.  His email had reflected both his innocence and idealism at that time, which is why he found it difficult to accept that a well known newspaper would be anything but perfectly neutral in all parts of its publication.  Jeff was intrigued by what I had just taught him, and he wanted to pursue it further.  He wrote:

I pointed out that it didn’t necessarily work that way, and I gave Jeff examples of newspapers that were known right-wing publications such as the notorious New York Post.  That didn’t surprise him, as he shared this disgraceful example:

“That makes sense that the NY Post is far right wing.  That would explain that political cartoon a couple of weeks ago that depicted Barack Obama as a monkey.”

I very much enjoyed playing a part in Jeff’s growing political awareness, and it is one of the sets of memories that I will always treasure.  And in honor of those memories and despite my own political leanings, I will be
proudly wearing Jeff’s Obama ’08 T-shirt on this Election Night.

And I didn’t know, until just finding this shirt in Jeff’s room last week, that Jeff had written on the back:

Intelligence > Ignorance

Yes We Did.

But here’s the bottom line and the answer to the question I’ve posed.  Jeff’s euphoria over Obama’s victory in 2008 had slowly but steadily waned over the ensuing two years.  Although Jeff’s experience of having to search for a job for six months after graduation before landing one was better than that of many 2009 graduates, it still made an impression on him.  As a magna cum laude graduate of Middlebury College, the fact that he couldn’t write his own ticket impressed upon him how dire the nation’s employment situation was and that it needed to be fixed.  With unemployment still hovering near 8% today, he would have definitely given Romney a fair hearing.

But Romney would have deeply disappointed Jeff, starting with his insensitivity to women’s issues.  With Carey as such a guiding force in his life, this would have been a deal breaker for Jeff.  Romney’s refusal to release tax returns, his frequent verbal gaffes (including insulting our closest ally, the U.K., at the Olympics), his lack of a specific deficit reduction plan even at this late date,  and his generally uninspiring performance as a candidate would have just been icing on the cake.  As Jeff wrote in 2008, Obama’s “steadiness, intellectual curiosity and depth of knowledge” were crucially important qualities to have in a president.  He would have found Romney lacking in those areas.

And so it is clear to me that if Jeff was still with us on this coming Election Day, he would pull the lever next to President Obama’s name once again, albeit with less conviction and enthusiasm than he did in 2008.

In my last post, I shared a small portion of Jeff’s article from October 23rd, 2008 in The Middlebury Campus, entitled “Obama’s got the right stuff”.  I thought it would be fitting, with Election Day 2012 beckoning, to end today’s post by sharing the complete article that Jeff was so excited to write.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

This past Sunday, the Obama campaign got an enormous boost from an official endorsement by one of the most respected political figures in the country, Colin Powell.  Powell toted Senator Obama as a “transformational figure.  He is a new generation coming onto the world stage, onto the American stage.”

But even more astute was another comment Powell made of Obama, in which he stated that Obama has “displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge.”  That statement could not have been more on the money, and it epitomizes the issues that I’d like to discuss in further detail.

Simply put, in these most extraordinary of times, we need an intelligent president.  One that, unlike our current president George Bush and Republican nominee John McCain, recognizes that not every issue is black and white, that—believe it or not—some issues actually require complex reasoning and analysis.  Moreover, we need a president who understands that the dreaded “flip flop” label, which Republicans so shamelessly attached to John Kerry back in 2004, can actually have a positive connotation.  It means that you have the intellectual capacity and sound judgment to adjust to changing circumstances and make the correct decision, the very quality that George Bush sorely lacks.  But hey, at least he’s a “strong, decisive leader” that makes decisions straight from the gut.  That’s gotten our country so far, right?

In a recent interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Obama proved exactly how his ability to think critically about complex issues and adjust his positions to changing circumstances would benefit the country.  After Lauer pointed out that U.S. officials and Iraqi officials have been negotiating an agreement whereby U.S. combat troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011—an agreement that would conflict with Obama’s stated withdrawal timeline of 2010—he asked if such an agreement, if formalized, would become meaningless in an Obama presidency.  In other words, would Obama still try to impose his current position on the country and pull out of Iraq by 2010?  Obama answered, “If I ever make a determination that the American people will be safer by me making adjustments, I will make those adjustments because that’s my job.  My assessment right now is that in 16 months, we can have our combat troops out.  We will still have a residual force there.”  Can you ever imagine McCain giving such a thoughtful, candid answer?  In a similar situation, he would probably regurgitate for the umpteenth time that “My friends, I will make sure we win the war in Iraq and win it with honor.”

Thus, the need to elect an intelligent leader should be paramount to voters’ decision of whom to vote for.  It is a sad reflection on our society that in fact many people base their decision on who should hold the highest office in the land on mostly irrelevant issues.  While I have no exact statistics to confirm my point, I think it is reasonable to assume that numerous citizens throughout the country who plan on voting for McCain are doing so based on the misguided notion that Obama somehow lacks “family values” or isn’t a “true American.”  What does that even mean?  And more to the point, why do so many people fall into the trap of letting those shallow, uninformed beliefs overshadow what we should focus on: who has the ability to make the most well-informed, reasoned decisions that will benefit our country as a whole?  To take a specific example of misplaced priorities that particularly irk me, I can only look on in incredulity when I read that there are actually people who would vote against Obama and all he brings to the table because their priest told them that it would be a sin to vote for the pro-choice candidate.  I mean, seriously?  I consider myself fairly religious, but that is the type of fear mongering that inhibits the electorate’s ability to make a rational, informed decision on who would make the best president.

What I’m trying to say is that in less than two weeks, we have a decision to make that will substantially affect the future of our country.  Beginning on January 20, 2009, will our country be led by an impulsive, erratic, “every issue is black and white” President McCain, or will it be led by, as Colin Powell so nicely summarized, a man who displays steadiness, intellectual curiosity, and a depth of knowledge—a leader by the name of President Obama?  For the sake of our country, I hope that it is the latter.

-Jeff Klein, Notes From the Desk, The Middlebury Campus, 10/23/08

Hey Yanks, Be Happy Jeff’s Not The G.M.

18 Oct

“What an incredible disappointment. The New York Yankees, widely predicted to motor through the playoffs and win their first World Series in six years, couldn’t even make it out of the first round as they were eliminated in four games by the Detroit Tigers.

          In the game that sealed the deal for Detroit, the Yankees didn’t even resemble the team that finished tied for the best record in baseball. Their batting lineup was absolutely abominable and didn’t muster a hit until the sixth inning. Detroit starter Jeremy Bonderman is a good pitcher, not an all-star. But the way the Yankees played against him, you’d think he was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame.

          In the four game series, the Yankees hit .246 and scored a pathetic 3.5 runs per game, compared with a .285 batting average and 5.74 runs per game during the regular season. But what angers me the most is that in Game 4, the Yankees’ hitters displayed absolutely no intelligence at the plate. A team that prides itself on being patient and working the count looked more like a bunch of overanxious rookies, hacking wildly at every pitch they saw. Through the first five innings, Bonderman only had to throw 40 pitches. That’s an embarrassment. Gary Sheffield had two of the ugliest strikeouts I’ve ever seen, futilely waving at pitches over in the next zip code. Even Jeter, usually calm and poised at the plate, swung wildly at a pitch in the dirt and struck out.

          Why didn’t the Yankees show up to play? Why did a team that crushed Detroit in Game 1 completely fold after that? I really don’t have an answer. I can guarantee, though, that owner George Steinbrenner is going to have some serious problems with it and will act accordingly. Rumors are already circulating that manager Joe Torre is done. Several teams have expressed interest in A-Rod, and I’m sure GM Brian Cashman will be more than happy to ship him and his chronic postseason failures out of New York. I know I would. There are really no limits as to the amount of change this team will undergo over the course of the winter, and frankly, there shouldn’t be any.

          This Yankees defeat confirmed that their current strategy of stockpiling a lineup of all-stars and relying on shaky veteran pitching to win in the playoffs does not work. Period. So the Yankees’ front office better figure out a viable long-term plan. Because right now, the world’s most storied sports franchise is in complete disarray. “

-Jeff Klein, JK Rolling Column, October 9, 2006