After the basketball team he coached was whistled for an unprecedented technical foul – a “provocative crossover” dribble – Rick Chandler blended two major parts of his professional life. He wrote a column about it.
Chandler was a well-known sportswriter and a highly successful coach. But he also was somewhat of an enigma. Parts of his life were a mystery to friends and peers other than that he was undeniably unassuming and altruistic. He was involved in many things that people didn’t know about for the simple reason that he rarely talked about himself.
“He hated self-importance or self-infatuation. Or the Dodgers,” said Chandler’s sister, Kathleen Felion, at a memorial service on Aug. 31, in Redwood City. “The world doesn’t know what it’s lost.”
Richard Stanley Chandler, 64, died Aug. 10, 2019. Due to high blood pressure, he had suffered a stroke and was unable to speak during a monthlong hospital stay. After a second stroke, it was clear he would not recover, and he was taken home. He passed with his mother, Carolyn Hartman, and dog, Jersey, at his bedside.
Appropriately, a gathering was held not at a church but instead in a conference room at the Red Morton Recreation Center, which was packed with people from different parts of Chandler’s life — a script-writing partner who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, a Little Leaguer he coached who later pitched for the San Francisco Giants, a 92-year-old neighbor who knew “Ricky” as a boy, and a man who hired him as a humor writer at MSNBC.
Members of a softball team, which played on Sundays for 35 years, comprised the biggest group in attendance. Chandler was the team’s catcher for 20 of those years. Jim Guida, who was the host speaker and was close with Chandler for 50 years, said he didn’t even know his friend had played softball.
Opening the memorial, Guida spoke: “While his most recent employment was writing for Eat Club, a corporate caterer, Rick’s writing career began at Sequoia High School with the Sequoia Times and continued in print with the Redwood City Tribune, Peninsula Times Tribune, Palo Alto Weekly, San Mateo Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Tahoe Daily Tribune.
“As a pioneer in electronic media, he was considered one of the original ‘Blogfathers’ and was a cofounder of the groundbreaking sports site Deadspin. He also worked for MSNBC, Iron Minds and created the blog Peninsula Youth Sports. Clearly, the man couldn’t keep a job.”
It was part eulogy, part roast. Something expected for a humor writer. There was laughter and tears for a person who died early.
“I suspect foul play,” Matt Richtel said. “Rick was always late.”
The gathering’s location was special for Max Minowitz, who played basketball for Coach Chandler at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School. With a team missing several key players, Minowitz recalled scoring 24 points in a win over rival Burrell at the Rec Center.
“How fitting that this is being held here,” said Max’s father, Peter, who was an assistant coach. During the sixth, seventh and eighth grade JLS and Palo Alto All Net club seasons, the team won (approximately) 150 of its 155 games. They finished as champions each year.
The team often won in lopsided fashion and it was during the fourth quarter of one of those games when Chandler instructed the players to cool their heels. But late in the game, guard Morayo Sonuga was being pressed near half court. He quickly switched directions and a referee called a technical foul. After consulting with the other officials, he explained that the technical was for a “provocative crossover.” Coach Chandler was perplexed, yet inspired to write about it.
“Rick taught me the value of dedication,” Max Minowitz said. “I skipped a game to go see the Sharks in the playoffs. Then he benched me for the entire game of a tournament championship.”
Chandler also coached Jeremy Lin, who has had a career in the NBA and recently signed with a team in China, the Beijing Ducks. On fast breaks, Lin is known to give a shoulder fake — as defenders fly by — before making a layup, a characteristic of Chandler’s teams.
Chandler played football in high school but became an expert basketball coach by covering Menlo College, which was coached from 1971-83 by a respected Bud Presley. The young sportswriter attended practices and took copious notes. Chandler also emulated the defensive strategy of Indiana’s Bobby Knight, who hates reporters but was happy to have a long one-on-one interview with Chandler.
“Knight could tell he was smart,” Richtel said. “To Rick, the two words that are the most evil in the English language are zone defense. … Man-to-man defense teaches personal responsibly and teamwork.”
Chandler coached Tom Brady in basketball in the ninth grade at Serra High School.
“No wonder Brady carved up zone defenses.” Richtel said. “That’s right, Belichick, it was Chandler.”
Chandler also coached baseball and a youngster named Paul McClellan, who was a first-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants. The starting pitcher played two years with the Giants before ending an injury-shortened career with Milwaukee.
“It’s surreal. Rick coached me in Little League, covered me in high school and then got to see me in the big leagues,” McClellan said.
During interviews with a gaggle of reporters, Chandler always stood out: Everybody else had recorders. Rick had a notebook, McClellan noted.
Richtel also uses a notebook. He lives is the Bay Area and writes health and science stories for the New York Times, for whom he was a recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for a series about distracted driving. He’s also written 10 books.
Richtel worked with Chandler at the Peninsula Times Tribune. “The first time I read him, I thought, ‘I didn’t know Dave Barry worked this part of the country.’ He’s funny, but most writers who attempt humor come across as trying too hard. He was a natural, as pure as they come.”
That was my first impression, too. In the late 1990s, I was the night news editor at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Managing editor Tim Traeger showed me some of Chandler’s writing examples (clips). I was smitten in an instant, and Chandler served as a general assignment and county reporter.
We became friends and years later, after he had moved back to the Bay Area and had helped start Deadspin, I was able to hire him back at the Tribune, where we produced the entertainment magazine Lake Tahoe Action. He wrote a hilarious story after coming across two men drinking beer through straws at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe on Halloween. They were dressed as the red and blue Rock ’Em, Sock ‘Em Robots. LINK
In 2013, he encouraged me to start the online entertainment and sports magazine Tahoe Onstage, teaching me about social media and contributing several stories, the first being a profile on the outrageous heavy metal band GWAR. LINK
Chandler’s Lake Tahoe roots are deep, his mother Carolyn explained.
“George Washington Chubbuck was my grandmother’s grandfather,” she said. “He came out West in 1863 in a covered wagon. He settled in Placerville, started a lumber company and sold it to Meek’s. He wasn’t a good businessman.” (Meek’s Lumber & Hardware still has two locations at Lake Tahoe and others in California and Northern Nevada).
In 1929, the family purchased 25 acres of beachfront property just north of Camp Galilee and south of the now ritzy enclave of Glenbrook. Carolyn cherished summers at Tahoe, but the patriarch said their land “was not good for much of anything — you can’t run cattle there.”
Chandler’s humor is the result of genetics.
“When I consult with my neurologist, he asks, ‘Who is the president?’ I say, ‘I’d rather not talk about that. But I can tell you about the last six generations of my family,’ ” Carolyn Hartman said.
The property was sold in 1950, but Carolyn and her three children camped every summer at Lake Tahoe’s South Shore on the Nevada side.
Rick Chandler moved to Tahoe again in 2013, when he coached the South Tahoe High School freshman basketball team to a 19-3 record, its best season in 20 years. Chandler had a gait that became more deliberate after a serious Achilles injury. But he was always on the move. “He had a habit of restarting a lot,” Richtel said.
Chandler’s media career spanned the “hot-type,” glory days of newspapers until that industry’s demise, as online information became the go-to thing. He was a part of both.
“He had an idea restlessness. But it was hard to tell. He didn’t let on. It’s wrenching to embody the transition of the media in the world and this country. He had local and regional renown and that went away. Then a national renown in the new media. But he was more of a creator than a he was a business person.”
Attendees at the memorial hope to have one of the Rec Center fields named after Chandler, encouraging people to write and lobby the Redwood City Councilwoman Janet Borgens.
Danny DeFreitas, a softball teammate and the person who hired Chandler at MSNBC, supported the idea, adding that he would keep Chandler’s longtime NCAA Basketball Tournament pool going.
“That is something we can control,” he said. “We played every Sunday for 20 years with Rick. It was not about softball, it was about friendship. … Rick was quiet and introverted. He didn’t come off as a funny person. But what he did with his writing was amazing. I hired him at MSNBC as a humor writer.”
Chandler found amusement with religious charlatans. He posted a “Jesus of the Week” meme on Facebook.
“Rick was not a churchgoer and we often discussed — OK, argued — about God and the Bible,” Guida said. “But if I am blessed to get my eternal reward in heaven and Rick’s not waiting for me, I’ll hang out in the other place.”
Chandler’s sister, Kathleen, said she saw him in a dream heading into the afterlife in a boat on a lake that looked like Tahoe. Also in a dream, I heard a song the night of his second stroke: “There’s no heaven, there’s no hell. It’s just fare thee well.”
“Rick was like a musician in Austin who didn’t get the national attention he deserved,” Richtel said. “But the fellow musicians knew he deserved it. That’s how we all felt in the writing community about Rick. He was a writer’s writer. The lights went out on one of the greats.”
— Related stories:
- — Deadspin co-founder Will Leitch: ‘Rick Chandler is the reason you’re reading this site right now.’
- — Matt Richtel: ‘Rick Chandler was taken too young.’
- — Fellow scribe Glenn Reeves: ‘This is not an easy story for me to write.’
Above: A steal and buzzer-beating basket for South Tahoe in 2014.