Laker blog profile: Rick Friedman's life as a Laker fan
This is the 28th post in a series that helps you get to know members of the L.A. Times Lakers blog community. But this one is unique. Longtime Lakers blog member Rick Friedman recently passed away in his fight against cancer. Below is a profile submitted by his cousin Benjamin on Rick's life. Feel free to send submissions to email@example.com
For all the Rick Friedman fans on the Lakers blog:
I'm sharing this writing with you because your response to Rick's
passing and mutual impact on each others' lives is something real. I
feel you deserve the opportunity to get to know Rick better. You're
worthy. 4+1 of you were at Rick's memorial and 3 expressed that you
wish you could have come, but were unable (including Mark Medina who unfortunately had car trouble). That speaks volumes to me and my family liked it too.
My sister, not much of a sports fan, upon seeing the Rick Friedman's best quotes blog entry, the many, many, many Rick Friedman quoted post replies and seeing what Lakers fans had to say about Rick literally cried. I was absolutely blown away, both with intense emotion and
deep appreciation. I don't think I can say thank you enough to Mark Medina. A guy that knew Rick found the link and posted it to his site since he couldn't find an obit. Rick's ex-wife found the blog entry on her own on Wednesday before the memorial and thought it was neat. And I sent links to my best friend, my dad and Rick's son Adam because I knew that they would appreciate it. For us, it was deeply moving that such a thing exists. And I know that Rick's family appreciated having copies of the blog entry for posterity, including the two I gave and however many Faith gave the family at Rick's memorial.
I got closer to Rick through our shared Lakers fandom when I called or e-mailed him because I was pretty sure the Rick Friedman that appeared on the blog was my cousin. My Lakers fandom was something my father passed down to me growing up watching the Showtime Lakers, being horrified at age 6 that the '76s swept us in the Finals, loving Pat Riley guaranteeing a repeat the next year in '87 (What huevos!!!). It was something that Rick, my dad and I all shared.
This really isn't about me so...
I'm going to tell you a little bit about Rick that a lot of people didn't know, both from my own memories of him, what I've heard from
family, from his memorial and also help give you a sense of the atmosphere of his memorial. There's also an obituary written about Rick by one of the attendees and speakers, Bob Rand and later edited by a philly.com staff member.
While most people encountered Rick's intense fandom and very well-articulated thoughts about the Lakers, that interaction misses a
little of Rick as a person. For me, it was something very noteworthy, not just the "you can't really know a person from a small interaction or via the internet you can't know someone" sorts of thoughts. It's
really over and above that sort of thing.
Rick had three parts of his personality that I didn't often see reflected in his extensive blog contribution. He had a great sense of
humor, easy-going attitude and an unshakable positivity. I can't ever recall Rick complaining about anything. And after any visit with him, I always thought to myself "what a great guy" and my mood was always uplifted. While some people say that you control your own happiness, Rick lived it to monkish perfection. Even as a result of your own screwed up mood, you may occasionally regret spending time with even the coolest of people. Never Rick. Part of what I do see in his blog posts is that he took the Lakers very seriously as he temporarily shed some of the more light-hearted aspects of his personality. He took a professional, analytical, journalistic approach to the Lakers.
Rick has a bit of a dorky feel when you just meet him. As his colleague Larry Kane mentioned in his excellent sharing about him at his memorial, Rick was "The King of Dead Air." He was "so brilliant"
that "it took 4 seconds to translate his thoughts" into something we others could comprehend. "It took another three seconds" to get from his translation to his lips. Consequently, you spent a little time
waiting for Rick to respond when you spoke to him. But, from it you knew he was really listening and considering what you had to say. After a bit of time with Rick, it becomes quite clear he's among the
coolest people you'll ever meet. He's tied into trends, using them honestly and appreciating the innovation (beating both my 2nd cousin Adam and me to facebook and Twitter despite around 30 years
seniority). And he just handles himself wonderfully with other people, being adored amongst every group that was lucky enough to have him.
Rick had an impressive career in news, highlighted in part by an Emmy he received for coverage of the Rodney King riots. You can see much of his career highlights on his linkdin page. There's some discussion here of his career up until 1995. You can also watch all 3 parts of his Emmy-award winning "Anatomy of a Riot" from 1992 at the following links (parts one through two through three, respectively).
Rick also worked in the music recording industry with some success. What really blows me away about Rick is not that he had such accomplishments (he was obviously a very talented guy), but the fact
that almost no one on the blog probably even knew about them. Rick was not just his job and was not about impressing others. It just wasn't who he is. To have such impressive accomplishments that
require hard work and dedication, yet not have it be something you discuss is very unusual in my experience. I remember he brought over his Emmy to my dad and then stepmom's place in 1993 and I got a picture with it. I remember it just didn't seem like that big of a deal. We were just hanging out having a barbecue.
At his very casual memorial recently at the divey Rock and Roll bar that is the Rainbow Bar and Grill (where Rick also spent his last birthday), I was fortunate enough to run into Steve, a chaplain at the
hospice where Rick spent his last days. Not surprisingly, Steve was a kind and gracious man and shared with me some things about Rick's final days (beyond the obvious pain that Rick experienced that I asked
him to skip because I was already aware). Steve said that Rick liked to spend time on his balcony, amongst the plants. He said that Rick seemed to have no regrets, that he was very proud of his life, his influence on others and his career accomplishments. Even though he didn't brag about it and didn't specifically mention it to almost anyone, he knew how he affected us all and that he had an impressive career. He said that Rick was ready and accepted his death, having lived a full life.
At Rick's memorial, we gathered for a while, drinking beer and martinis and snacking on appetizers and pizzas. A few individuals spoke, often through tears or very watery eyes, about who Rick was to
them and how much they loved him. His son, his daughter, his colleague Larry Kane, my father Steven (his cousin), Bob Rand along with Tony Alvarado, two young neighbors and then Faith all spoke.
Later, Lakersville folk proudly showed pictures with Rick at championship parades the last two years.
One highlight was the few stories told by Larry Kane. Larry mentioned that at one point, he was the reporter appearing on TV coverage for a live debate between then cinch Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson in 1988. Live debates at the time were apparently quite rare. Jesse Jackson was late to the event and Larry was left forced to say something in the interim standing in front of millions of viewers of live TV. He asked Rick, the producer on duty for a little guidance. He waited for the "King of Dead Air" to respond and bail him out, to give him something to say. Rick took his usual 7 seconds, then replied, "Rock on."
Bob Rand talked about his early career and the station the owner hating him and his long hair. The owner even to get him removed from the premises despite the fact that he had some production duties. No one would sit with him at the cafeteria because everyone knew the owner hated him. Except Rick did and befriended Bob and gave him a few breaks. I inferred from the discussions that getting a break is essential for any chance in broadcasting. Bob got to do the story on the second
Menendez brothers hearing and noticed a potentially interesting lead afterwards. A guy, Tony Alvarado, had a deportation hearing that just didn't quite make sense.
After an incredibly long intro, Rick's son Adam went up to Bob to have him rap up his (apparently at the time) pointless story. It turned out this guy, Tony Alvarado had been a former banger as a youth in
Pacoima, reformed himself and acted as a mentor for youth in his Pacoima neighborhood. Tony had been deported multiple times because he refused to act as an FBI informant to receive a U.S. citizenship,
coming back each time and refusing to inform each time they caught up with him. Eventually, the U.S. Justice Department tired of this cycle and placed Tony into a long term immigration prison where he might rot for a decade. Rick (and station general manager Steve Cohen) allowed Bob to continue to cover this apparently minor story and do what he wanted when most producers wouldn't have allowed such a meandering without getting a good story. The Justice Department eventually asked
why the hell Rick's news station cared about this one guy, that he was nobody. Their response was if they could help just one guy that they were doing something good. Eventually, seven months in detention, Tony was released free of charges and was given U.S. citizensihp. So, cool story, Rick's a hero and he helped one guy, essentially keeping him from having his life ruined. All well and good.
Well, then we were introduced to Tony who was standing next to Rick's colleague. Physical proof of how a renegade, open-minded producer like Rick could and did permanently and for the better change one
man's life through his career. Tony then spoke and recounted how he'd spoken with 'thousands" of people to help his plight and ALL of them said there was nothing they could do. He gushed in appreciation and it was clear that if nothing else, Rick had literally saved this one man's life. Wow! It was an incredible relief and worthwhile punchline to the pain that was the previous story leadup. I'm not sure it could have been told in any better way.
It becomes clear that Rick was no ordinary producer, willing to take risks, amazingly cool under pressure except when he got really excited meeting rock stars like Ringo Starr and believed in news as important,
not just a stepping stone in his own career or to make money.
Rick didn't care much about money, leaving little, but leaving something so much more valuable, the memories we all have of him, the shared experience of knowing something that always kept it real and
his good deeds as a television producer/executive producer. Even later in life, he was trying new things including learning guitar and bass over the last few years, well into his sixties.
Rick partied and smoked throughout his life, really living the life he wanted. Even though his life was cut short and somewhat suddenly by a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer, until near the last few
months when his energy and physical abilities were greatly compromised, Rick really did get to live the life he wanted. I think that's really all for which any of us can ask.
The exact circumstances of his passing make me even angrier than I already am with the FDA, cigarette companies and young smokers, but that's my own trip.
For a few weeks prior to Rick's passing, he had very low energy, not really talking for weeks and not clearly listening for maybe two weeks. However, during Rick's 's final moments his eyes were open the
entire time, and he was very talky. Most of what he said was not understandable, but he did say something about the Lakers being on a streak. Despite being limited, he was very loving (despite not being so much of his life) and very jokey with his son, daughter and her husband. He had a very energetic last hurrah, doing the best he could with silly gestures when he could no
longer speak well. He continued to say that he wanted out as he had for weeks due to the intense pain and discomfort from the lung cancer that had spread. His daughter had her head on his chest as he passed and was uplifted by the whole process.
Blah, blah, blah, he did this and that AND THEN HE MENTIONED THE LAKERS STREAK, INTELLIGIBLY WHEN LITTLE ELSE WAS ON HIS LITERAL DEATHBED!!! I'm sort of being silly here because of course the other stuff matters, but I'm sort of not. THAT is a true fan. If the Lakers win it all I think we must make t-shirts and dedicate the win to Rick. Badass.
Rick was brave throughout the process of fighting cancer. He never let it get him down that I saw or heard and never gave up. When I found out about Rick's exact diagnosis, researched it and communicated my deep condolences with him about it he completely blew me off. (in between the lines, "I'm fine, don't treat me like a guy with a death sentence") Good for him.
Rick's son Adam made huge sacrifices to help Rick in his final days, resulting in a real danger of the loss of his nascent business, Advanced Athletics. If you love Rick, you have to appreciate the sacrifices made by his son Adam to make things work the best possible way near the end. My dad, a great friend of Rick's also stepped in when Adam had almost nothing left that he could give. I don't feel right in talking about Rick without acknowledging the burden both of them undertook to makes Rick's final months comfortable and to get him the medical and hospice care that he needed. Adam, incidentally, has kind of a cool NBA connection, having done strength training for NBA players and many WNBA players, including most notably and most complimentary to his being a good trainer, Lisa Leslie, for almost her entire career.
This whole experience of Rick's passing has been very intense and for me, very remarkable. For me, the most salient part of the entire series of events is this: Even in his death, I'm left feeling positive and good. His death was far from tragic. He had a great career for which one could be proud.
He was endeared from all circles. He didn't die with regrets. And up until near the end, he got to live the life he wanted. The end result is that even in his death, Rick's positivity shone through and made
the moment better. I've seen plenty of deaths and never, ever have I felt this way after them. I feel like even in death, Rick has made himself a gift to us all, imposing his positivity upon us.
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