Mike Kahn: A great boss and even better man
I’ve been a little out of sorts over the last couple of days since hearing that Mike Kahn, my first boss, died at the age of 54.
Mike had fallen ill over the last few months to lung cancer. However, right before Thanksgiving, we got some great news from Mike and his family. The doctors, though they had to remove a lung and reconstruct the lung cavity, had gotten all of the cancer out of Mike’s system. It seemed as if Mike was going to get through this terrible ordeal still standing, which didn’t surprise me because I knew full well what a strong man he was. This guy was a fighter all the way.
But sometime recently, Mike developed a post-operative infection. That turned into pneumonia and his heart simply gave out either late Wednesday night.
It’s been a tough loss to swallow, for many reasons. First of all, Mike leaves behind a great family that he absolutely loved, including long-time wife Jo Ann, son Andy and daughter Sarah, not to mention a grandchild who had changed his life wonderfully.
On a personal level, it’s hard for me to swallow because Mike was the guy who officially got me into the world of journalism. Sure, I had my internship at the Boston Globe and Don Skwar, Larry Ames and Bill Griffith and all of the great editors and writers there were tremendous and put me in position to get a full-time job. But Mike was the guy who gave me the chance in the “real world”.
I was 24 years old. It was 1996. The Internet was just starting. Mike, a long-time writer for various papers and an NBA expert, was hired by SportsLine USA — which later became CBS SportsLine and now CBSSports.com — to be the managing editor. Mike literally got that site off the ground. He had a vision that this site — that didn’t even have a major media partner like CBS at the time — could be a major player and compete with ESPN.com and the like. It might have sounded preposterous, but not the way Mike sold it. He was so persuasive about his goals for the company and it was hard not to take him at his word.
Mike’s vision was to turn SportsLine — and later CBS SportsLine — into “The National” of the Internet. Many of you who read this blog probably know that the National was a paper in 1989-90 or thereabouts that had opinionated writers from all over the country chime in on sports from a regional basis. It was one-stop shopping. Unlike the National, which unfortunately folded, CBS SportsLine became the power Mike had envisioned.
Mike’s enthusiasm and zest for sports rubbed off on all those who worked under him. I can’t even describe how much confidence he gave me. Without any major experience, Mike told me to go cover the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996. By 1997, I was covering the ALCS, the World Series and the NCAA Tournament. He threw “the kid” in the water, and fortunately, I swam. I’m not sure how many other people in his position would have given me a chance like that, and that’s why I am forever grateful to him.
At the time, we were all based in a little office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. with satellite dishes on the roof. It was my first year away from home and Mike and his family graciously invited me to their home for Thanksgiving dinner. It was typical Mike. Mike was my boss, but he made me feel like extended family.
After a couple of years in Lauderdale, SportsLine took the next editorial step, putting writers in various pockets of the country rather than all of us brainstorming under one roof in South Florida. Mike moved me to New York City as a one-man bureau, where I was set free to cover all things baseball and all things New York from 1998-2001.
Eventually, Mike and I both went on to different career endeavors, but I always felt connected to him. And now, there’s a certain feeling of “disconnect” because this great man is no longer around.
As a pioneer in web journalism, Mike fueled a lot of careers — in the writing, editing and supervisory capacity — and I’m sure every single person I’m speaking of feels as empty as I do right now.
But we can all smile at the great memories that Mike left us with. He is the only person I knew who loved a pastrami sandwich as much as I did. He also loved to debate about sports as much as I did, and we seemed to disagree on quite a few subjects, but we shared a similar passion for our arguments. Even in those days Mike was a boss, he stayed in the writing game, serving as the journalism equivalent to player-manager.
You could always tell when Mike was writing because of the way he pounded the keyboard and was so locked in on what he was writing. If you tried to have a conversation with Mike while he was writing, he might try to answer, but it would be kind of a blank stare. The man was engrossed with what he was doing, whatever subject he was writing or reporting on and I think all journalists can relate to that.
When I was entrenched in New York, Mike and I got to cover the NBA Finals together at Madison Square Garden in 1999. While the series itself was not memorable, the time I spent with Mike was. We would take the media bus from the media hotel to Madison Square Garden every day and have great chats. After the game, we would back to the hotel and have more fun times in the media hospitality suite.
In recent weeks, Mike and I had been in semi-frequent touch. I was awed by the way he was battling his illness. And each time we exchanged e-mails, he always asked that I pass along my best to my wife Amy and my kids, which meant a lot.
So now I ask all of you to please think of the great family that Mike leaves behind and remember the most important lesson of all — to try to live in the moment as much as impossible.