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Louisville’s Kenny Klein occupies the penthouse of sports PR professionals

Editor’s Note: I intended to post this one week after the Final Four. With all that happened in the sports world, including the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, there never seemed to be a “good” time. While I may have waited too long, the fact remains, Kenny Klein’s picture is next to the definition, PR Gold.

One month ago, the University of Louisville won the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball title.

If you’re a basketball fan, you probably remember the players and coaches; maybe even their family members, whom we got to know from media coverage.

There’s one player, however, that didn’t get such recognition, and he was as much of a Louisville MVP as Luke Hancock. In fact, he’s held a respected position on U of L’s campus for almost 30 years.

When next season tips off, Kenny Klein will receive his second NCAA basketball championship ring as a member of the Louisville staff. Cardinals’ Senior Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations, and Sports information director since 1983, Klein has publicized the good, bad and not so pretty elements of the University of Louisville program with the tenaciousness of a worker bee, the consistency of daily breaths, and a smile that shines like sun on the beaches of the Florida Keys. Information specialists are go-to people for stats, facts and story angles, and the good ones are deans of detail, knowing that the most organized plans can change at any time.

Klein goes above and beyond. And at the risk of this reading like a love letter to Kenny, there’s a reason why he’s considered among the few elite in collegiate athletics publicity.

“Kenny Klein has ruined it for all other SIDs,” said Louisville Courier Journal Cardinals’ beat writer, C.L. Brown “He’s set the standard so high that when I can’t find information from other schools my first thought is ‘Kenny would have that.’ He pretty much embodies from a media perspective what we need in an SID.”

The unflappable Klein is what local and national media have enjoyed with Klein since Day One.

To Klein’s credit, many of us in sports publicity and media would think of his work representing and coordinating media for a Final Four-bound team and his annual management of the event’s stats crew to be the equivalent to overtime-and then some. This past tournament, however, proved to be a bigger challenge than even the veteran Klein could anticipate, When Cards’ sophomore Kevin Ware tumbled to the court with a gruesome injury in the NCAA Midwest Regional Final against Duke, Klein sprinted to action. For many who know this Louisville leader, it was just another day at the tournament. To him, I learned, the week prior to the Final Four was unlike anything Klein had ever experienced. And this is a guy who’s seen (most of) it all.

“He’s been the same this week at the Final Four as he has been all season,” Brown said during the final week of the college basketball season. “I texted him before [player] availability one day with a question and moments later, he  called with an answer. He didn’t have to be as timely with his response nor as detailed, but that’s who Kenny Klein is.”

Without missing a beat, Klein, who got into the business before social media – shoot, before desktop publishing – took to Twitter only minutes after Ware was transported to an Indianapolis-area hospital following his on-court injury, and began to post updates on the player’s condition. Klein knew that a worldwide fan base had Ware in their prayers and wanted to know the extent of his injury. As the Cardinals basketball team left the court with a Final Four ticket in-hand, Klein let us know via social media about Ware’s condition, his surgery that evening and within a few hours, pictures of surgically-repaired Ware recovering in his hospital bed with the NCAA Midwest Region trophy lying at his side. Fewer than 24 hours later, Klein posted pictures of Ware walking with the assistance crutches.

The timely flurry of media shined a bright light on the value of a publicist who embraces the immediacy and value of social media as well as traditional sports information. It also endeared us in a sports society that so closely cloaks health statuses of its athletes for reasons of confidentiality or evasiveness.

“Kenny Klein showed why he was a Hall of Famer while juggling a million balls during the week leading to U of L’s Final Four appearance,” said veteran reporter and WDRB-Louisville sports journalist, Rick Bozich.

So what now? Were there media asking Klein if after another MVP season if he’d done all he could and would move on to something bigger or (gasp!) retire? I doubt it. If I know Klein, he wrapped the basketball season in the record books, enjoyed the Kentucky Derby weekend and will start to work on next season. Because that’s who he is. A king of consistent, and when the 2013-2014 campaign begins, the king of new bling.


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