For Fred Klein, cheering on his favorite team in his favorite city was one of the biggest highlights of his life. He was a courtside fixture at Madison Square Garden for more than half a century, rooting for the Knicks in good times and in bad, and even after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
He loved it. It was his passion. His hobby,” said Fred’s son Robert Klein. “He would always go an hour and a half early before tip-off just to be there. He wouldn't leave. He wouldn't leave until the final buzzer.”
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Klein's unwavering loyalty earned him the title of "Knicks Superfan." He was courtside long before Spike Lee, having purchased his first season tickets in 1959, and would often brag about missing only 43 home games before his health failed. He died at a Manhattan nursing home from COVID-19.
“The sort of famous story that my mother always tells is they had sort of set their wedding date before the schedule was set that year and a game landed on that day and my dad made her change the date and she would always laugh. They lost anyway,” said Robert.
Klein loved the players and for many the feeling was mutual. He even got his picture taken with former Knicks players Larry Johnson and John Starks, who watched a game with the 85 year old at the nursing home recently. Robert Klein says his father was a New York character who was generous, funny and loving.
“The only thing he would miss a Knick game for was for one of my high school basketball teams and I can assure you we were not nearly as good,” said his son.
Klein was the son of Lithuanian immigrants. He grew up on the Lower East Side and worked as a semi-professional baseball player and an army ranger before finding success in the food business as a restaurant broker and partner in several iconic New York Delis.
“He was a partner in the stage deli, the Carnegie Deli, and other restaurants in the city and he's still affiliated with Ken and Ziggy's New York Deli in Houston Texas,” said Terry Klein, his wife.
But his love of basketball was always front and center, which is one of the memories his family and even some of the players will cherish.