Tom Seaver. Mike Ditka. Wilt Chamberlain. Rob Fleder.
What, you might ask, do those four men have in common? Three of them were great athletes, of course, but that last name might not ring a bell. Fleder is both our new feature editor and an old friend, and we welcome him back, to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED after a two-year absence—much as New York, Chicago and Philadelphia welcomed back Messrs. Seaver, Ditka and Chamberlain.
When Fleder first came to SI as a senior editor in March of 1986, he was newly married to writer Marilyn Johnson, and they had just moved into a new house—a pretty good trifecta of life passages right there. This time around, he and Marilyn have a new baby, Carolyn, 15 weeks old, to go along with their four-year-old son, Jackson, and another new house. Says Fleder, taking a break from unpacking yet another carton, "I swear I'll never leave SPORTS ILLUSTRATED again as long as I live."
Fleder grew up in Fairfield County, Conn., where Seaver makes his home. After graduation from Brown and Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, he joined Esquire, where he was an associate editor, and then, like Ditka, he went to Chicago for several years, where he was an articles editor for Playboy. Unlike Chamberlain, Fleder is 5'8", so while he would have liked to have played in the NBA, he has had to make do over the years with playing golf, the ponies and Rotisserie League baseball, the statistical craze that he and nine other wackos started in 1980.
Fleder left SI in '89 to become an executive editor of The National, the ill-fated sports daily. When The National folded last spring, its ill fate became our good fortune. Says senior writer Rick Telander, "I'm happy he's back, because he's one of the very best editors around. And everybody likes him—writers, editors, the pizza deliveryman, even guys he fleeces in his Rotisserie Leagues." Among Fleder's many friends are National Book Award winner Pete Dexter ( Paris Trout), who says, "The guy's a jinx. We were together for the big Holyfield-Foreman fight last spring, and at that time, one of my books was up for sale in Hollywood. The early reports were obscene numbers. But as soon as I met up with Rob, the obscene numbers disappeared. When the National folded, nobody had to tell me why. As for SI, I see Sport magazine coming back big. I woke up this morning and wanted to subscribe. But, seriously, he's worth every bit of the jinx, and that's coming from one of his friends."
Friendship had a lot to do with Fleder's return to SI. "I had a lot of fond memories from my first three years at the magazine," he says, "and I missed many of the people. Besides, with all that free time I had when I was between jobs, I thought my golf would improve, but it didn't."
Fleder, truth be told, has nothing in common with Jack Nicklaus.