Yesterday was a strange day to be in the newsroom. I was in early Sunday morning and among the first to find out Lewis Katz, new co-owner of the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, died in a plane crash in Massachusetts Saturday night.
I didn’t really know Katz at all, but his charity and good will is legendary in and around Philadelphia. The quote I put in the cartoon is one ascribed to Katz by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who said the generous millionaire had a “beautiful soul" and a profound commitment to make a difference.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, whom Katz invited on the doomed flight, had some touching comments about the smaller, quieter moments of charity that always seemed to wash over him. Doing things like buying an employee a house to get him out of a bad neighborhood or quietly leaving $100 tips for waitresses won’t end up on the news, but speak loudly about Katz’s character and commitment to helping anyone in need. It's exactly the aspect I wanted to spotlight in my cartoon - the many, many lives Katz touched over the years.
That was also Katz's vision for the New Jersey Nets. When he and 15 other minor investors bought the team back in 1998, Katz promised to make it the people’s franchise, declaring alongside Bill Clinton, “The New Jersey Nets are coming to Newark — remember that.”
Katz’s plan, heralded by the former President, was to commit 40 percent of the profits from the team to help pay for programs for inner-city kids in some of New Jersey’s poorest cities, including Trenton, Newark, and his native Camden.
Unfortunately, the team lost tens of millions of dollars, and a planned Newark arena, intended to be a catalyst to help revive Newark’s struggling downtown, never materialized. But it’s worth noting that the Nets, a perennial loser, enjoyed arguably its best success under Katz’s ownership, making it to the NBA Finals back-to-back in 2002 and 2003. Although I think acquiring Jason Kidd had a lot to do with that, too.
The Nets weren’t just a fling - Katz was a lifelong basketball fan. He played junior variety basketball for the Camden High School Panthers, and remained proud of his free-throw shooting abilities as he attended team practices. And just a couple of years ago, Katz challenged - and beat - Shaquille O’Neal in a free-throw contest at the Prudential Center in Newark.
So it’s sad to see someone like Katz go in such a sudden and tragic way. But it’s been heartwarming reading all the lives he touched throughout his life. He seemed to have a passion for life, and to truly care for those less fortunate. I think Newspaper Guild Executive Director Bill Ross summed Katz up the best: "He definitely loved a lot of people, and people loved him back."
UPDATE: Signe Wilkinson, the Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist for the Daily News and the Inquirer, has also drawn a touching cartoon about Lewis Katz: