There are many well-known traditions associated with the Final Four. Most take place inside the arena and have to do with the three games that are played every year on the first weekend in April.
But to many basketball coaches, one of the great traditions — and highlights — was something known simply as “Rob’s.” As in the oft-asked question, “When are you getting to Rob’s?”
“Rob’s” was a party thrown each year on Thursday night by Rob Ades — no one ever called him Robert, and only Red Auerbach called him Bob — at the most upscale restaurant he could find in that year’s Final Four city. Ades would rent a large banquet room, always at least a year in advance, and invite all his basketball friends to eat, drink and be merry.
And you had better be merry when you were at Rob’s. Because if you weren’t, he wanted to know why and how he could fix it — because that’s what Rob Ades always did: He fixed everyone’s else’s problems.
“This is not a problem,” he would always say. “Consider it done — don’t give it another thought.”
When he first heard he had leukemia in March, Rob forced a smile when he told his friends: “This,” he said, “is a problem.”
It turned out to be the one problem he couldn’t fix.
He fought the disease through several rounds of chemotherapy, through a brief remission and then, when it came back, until he could fight it no more. Late on Sunday night, Rob Ades died. He was 65.
The Final Four will never be quite the same for men like Gary Williams, Jim Boeheim, Digger Phelps, Jeff Jones, Jimmy Patsos and Sherman Douglas — and many, many others. All were represented by Ades, and all were among his closest friends. Tony Kornheiser, longtime Post columnist and ESPN TV and radio host, was also represented by Ades, and he was one of many who went to see him when he came home for his final few hours.
No one loved sports or the people in it more than Ades. But representing coaches and people in media was nothing more than a sideline for him — a hobby. In real life he was a union lawyer, representing the D.C. police, not in contract negotiations but whenever one of them needed legal representation. Whenever there was a shooting involving a police officer in Washington, Ades was among the first to get a phone call and among the first on the scene. Cops called him when they were getting divorced, when they had money problems or when they needed someone to talk to about almost anything.
He also frequently came to the rescue when coaches were in trouble. He would get a call asking him to meet with someone he had never met. Usually, he was in his car that day or on the next plane. Jeff Jones remembers first meeting Ades toward the end of his tenure at Virginia.
“I was living in a small townhouse, and he drove down to talk to me,” Jones said Monday. “He walked in, looked around and told me the place looked awful. That was Rob — no small talk.”
I first met Rob through Williams and Phelps but got to know him well because of the weekly Red Auerbach lunches, hosted by Auerbach for years at a downtown Chinese restaurant. Rob never missed a lunch even though he didn’t like Chinese food. He was always the guy who ordered a cake for everyone’s birthday and made sure everyone’s wife got flowers or champagne on anniversaries.
“One of the few things in my life I could absolutely count on was a bottle of champagne from Rob on every wedding anniversary,” Boeheim said Monday. “That was Rob. I never — I mean never — go to dinner with anyone the night before a game. But I went to dinner with Rob the night before we played Georgetown in Washington for 25 straight years. I did it because it was Rob. We never talked about the game or basketball. We talked about everything else. There was never anyone like Rob — not even close.”
“No one — and I mean no one — was ever more loyal to his friends than Rob,” Kornheiser said. “He was always the guy you turned to when you were in trouble, and there was nothing he enjoyed more than helping people when they most needed to be helped. To him it wasn’t if you got it done, it was figuring out how you got it done. There was no such word as ‘no’ in Rob’s vocabulary.”
Rob wasn’t so much a fan of teams as he was of the people connected to those teams. When Patsos, another unofficial adopted son, left Maryland after 13 years as an assistant to Williams to become the coach at Loyola, Rob — for all intents and purposes — went with him.
“When I hired Jimmy, I didn’t realize Rob was part of the deal, too,” Joe Boylan, then the athletic director joked. “He was Jimmy’s general manager.”
Rob almost never missed a home game during Patsos’s nine seasons at Loyola. He never sat in one place during a game, constantly trying to find a spot that would bring ‘the Hounds,’ as he always called them, good luck. He often traveled with the team, too — thus the general manager label.
There were also teams Rob was not a fan of — because of the people connected with them. If you crossed Rob — or, worse, one of his friends — he was done with you. Rob could hold a grudge with the best of them.
On Sunday, Kornheiser and I were among the friends who went to see him at his Watergate apartment. Weak as he was, Rob insisted on getting out of bed. He couldn’t really talk, but he understood everything we were saying. At one point, Tony brought up the name of someone none of the three of us liked.
“I still hate him,” Tony said.
“Me too,” I said.
Rob’s eyes sparked for an instant. “Me too!” he said with all the energy he had left.
The cliché holds that a measure of a man’s life is how many people he has touched. When Rob’s funeral is held Sunday, it will be apparent how many lives — and how many different kinds of lives — he touched. Hundreds of police officers will be there. Coaches from all over the country will be there. Media members and lifelong friends will be there, too.
But they won’t just be there because Rob touched their lives. They will be there because, in many cases, he saved their lives. There is nothing better that you can say about someone than that.
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.