In Superior Court, lawyers can be aggressive, but they are constrained by judicial rules and decorum. On the basketball court, there are far fewer restraints.
“Every move is contested by a sweaty guy, one hand jabbing you for a hip check, the other trying to swipe the ball,” said Gregory Klein, a 44-year-old Danbury personal-injury lawyer who calls basketball his obsession. “Hard fouls are part of the game. [And there's] plenty of trash-talking and name calling to go around.”
Klein said he knows a lot of lawyers who play hoops as a way to release tension. He plays in pickup games three times a week, and recently was on a local bar association team that won the Danbury Youth Services charity tournament.
Sure, a lot of guys shoot hoops in driveways or play occasionally on weekends. Not so many get up at 4:30 a.m., gulp down coffee and hit the road for 6:15 a.m. games at Danbury’s War Memorial, a public gym. “I’m shaved, showered and at my desk by 8:30, workout already completed, and I can spend the evenings with my [4-year-old] boy.”
Klein said the sport makes him a better lawyer. “When I exhaust all my aggression on the basketball court, I approach all the other conflicts of the day in a more easygoing manner. I’ve just been in physical, mano a mano, face-to-face conflict … . What can a lawyer in a suit do to me after that? I’m not scared.”
He compared the physical games to the movie “Fight Club.”
“Like the Brad Pitt movie, getting beat up is part of the release,” said Klein, who once needed four stitches in an eyebrow to close a cut incurred in some “rebounding action.”
Another time, an accidental head butt left him with a black eye and had him going to court “looking like Frankenstein.” There has also been the usual assortment of sprained ankles and jammed fingers. “My wife and my mother are like, ‘What’s the matter with you? Give it up already.’ But I can’t.”
Klein, whose other hobbies include chess and playing guitar, said he even takes his basketball obsession on the road. When traveling to try cases, he keeps his basketball, sneakers and gym clothes in his car.”There is always a game at lunchtime at any YMCA gym.I hate to admit it, but I’ve been known to keep judges and juries waiting for me to return from the lunch recess.”
One final thought on basketball and the law: In both cases, Klein said, when the competition is over, there should be no hard feelings. In a lawsuit, he said, “as righteous as you may have been criticizing the other lawyer’s strategies and tactics [in court], when you step outside, the topic turns to, ‘Any good movies lately?’ Because there is always going to be another case against the same lawyer, and business can’t get personal.”
In basketball, Klein has a similar attitude: “Be as aggressive as you can during the game, but give high fives at the final whistle.”