Just Not the Same with Lawrence Fan Not There

Lyn Scarbrough

September 14, 2022 at 9:28 am.

A tribute to long time San Jose State Spartans sports information director Lawrence Fan plays on the big screen during the third quarter against the Portland State Vikings at CEFCU Stadium. (Photo: Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports)

Lindy’s created a college football edition covering the Mountain West Conference (now known as the Mountain West) in 2011. For several seasons, we published the only annual magazine ever produced exclusively about that Group of 5 league.

The publication was in part my baby – editorial content, advertisers, liaison with conference programs and attending league events, were among my responsibilities.

Mountain West Conference Media Days in 2013 were held at a hotel in Las Vegas and when I walked into the media corridor on the opening morning, the first person to seek me out was Lawrence Fan.

I didn’t know Lawrence Fan, not sure that I had ever heard his name before. He introduced himself as the Sports Information Director for new conference member San Jose State. He explained that he wanted me to join him in recording a couple of segments that could be aired in the San Jose market and included on the Spartans website in upcoming weeks.

We did that and talked several other times before the event concluded.

I don’t remember much about their Media Days that year or about that season for San Jose State. The Spartans, under first year head coach Ron Caragher, won six games and finished in the lower half of the league.

But, I do still vividly remember first meeting Lawrence Fan. He wasn’t an easy man to forget, especially in the field of collegiate sports, and that’s intended as a compliment, a big compliment.

When you met Lawrence Fan, you met a new friend. And, it didn’t take long to realize what a privilege it was to have received that introduction.

Fan grew up there in the Bay Area, graduated from the University of California and served as SID at Frostburg State College in Maryland in 1977 and at LaSalle College from 1978-1980. He joined the staff at San Jose State later that year … and never left.

In 42 years with Spartans sports information, he saw it all, good and bad.

When quarterback Mike Perez was a Heisman Trophy candidate in 1987, Fan coordinated and implemented the campaign. When the San Jose State women won three national golf championships a six-year span, he coordinated all of their publicity. He was there for the Big West Basketball Tournament title in 1996 and served with media coordination for several NCAA Championship events over the years.

He was inducted into the CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) Hall of Fame in 2012, becoming the first Chinese-American to become a member of the Hall. The following year, CoSIDA honored him with the Trailblazer Award, presented to “an individual who is a pioneer in the profession and who has mentored and helped improve the level of ethnic and gender diversity within CoSIDA.”

Fan worked the Spartans football home game against Fresno State during Thanksgiving week to end the 2021 season, his 42nd at San Jose. He was already looking forward to the 2022 season, making plans for the next campaign.

But, that didn’t happen. On February 21, Lawrence Fan unexpectedly passed away. He was 67.

Almost immediately upon news of his death, complimentary messages starting pouring in. There were so many things to appreciate about him.

Lawrence Fan was old-school.

“Sometimes it (accuracy) seemed like an obsession,” San Jose State football and basketball play-by-announcer Justin Allegri told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It (that dedication) just made it so much easier to focus on other things because you knew that side of prep work was going to be done accurately.”

He was respected by media members with whom he worked.

“Above all else, he cared the most about media members and people,” Allegri said. “The bottom line came down to Lawrence wanting to provide the best service possible to anyone and everyone who came to San Jose State.”

Lawrence was a people person, almost always smiling, encouraging, looking out for others.

A memorial for the late San Jose State Spartans Sports Information Director Lawrence Fan is laid out on his usual seat before the start of the game against the Portland State Vikings at CEFCU Stadium. (Photo: Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports)

“He was the most unselfish, giving human being I’ve ever met,” Spartans head football coach Brent Brennan said after Fan’s death. “He cared so much more about everybody else than he did himself. We just had a wonderful relationship. I loved that man. Like everybody else, I am just heartbroken. My life was better when he (Fan) was in it.”

Ken Korach, Oakland A’s radio announcer who covered San Jose State football and basketball for eight years, agrees.

“He was one of a kind,” he said. “I don’t know if there will ever be another one like him. Beside all the accolades that everybody is going to give, he was just such a wonderful person and friend. There wasn’t anything that he wouldn’t do for anyone. He was hands on. He didn’t delegate a lot. He was still doing so much of the stuff.”

And, Lawrence Fan was an icon.

He was an institution at San Jose State, known as the unofficial Spartans historian, the program’s greatest storyteller. Auburn people can put it into perspective. For longevity, he was the Spartans’ Buddy Davidson. For the narrative, he was their David Housel. That’s how San Jose State people felt about Lawrence Fan.

One who realizes that the most is Sky Kerstein, the 40-year-old from Northeastern University in Boston, who is the new San Jose State Director of Multimedia. He understands that it’s not easy to follow a legend.

“You never want to be the guy to follow the guy,” he said. “You want to be the guy following the guy following the guy. Not having Lawrence here leaves such a void. He just knew so much history. He lived and breathed it first-hand. From my perspective, it’s tough not having him here to just bounce things off of. It was an honor for me to work with him.”

It was an honor to have Lawrence Fan as a friend. Like many in this field, I wish there had been more opportunities to work together.

Maybe most of all, I regret that I didn’t get to enjoy his famous “Fan Cake.”

A number of years ago, Lawrence started this tradition. He would bake “fan cakes” and give them to media covering Spartans basketball games.

“He actually baked them himself,” Kerstein explained. “They sort of looked like little carrot cakes. He would spend most of a day baking them and he would personalize them for the media recipient if he knew who would be there. Of course, he kept his recipe secret.”

San Jose State remembered Fan at the Portland State game that opened this season, the first Spartan game that he hadn’t attended since 1979. Each Spartan helmet had a “LF” sticker and each coach wore a ribbon bearing Fan’s name. The roster sheet was renamed the “LT Fan Card.” And, at his normal seat in the press box was placed his signature bucket hat in a glass case and his tie, and credentials in front of a yellow rose bouquet.

The game in Auburn on Saturday was the second Spartan game that Fan had missed in 42 years. At what would have been his seat on the top row of the press box, there was a roster card, another bouquet with a ribbon in San Jose State’s colors and a card that read, “Auburn Welcomes Lawrence Fan, San Jose State.”

The last time that I spent time with Lawrence was in Jordan-Hare’s press box when San Jose State came to Auburn during the 2015 season. The Spartans gave the Tigers all they could handle, losing by 14 points, but keeping it close. He was proud of his beloved team’s showing led by talented running back Tyler Ervin. We knew that San Jose State would be making a return trip to Lee County early in the 2022 season and talked about seeing each other again then.

A tribute to the late Lawrence Fan in the press box at Jordan-Hare Stadium (Photo: Lyn Scarbrough/Lindy’s Sports)

Again on Saturday, San Jose State kept it close, showed a potent passing game and had the halftime lead, before Auburn pulled away after intermission. I think that Lawrence would have been proud of his guys again.

We last communicated back in November. During that month, Lawrence attended his 500th consecutive San Jose State football game. The season ending loss to Fresno State was No. 501. That same month, I attended my 500th consecutive Auburn football game. Saturday’s Penn State game will be No. 505.

Saturday was another good experience, having the folks from San Jose State coming to the South, playing against SEC competition, covering the game from the Jordan-Hare press box.

It was a good experience … just not the same with Lawrence Fan not there.