A few years ago I was walking across the bridge in Pittsburgh that leads to the Pirates stadium when a homeless man saw my Marquette shirt and stopped playing his clarinet to yell, “Marc Marotta was overrated!”
I stopped and slowly turned. Marotta was the basketball star at Marquette when Scott Walker, Chris Farley, and me were among the students at the Catholic university in the early 1980s, and he was the a Partner at Foley and Lardner in the highest floor in the city of Milwaukee.
“How do you know Marc?” I asked.
“We went to school together,” the gentlemen said. He then called to a jogger passing by, who confirmed that both of them went to high school with Marc. I was sure I was in a reality show, so I texted Marotta, not expecting a reply for months and wondering if I was being punked.
Instead, Marotta answered immediately, knew the exact identities of both of these former schoolmates, and even asked specific questions about their well being.
The gentleman made clear that he joked about Marotta being overrated. Marotta, a three-time Academic All-American, decided to go to Harvard Law School despite being drafted by the New York Knicks. I only overlapped with him one year, right after Doc Rivers left for the NBA.
He stayed anchored in the community by serving on boards such as the Boys and Girls Club and Drive, a program to help disadvantaged youth through sports as shown on the website on which the photo above appears.
Thursday, he unexpectedly passed away at the far too young age of 52, the victim of a brain aneurysm, according to the Milwaukee Journal.
You would think a guy with his credentials would consider himself a big deal. However, when I wrote a book on Marquette basketball, he was quick to grab a couple of meals with me on my trips to Milwaukee and really took an interest in me just like he did about his high school friends from decades ago.
From the first minute it was impossible not to love the guy. He told me about how out-of-place he was on a trip to Auburn University when Sonny Smith tried to recruit him. He loved it, but said he had never set foot in the South and would have been completely out of place—though he had hilarious stories of his one trip that I will save.
It didn’t seem to matter to him that I was a Scott Walker fan and skeptic of taxpayer funding of sports venues. Marotta was a close confident of former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, even serving as his secretary of the Department of Administration, and was an advocate of the prosperity he believed came with sports venues.
When he walked through the Bradley Center, where the Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette now play their games, fans greeted him as a rock star. He seemed to lock in on each person. I actually had one of my top employees join with me, Marotta, and a couple of Marotta’s teenage children for lunch before a game.
“I want Marc Marotta to adopt me,” said Jared Thomas, the former employee who now runs the office of Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp of Georgia, after the lunch meeting. In truth, the employee has a great father he wouldn’t trade for the world, but it was the only way to summarize the impression even a couple of conservative, Southerners like us had after spending just a little time with him.
RIP, Marc, and peace to your family—52 years was way too short for you to be with us.