Looking for a gift for that hard-to-buy-for billionaire in your life? Andrew Kline can probably help. He runs a bank that finances sports team purchases.
He'll put a little something together for you. It'll be the gift that keeps on giving. (Unless it's the Lakers ... or the Chicago Cubs ... or the Oakland Raiders. Pretty sure your accountant wouldn't go for that.)
Kline traffics in some pretty rarefied circles all right, hobnobs with hotshots from Goldman Sachs and Citibank, and is about to expand his investment bank, Park Lane, after crafting deals involving the Cincinnati Reds and the famed soccer club Bologna FC.
Life wasn't always so cushy for Kline. Virtually orphaned as a teenager, he lived in his older brother's apartment as a freshman, then bunked with various families throughout high school. He was a hustler, a troubled mess — down and out in blingy Beverly Hills. The poorest kid in a rich school, he often didn't know where his next meal was coming from.
"Not only was he one of my best players," notes his football coach at the time, Carter Paysinger. "He was one of the most messed up."
With his investment company, Kline helps rearrange the sports cosmos. But before that, Kline managed to do what teenagers often have trouble doing; he listened. He listened not to his buddies, or even his teachers — for he was mostly stone-cold swagger in those days — but to a coach who would encourage, mentor and, possibly most important of all, listen back. A coach who wouldn't give up on the often boneheaded young star when many would have.
"What made you not quit on him?" I ask Paysinger over coffee.
"We don't quit on kids," Paysinger says. "All kids are different, situations are different.
"Sometimes, all it takes is for one adult to reach out," he explains.
Paysinger, now the principal at Beverly Hills High, is an expert at blending difficult worlds. He learned it as a kid from South-Central whose insistent mother managed to get him a permit to go to BHHS, a totem of American achievement. He came back to coach and serve as athletic director there over three decades before becoming the school's first black principal four years ago.
He learned it coaching Kline, who had an injury-shortened stint in the NFL, and later in mentoring Steven Fenton, a former student with whom he has just written a book about unexpected friendships and the power of unlikely alliances.
The lives Paysinger changed, the good he did, eventually came full circle. Fenton, for example, led the crusade to make Paysinger principal. In addition to running Beverly Hills High, Paysinger is also president-elect of the CIF Southern Section, the governing body of nearly 600 Southland high schools.
Fenton championed his former coach because he knew firsthand that Paysinger had a special way with kids. He knew that Paysinger never fell for the usual assumptions — that the children of busy CEOs can't feel as abandoned as kids like Andrew Kline.
For people disenchanted with high school sports and delusional parents, Paysinger is an example of what integrity, heart and hard work can still accomplish in the classrooms and playing fields across Southern California. Also, as with disciples Kline and Fenton, how those qualities can pass like beacons of hope from one soul to another.
"Carter taught me: Keep your head down, keep moving forward and stay in your lane," says Fenton, who played baseball for Paysinger. "At age 15, Carter was the safest place to be. I didn't just feel that way, the entire baseball team felt that way."
"It was the way he carried himself," Fenton explains. "He didn't talk at us, he talked with us."
Till now, Paysinger toiled in relative obscurity, rising at 4:30 a.m. for seven-mile runs, then showering, putting on a suit and devoting the day to his school. But he has done what every up-by-the-bootstraps American success story has ever done — he believed in himself and persevered no matter what.
"Carter is just Carter," Fenton says. "He's the most comfortable person I've ever known. He's comfortable wherever he is."
Now Fenton and Paysinger have teamed on a bestselling memoir, "Where a Man Stands," which was recently optioned as a movie. One of the most poignant chapters is on Kline's rise from wayward schoolboy to savvy, disciplined deal maker.
"Andrew was a lot like me," Paysinger remembers. "He didn't fit in and I didn't fit in."
"My life could've gone either way," Kline recalls.
But a coach finally listened.