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A Brief History Of “The Chairman”

The chairman we deserved

The chairman we deserved

What’s in a name? Sportsball expert Ross Chapman gets to the bottom of this Shakespearean question, tracing the evolution of basketball player Maodo Lo’s nickname. 

As the Class of 2016 gets ready for their last spring break, the Columbia community as a whole says goodbye to the Basketball Class of 2016, one which will live on in the record books and in the hearts of stodgy alumni whose dreams of excellence will never be realized. Maodo Lo, Columbia’s all-time leader in three-pointers and steals, will go down as the star of the team for the last two hectic seasons. And somewhere along the way, we started calling him “Chairman Maodo.”  But how did a soft-spoken Berlin native earn this geopolitical nickname? How did the Chairman become the Chairman?

The first recorded use of the name comes from Tyler Benedict’s March 6th, 2013 “Time to hand out the hardware,” written almost exactly 3 years ago. Benedict, a former Poet Laureate of the Marching Band, wrote a bi-weekly column about the men’s basketball team during his last semester at Columbia. In a column a month later, he doubled down on the Chairman nickname, while also trying to push “Prince Charming” and “Tachibana Benihana” onto the community (thankfully, neither of them happened). While Benedict never gave a reason for the name other than its easy pun, the Chairman would truly go on to lead and execute for the Lions.

The next online mention of Maodo’s moniker came a whole year and a half after Benedict bestowed the nickname. FIBA Europe, a branch of the International Basketball Federation, published an article on Lo after his summer training with the German Senior National Team.  The chant of “Chairman Maodo” leads Andy Elrick’s article, Andy Elrick titled his November 20th, 2014 article “‘Chairman’ Maodo on German Radar” because of a chant he heard from the crowd during a game he saw at Levien Gym. This raises the question—if no other sources but Benedict had yet printed the name “Chairman Maodo,” how did it become popular enough to inspire a cheer and a subsequent article?

The answer may lie in another of Maodo’s biggest fans. At the same time that Tyler Benedict was Poet Laureate for the Marching Band, Peter Andrews, a WKCR personality and Spectator writer, was elected Head Manager. These two figures, featuring sports for Spectator and exchanging cheers in the band, must have discussed the Chairman nickname at some point. So when Andrews graduated and began to write for Ivy Hoops Online, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he too also gave Maodo his Chairman epithet. Andrew’s December 7th piece, “Columbia’s ‘Chairman Maodo’ lays down the law in win over Bucknell,” again cites the crowd, specifically the Marching Band, as the source of the nickname. This CUMB connection between Benedict and Andrews not only explains why they might agree on a nickname, but also points to how the title was able to sustain itself. The Marching Band, present at every home game, could have learned the chant from Benedict and carried it on until Elrick and Andrews decided to write about it.

Once “Chairman Maodo’s” name escaped the confines of the Columbia Spectator, it was ready to flourish. Local and national media, looking for fun storylines, would see articles from Fiba and Ivy Hoops Online agreeing on a clever nickname. The Band, invigorated by the media attention of the title, would continue to cheer. And when Lo entered the national spotlight by leading all scorers in a December 10th, 2014 game against undefeated Kentucky, he did so carrying a nickname. Ten days later, the Hartford Courant used the name in a Columbia-UConn preview, and Big Apple Buckets referenced it while reviewing Columbia-Hofstra. By the end of the season, Columbia Basketball’s own official press packet mentioned the Chairman on page 3.

Come the 2015-16 season, SB Nation’s Mid-Major Madness predicted that the Chairman would be instrumental to Columbia’s success. The Ivy League Digital Network titled Lo’s highlights with the nickname, such as “The Chairman of Broken Ankles.” At this point, there is no escape. Should Columbia play in the postseason, articles about the game will no doubt mention the Chairman. Distinctly Columbian, the nickname gives Lo a sense of authority, international importance, and immense power.

Anecdotally, Lo does not approve of the nickname.

Chair-man Mao-do via Columbia University Athletics

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