New York City lost another legend this weekend with the passing of Jeffrey KORN Gamblero, better known to the world at large as the Nets superfan. Numerous media outlets have already published details of his tragic death, so I’d like to reflect on his life.
For well over a decade, I knew KORN only by the iconic “K” spray painted everywhere. The bold, one letter throw-up — that he’d punctuate with a smiling or winking face — always stood out amongst the other tags with its character-like stylings.
Born and raised in Flushing as Jeffrey Vanchiro, the New York native first started writing his name in 1995 at the age of 19. Three years later, he got down with the newly formed Smart Crew and started bombing prolifically. All across the city, his signature K dominated. According to friends, he even managed to punk a local Fox News affiliate into thinking he was part of a violent gang that would kill fellow writers for going over their work. The report was so hilariously over-the-top and the antithesis of who KORN was.
Eventually, the NYPD finally caught up with KORN and “threw the book” at him: He was hit with $10,000 in restitution fines, a two month sentence at Rikers and five years probation. He described this time as a “wakeup call.”
Soon after that stint, he decided to change things up a bit and taught himself everything he could about poker. After landing a job as card dealer at an underground location in Manhattan on 14th Street, he hit the legitimate poker circuit. At one point, he reportedly raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars and established a new persona and nom de guerre: Jeffrey Gamblero. It was a name that he would also later adopt for his legitimate art career, which included selling canvasses on his website, www.loftygoals.nyc, participating in group shows, painting murals, and doing box trucks, legally.
After a few years of playing cards and “taking people’s money,” he became disillusioned with poker. So, Gamblero decided to take up a new hobby. The “Brooklyn Nets are the reason I stopped playing poker,” he said in a recent video interview. He took his earnings and bought lots of Nets seasons tickets. By flipping the extra seats he had, Gamblero was able to attend every home game and quickly grew into his new role.
I met Jeff in person for the first time in December of last year at a Nets game, natch. MARTY, one of Gamblero’s best friends and fellow Smart Crew member, invited me to the game along with our mutual friend, Bronx writer REMO. Once we settled into our seats, I asked the guys who their friend was that hooked us up with the tickets. “You didn’t know KORN was the Nets superfan?” I recall being asked rhetorically. I hadn’t.
Not too long after that question, I looked up at the jumbotron and saw a tall skinny guy with glasses, a Nets jersey with a bright colored tee underneath, and a fitted hat dancing around. He was enthusiastically waving his hands in the air and getting the crowd amped. With each pump of the first, he would electrify the fans.
During a break in the game, we met him down near the concession stands. He handed us a different set of tickets, so we could eat on the house. We ordered lobster sandwiches. I couldn’t get over how gregarious and full of life Gamblero was. He was high on Nets basketball. He told me how his antics earned him a spot on the team plane for a future trip to London. We talked about making a video about his fervor for the Nets. He said he’s down, but promised the New York Times an exclusive first. I didn’t mind and asked him more about his pre-game routine, which he said took several hours. He would use that time to pick out the right color combinations and strategize on which player from the opposite team he would distract the most.
As we moved through Barclays with him, people stopped and asked him to take photos with them. He obliged. One quick scroll through his Instagram shows numerous photos of him posing courtisde with the likes of Spike Lee (pictured above), Mike D. from the Beastie Boys, and other storied New Yorkers. He was such a fixture at the arena that the Nets included him in their season ticket campaign.
Months later, I was given the opportunity to hang out with him a few times when he joined his Smart Crew affiliates at the Sixty Soho to party and creatively vandalize their soon-to-be-renovated lobby with the full blessing of the hotel. He added to the installation and I’ll never forget how hard he laughed each time his brother-in-arms, SNOEMAN, took a sledgehammer and destroyed the art that he had helped create. He later appeared in another Smart Crew video we produced surrounding their collaboration with longtime artist Beriah Wall. Since we had blurred out the faces of other Smart Crew members, for consistency, we did the same treatment to Gamblero. He later emailed to tell me that he liked the video, but there was no need to mask his identity. He’s fully legit.
Fast forward a few months: November was a great time for Jeff. The New York Times profile he told me about in 2013 finally happened. And he was “humbled” to be acknowledged by the paper of record.
Then, about two weeks ago, something bad transpired. Gamblero, who has a proesthetic leg due to an accident from years ago, was forcefully ejected out of MSG during a Knicks game against the Nets. Video of the incident went viral and Gamblero was mortified, according to his fiancé Kristi Evans. She said it changed him:
“After that, he was a completely different person,” an emotional Evans said. “He was paranoid. He was erratic. He was frightened. He was horrified. He was a bit delusional.
Days after, he was still so embarrassed that he gave ESPN his government name and eschewed his alter ego Jeffrey Gamblero:
“I’m Jeffrey Vanchiro right now,” he told ESPNNewYork.com, referring to his legal name. “I’m looking for Jeffrey Gamblero. If you find him, let me know. … I’m alive. I’m not my normal self, but I’m working towards getting back to that. I have a lot of recovery to do: physically, mentally, emotionally. My goal is to get back to being Jeffrey Gamblero by the All-Star break.”
The last game he went to was on Friday, December 12th. Fans of his on Instagram welcomed him back. Sadly, he took his own life the next night. He was 38.
Nets CEO Brett Yormark issued a statement about Gamblero’s death:
“On behalf of ownership and the entire organization, I am terribly saddened to learn about Jeffrey’s death,” Nets CEO Brett Yormark said. “A proud Brooklynite, Jeffrey was a passionate Nets fan and one of our most visible and loyal supporters. I was delighted that he joined the team on our trip to London last season, and I always enjoyed his enthusiasm while dancing and cheering during Nets games at Barclays Center. The entire organization expresses our deepest condolences to his family and friends. He will be missed.”
As MARTY said, Jeff was “larger than life,” and in a city as serendipitous as New York it’s going to be impossible to forget Gamblero. Just this morning, as I walked down the street to get my morning coffee, I saw the box truck pictured below. You’ll never guess who painted it.