A bunch of the old guys got together for lunch the other day and Ray Lumpp brought along some pictures that showed them when they all had hair, their bellies were flat and their legs looked strong below their basketball shorts. And they all laughed.
Paul Malamed and Lionel Malamed talked about meeting by chance in Europe during World War II and how the younger of the two brothers came to graduate before the older one. And when there was confusion among their listeners it was discovered that Lionel was wearing Paul's name tag and Paul was wearing Lionel's.
Lumpp played basketball at NYU and the Malameds at CCNY, and back then New York college basketball at Madison Square Garden was king. The occasion for lunch was that the Garden is celebrating 50 years of college basketball and that City and NYU are going to play in that arena for the first time since 1950.
That was the year City jolted college basketball as the only team ever to win both the NCAA and the NIT championship, when both were big deals and both were in the Garden. And they made the likes of Adolph Rupp and Fordy Anderson squirm at the thought of being beaten by teams with blacks and Jews.
The old guys joked about how this game was such a hot item that they couldn't get tickets. Just like the good old days when the Garden hosted college doubleheaders but never put City and NYU on the same card because each sold out the house on its own until they met in the last game of the season. That was the finale. The joke this time is that they will be the preliminary Feb. 27 to St. John's and Georgetown.
It always does well to look back on those times when New York players stayed in New York and one such as Sid Tanenbaum, who may have been the greatest NYU player ever, was recruited by only NYU. Tickets to Garden basketball were $1.50 for End Balcony and $1 for Side Balcony because you could see only two-thirds of the court.
If you were on a high school basketball team on Long Island you could take the train in early on a Saturday and watch a free clinic given by Rupp if his Kentucky team was the night attraction. You'd stay for the Knickerbocker game after the clinic. Then you'd go to Romeo's on Times Square for spaghetti and then back for the college games.
It was a major thing to do. It was a big event. It was great. "You wore a shirt and tie; everybody wore a shirt and tie to the Garden," said Lionel Malamed, unless it was Paul who said it.
"Here was where the action was," Lumpp said. "Sometimes the action was too much."
It was a great thing. At least it seemed like it back then. Just walking into that building on 49th St. and 8th Ave. was magical. Those pictures of George Mikan and Ernie Caverly and Harry Boykoff in the stairways, and the sound of the ball on the court when the players warmed up. Probably the hot dogs weren't as good as I remember them.
There always was a neighborhood rivalry going on. The old guys remembered how City embarrassed NYU, 91-60, in 1947 but it wasn't the story in the papers because big Boykoff scored 54 points in the first game. Bob Kelly, then a WW II veteran, told about the 1946 game when NYU was 19-2 and how he almost didn't make the game. He was arrested for scalping his two tickets for $10.
"I get an offer and this guy says, 'Okay, son, I'm a cop,' " Kelly said. "I had been doing it the whole season. I was sitting there with these guys with the big hats from the neighborhood and I ask the chief detective: 'Are you going to let me play the second game?' "
So Ned Irish, who brought basketball to the Garden, was called to identify Kelly and the chief detective said: "Who's the stupid guy who arrested this kid?" Kelly said he told his coach, Howard Cann, and he broke up laughing. And City broke NYU's 13-game winning streak. "I never did get the $10," Kelly said.
City and NYU have been away from the big-time basketball scene for some time and for good reason. NYU dropped basketball for economic reasons from 1960 to 1967 and came back with reduced emphasis. City went to the lowest depths in 1951. College basketball in New York never recovered completely, either.
In 1950 there was nothing higher in basketball and then there was the fall. Of the stars on that City team, only Irwin Dambrot, a dentist and a professor of dentistry, went to lunch Wednesday. He was the senior with four sophomores. They took a 17-5 record into the NIT and beat defending champion San Francisco and No. 2-ranked Kentucky by 39 points, which should have been a clue. Then Duquesne and Bradley, the top-ranked team, 69-61, in the final.
Dambrot recalls being behind 10 points in the first 10 minutes and, when the lead was down to three at the half, he knew City would win.
Then there was the NCAA Tournament--eight teams for the championship. City beat Ohio State and North Carolina State and then Bradley again in the final, 71-68. Dambrot held Bradley's high scorer, Paul Unruh, to eight points and was named MVP.
Dambrot graduated and went on to dental school. The next season it was revealed that the great City team was so great that it could shave points and still win, or at least not loose too obviously. Dambrot's involvement was minimal enough that he was free to pursue his dental career.
The program never recovered. And for a lot of us on the outside, innocent belief was lost forever. When the story broke there was a memorable cartoon by Willard Mullin showing a backyard basket with the New York skyline in the background and a boy about my age sitting with his face buried in his hands and knees. The caption said: "Who wants to play basketball, anyhow?"
NYU and City were supposed to meet at the Garden in the finale of that season. It was called off. They haven't been back there together since. Probably what appeared to be so good back then really wasn't so good in the areas of morals and ethics. Those areas seem to get overlooked from time to time even today.
It wasn't only New York. Rupp's players at Kentucky and Fordy Anderson's at Bradley were involved, too, but those schools never missed a beat.
It was New York that bore the brunt of it. And it really wasn't that long ago, was it?