In the late 1960s I frequently played with Cager and Shed, two genuine gentlemen, at the PS 18 gym in the South Bronx, which was run by Floyd Layne, a star of City College of New York’s ill-fated 1950 NCAA and NIT champions. The CCNY team, composed of Jewish and black players from the PSAL, was the first integrated team to win the national championship. Tragically, most of the team was implicated in the 1951 point-shaving scandal.
In February 1964, when I was a 13-year-old ninth grader and thinking about which high school to attend, I saw Worsley play in a Clinton playoff game at the school’s tiny gym in the northwest Bronx. For the first three-quarters of the 20th century, Clinton had one of the nation’s premier scholastic basketball teams. Besides Worsley and Texas Western in 1966, other Clinton graduates who played on NCAA championship teams were Ed Warner (CCNY, 1950), Jerry Harkness and Pablo Robertson (Loyola of Chicago, 1963) and Butch Lee (Marquette, 1977).
But in the fall of 1963, a few months after my bar mitzvah at the Young IsraeI of the Concourse, I did something incredibly stupid as far as my basketball career was concerned: I sat the entrance exam for the Bronx High School of Science.
A Bronx teenager in the 1960s who had aspirations for a serious college and pro basketball career would have normally chosen Clinton or Taft HS, which had solid basketball traditions.
By contrast, Bronx Science, in its nearly 75 years, has turned out a lot of machers (eight Nobel laureates in science, secretary of defense Harold Brown, New York Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld, congresswoman Nita Lowey, Jewish communal leader Ronald Lauder, etc.) but not a single pro basketball, baseball or football player. In fact, unlike archrival Stuyvesant, my brother’s alma mater, it has never fielded a football team. (A prominent hoopster from Stuyvesant was Red Sarachek, who between the early 1940s and late 1960s coached Yeshiva University’s varsity basketball team.)
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Bronx Science graduate Todd Gitlin, a prominent academic who in the 1960s served as president of the radical Students for Democratic Society, has an essay in Jewish Jocks on Red Holzman, who in 1970 and 1973 coached the New York Knicks to their only two NBA titles. However, Gitlin, a professor at Columbia, is apparently clueless about basketball, giving a completely distorted account of Holzman’s playing career.
In the late 1930s Holzman starred for Franklin K. Lane HS (on the Brooklyn-Queens border), and then was an all-American guard for the incomparable Nat Holman at CCNY, who also coached the 1950 championship team. (Holman, while coaching CCNY, also starred for the barnstorming Original Celtics in the 1920s. In 1932 Holman helped organize the American team for the first Maccabi Games in Israel. Foer and Tracy inexcusably excluded “Mr. Basketball” from their idiosyncratic hall of fame.)
Gitlin incorrectly claims that the primary reason Holzman was signed in 1945 by the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League was to attract the city’s Jewish fans, and that his play quickly “declined from good to unimposing.” In fact, he was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 1944-45, when the Royals won the NBL title. During the 1945-46 and 1947-48 seasons Holzman was voted to the All-League first team. After the merger of the NBL and the Basketball Association of America in 1948, which created the NBA, Holzman played on the team that won the 1951 NBA title.
Another clueless academic contributor to Jewish Jocks is Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard. His truly repulsive profile of Red Auerbach, “The Coach Who Never Paid Retail,” begins with: “Jews are known for many things, but strength, swiftness and agility are not among them.”
Pinker, who grew up in that well-known basketball hotspot of Montreal in the 1950s and 1960s, has obviously never heard of former PSAL track stars Abel Kiviat and Marty Glickman.
Indeed, none of the 50 profiles in Jewish Jocks features a track and field star. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Gary Gubner, a world-class shot-putter, attended Clinton HS, where he also played football, and NYU. In the Auerbach essay, Pinker attributes Auerbach’s 16 NBA titles as a coach or front office executive to that immutable Jewish trait: “shrewdness in business.” But he never mentions that Auerbach was a second-team all-Brooklyn player at Eastern District HS in the 1930’s, when that famed borough had one of the nation’s most intensely competitive scholastic leagues. Auerbach then played for three years for the varsity at George Washington University before joining Admiral Ernst J. King’s Navy, the most awesome the world has ever seen, and coaching a service team for several years.