Dean Meminger sat in owner Irv Bader’s office at Camp Seneca Lake and talked of his girlfriend, her battle with lupus and their plans to marry.
Meminger, known as “The Dream” as a star guard at Marquette University and a key reserve for the New York Knicks’ 1973 championship team, had just finished a four-day stint late last month at a basketball camp at the Pocono Mountains’ Jewish facility. He had taught the players with enthusiasm and his demeanor bespoke an apparent contentment with life.
Before Meminger boarded a bus back to New York, the friends, who had known each other for decades, hugged and pledged to meet soon in the city.
The next day Meminger, 65, was gone, found dead in a hotel room in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood.
For Bader, the phone call informing him of Meminger’s death was “like hitting me in the head.” He had employed the ex-backcourt ace for many summers at Seneca Lake.
Shortly after the call, Bader wondered to another longtime employee, Gus Kennedy, whether his cash payment to Meminger had prompted a splurge that indirectly led to the ex-ballplayer’s demise, since Meminger had battled drugs for many years. (The cause of death has not been released.)
With the Knicks, Meminger had played for Hall of Fame coach Red Holzman and with a cast of future Hall of Famers – Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley and Jerry Lucas.
After his six-year NBA playing career with the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, Meminger worked in basketball off and on, running clinics and teaching kids at camps like Bader’s. He also had three coaching stints spread over more than two decades, until 2003. Since then, several friends said they didn’t know how Meminger earned a living or whether he could make ends meet.
They said Meminger kept quiet about his life; several weren’t even sure where he lived. The friends were circumspect about his drug addiction, with Bader saying he saw no signs of the problem but that Meminger would’ve been fired if he had.
Meminger had been hospitalized following a 2009 fire that started in his room in the Bronx. Crack pipes were found in the room, but they did not cause the fire, according to newspaper reports.
After the fire, “I was hard on him,” Meminger’s former Knicks teammate and longtime friend Mel Davis told JTA. “I told him, ‘Dean, God gave you another chance.’ ”
In their semiweekly conversations in recent years, “I always motivated him to take care of himself,” Davis said. Davis and other friends preferred remembering Meminger for his personableness and court acumen. They said “The Dream” displayed a high basketball IQ and an ability to teach his young charges, notably defensive skills – the aspect of the game in which he shone in the pros.
Meminger loved the sport, watching games on Seneca Lake’s courts late into the night.
“It was very educational for me to work alongside him,” said Barry Neuberger, Columbia University’s associate athletic director, who worked with Meminger at the camp’s basketball sessions and also hugged him goodbye before Meminger boarded the bus for Manhattan.
Meminger, Bader said, “couldn’t jump, didn’t have a jump shot, but he had a great first step and was great with kids.”
Bader, 74, has long brought past and present NBA players to his camp, including Nate Archibald, a Hall of Famer, this summer.
Basketball has been in Bader’s blood going back to his days as a shooting guard at the Brooklyn Talmudical Academy – before he broke his mother’s heart by transferring to Erasmus Hall High, a public school, because it would improve his game. He placated her by attending Yeshiva University, graduating in 1960 as its all-time leading scorer with 1,374 points (he now ranks sixth), before embarking on a career in education that largely embraced sports.
For 26 years, Bader instructed teachers at Brooklyn College on working with mentally disabled children. He also coached basketball at Jewish schools in New York, including the Yeshiva High School of Queens.
In those days, Bader sported a sloping mustache and rode a motorcycle to work (doubtlessly to the consternation of his daughter and son, who then attended Yeshiva High).