Barney Polan's Game

Overview

A riveting novel of the great basketball scandals of the early 1950s, by the sport's foremost literary chronicler. Like the 1919 Black Sox scandal in baseball, the college basketball point-shaving scandal of 1951 represented a fall from grace. Players, coaches, bookies, and gangsters conspired to fix the outcomes of games, and their exposure showed that basketball was irrevocably corrupted by power and big money.

Charley Rosen, whose acclaimed previous novel, The House of Moses ...

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Overview

A riveting novel of the great basketball scandals of the early 1950s, by the sport's foremost literary chronicler. Like the 1919 Black Sox scandal in baseball, the college basketball point-shaving scandal of 1951 represented a fall from grace. Players, coaches, bookies, and gangsters conspired to fix the outcomes of games, and their exposure showed that basketball was irrevocably corrupted by power and big money.

Charley Rosen, whose acclaimed previous novel, The House of Moses All-Stars, confirmed him as "bard of the backboard" (Toronto Star), has written an astonishing and poignant tale about the events that still cast a shadow over basketball. Told from the points of view of the different protagonists-Jewish, Catholic, and black players, the gangsters themselves, the bystanders-the game's descent into corruption and chaos is penetratingly described. Set against the background of the Korean War, McCarthyism, and racial tension, Barney Polan's Game is a masterful morality tale, a tragedy filled with thrilling moments of sport and stunning moments of personal failure. It is a story no one will forget.

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Editorial Reviews

Allen Barra
Rosen's novel is a particularly American form of tragedy, in which the characters do not have to fall from great heights to fall from grace.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rosen, whose first novel, The House of Moses All-Stars, was highly praised, returns to the subject of his 1978 nonfiction Scandals of '51, this time in a penetrating fictional portrait of the men (and woman) who conspired to corrupt college basketball. Beginning with Brooklyn sportswriter Barney Polan, a self-described "champion of the underdog" who "looks like what sportswriters are supposed to look like," Rosen tells the story from multiple points of view, shifting back and forth as the corruption deepens and comes to light. Gangster Johnny Boy Gianelli and his moll, Rosie, are at the center of the scam, offering cash and sex to New York players who agree to maintain point spreads and even throw games while coaches and referees look the other way. Rosen's multi-voiced prose rings true as Jewish, Catholic and black players all find themselves involvedsome eagerly, some reluctantlyin a complex conspiracy to defraud each other and save themselves. Wisely keeping the games in the background to build suspense, Rosen works from inside the heads of each of his characters, who bring to life such darker elements of the time as McCarthyism, the Korean War and racial tension. No special knowledge of the game is required to appreciate this very engaging novel (Rosen clearly relishes his historical expositions as much as the story itself). Even readers who are not basketball fans will have a hard time putting it down before the final buzzer. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Basketball writer Rosen's eighth book is a novelization of the notorious point-shaving incident recounted in his Scandals of '51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball (1978). A fine follow-up to last year's highly touted The House of Moses All-Stars (LJ 12/96), the novel opens in August 1950 with Barney's colorful, first-person description of the New York City sports scene. He's a sportswriter who has heard rumors of fixed college basketball games but doesn't take them very seriously at this point. Subsequent chapters are first-person accounts by players, coaches, and others who eventually find themselves embroiled in a major scandal. Barney, with lots of inside contacts, is able to chronicle their downfall and provides a humanizing perspective throughout the book. Highly recommended.Will Hepfer, SUNY at Buffalo Libs.
Allen Barra
Rosen's novel is a particularly American form of tragedy, in which the characters do not have to fall from great heights to fall from grace.
The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
“For his new novel, Charley Rosen has picked a subject so good it's amazing more writers have not jumped on it sooner."-The New York Times Book Review
“A kick-in-the-rump, no-holds-barred, Katie-bar-the-door look at basketball, mobsters, egotistical college coaches, scheming players, naive parents, and our politically incorrect past."-The Washington Post Book World
“Rosen describes on-court action so vividly that we hear the squeak of sneakers and feel the laces of old-fashioned leather basketballs bumping off the hoop."-San Francisco Chronicle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781888363562
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2004
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Charley Rosen
Basketball player, coach, and critically acclaimed novelist CHARLEY ROSEN played for Hunter College from 1959–62, where he set school records for scoring and rebounding, and was voted team MVP all three years. He went on to play for the US Maccabiah team in 1961, for Camden and Scranton in the Eastern League (a forerunner of the Continental Basketball Association) in 1962, and was a member of the bronze-medal-winning team in the World Senior Games in 1994. Rosen coached in the minor-league Continental Basketball Association for nine years and was the head coach of the women's team at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He lives in Woodstock, NY.
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First Chapter

--BARNEY POLAN--

God, I love my paunch, all this beautiful pink flesh, solid and undeniable. Like truth. Like justice. Like success.

Patting my belly, I've often said to an admiring postgame audience at Toots Shor's: "I figure my bumper here must've cost me a couple of thousand bucks. Damn right. That's twenty-five years of drinking beer. So this round's on me."

Even though sportswriters are supposed to be impartial, I'm a Brooklyn boyo and Dodger fan through hell or high water, so my beer is Schaefer. In bottles or from the tap, but never in cans because of the coppery aftertaste. Damn right. Yankee fans "ask the man for Ballantine." Giants fans drink Knickerbocker, strictly pisswater.

I'm proud to be just an old-fashioned guy who values purity and quality. That's why there's always a Cuban cigar between my crooked yellow teeth, small leathery-looking cheroots that smoke like long-burning fuses. With my sporty blue eyes and stubborn chin, with my cigar, my trademark soiled felt hat, and even the blasted blood vessels that lace my nose, I look like what sportswriters are supposed to look like.

The difference is my talent. I'll admit to being a witty and energetic writer, able to compose inspired Brooklynese with overtones of Shakespearean irony. Damn right. Even the Broadway wiseguys treat me with respect. Years ago, using the local dialect in an exquisitely ambiguous fashion, the great Jimmy Cannon of the New York Post dubbed me "The verse of the peepul."

Verse...voice. Get it? Fucking Cannon's a genius!

The athletes on my beat praise me for honoring an off-the-record etiquette. Whose beeswax is it anyway if a certain outfielder is a boozer? Or if a certain college football coach cheats on his wife? Certainly not John Q's.

I'm proud to be a minor celebrity in all five boroughs. Sure, the photo of my smiling puss atop my thrice-weekly column in the Brooklyn Sentinel, "Sports A-Plenty," is twenty years old, and I've carefully avoided being photographed since then (ever since I became prematurely bald and itchy-headed). But the hat always gives me away. Publicly I swear up and down that the battered gray felt I always wear is the very same topper in the old photo. In truth, since the inside sweatband always rots after four or five years, I've gone through five hats since then, each one meticulously stained and aged on the fire escape outside my bedroom window to resemble its predecessor.

"I go for a man who wears an Adams hat!"

These are only two of my most guarded secrets: my scabrous baldness and my Dorian Gray hats. Fortunately I'm able to ease my conscience in many ways. After all, my old man is bald as an egg, and heredity ain't nobody's fault. Right?

The champion of the underdog, that's me, too. A notorious sap for a sob story, an easy mark for any old punch-drunk boxer or punchless second baseman down on his luck.

So who doesn't love Barney Polan ? Nobody, I tell myself as I remove the top of a red-plaid cabana outfit (that Sarah got me years ago for my thirty-third birthday) and defiantly expose my wondrous bumper to the hot summer sun. (Besides my father in the Beth Abraham Home? Besides my crazy Uncle Max in Coney Island? Besides the ballplayers I rag for their errors? Besides Giants fans?) Nobody, that's who.

Even so, deep within some intravascular black-blooded chamber, the truth gnaws at me and I can't fool myself. More and more, my hats seem to suffocate my brain, my cigars raise tiny blisters on my tongue, and maintaining my universal goodwill is a strain, a mental hernia. Sometimes, with my costume and my stale dialogue, I feel like a restless actor trapped in a long-running play. Sometimes I yearn to quit the newspaper and move to a secluded cabin in Oregon or Montana, where I'd cook my modest meals over an open fire, use "Sports A-Plenty" as toilet paper, and write a fat, poetic novel to make William Faulkner weep. (I'd write about my childhood in the streets of Brooklyn. About my crazy friends and their cruel rites of passage. About my parents. About good and evil. About love. Of course I can do it. Damn right. Red Smith never wrote a novel.) And sometimes, for reasons I don't understand, I feel like running naked through the streets, screaming and spitting curses at the sky.

Now, where the hell is the fucking pool? Eagle-eyed sportswriters aren't supposed to wear spectacles, so I have to squint mightily to read the nearest signpost:

Ambling past the tennis courts, I squint again, this time in disgust. The tennis courts are as warm with players and pretenders all smartly dressed in neat white outfits. "Out!" they shout at one another. "Deuce!" and "My ad!" Line drives are thwocked. Pop-ups are pinged. A chorus line of leathery middle-aged women rehearse the proper strokes with the club pro. All this against fields of green asphalt square-angled with crisp white lines.

This is considered a sport? With no cursing and no spitting and no scratching of the crotch? Instead of one-to-nothing the score is 15-love, and 3-2 is 40-30. Imagine a 3-2 pitch, two out, bases loaded, score tied in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants against the Dodgers in Ebbets Field. Imagine Red Barber announcing to the fans, "Silence, s'il vous plait."

Let that snob Red Smith write odes to half volleys and overhead smashes. Tennis anyone? Not anyone I want to know.

The vast hotel grounds are teeming with guests, mostly vacationing Jews up from the city. A few golfers stride purposefully to and from a distant course wearing knickers and plaid stockings. Rapt honeymooners lost in time stroll hand in hand. But mostly family groups complete with mishpocheh, perhaps a zaideh in a wheelchair, and always the obnoxious, caterwauling children. (It's hard to like children, they're such a pain in the ass, so helpless and yet so demanding. I've almost convinced myself to be thankful that Sarah and I were childless. Almost.) In midweek only an occasional single prowls the white-stoned pathways and spacious green lawns.

Tucked snugly under my left arm is today's Sentinel, a scarce commodity up here since it's a forty-five-minute drive into the nearest one-horse town (Monticello). Up-to-date newspapers are particularly valuable for yesterday's major league box scores and today's pitching matchups, the results at Belmont and Aqueduct, as well as today's racing form.

Meanwhile I'm sweating so heavily that my cigar is drenched and falling apart. Pttul Surreptitiously I spit the slimy tobacco into my palm, then toss the mess into a nearby bush as I finally approach the "Outdoor Nautitorium," the hotel's most popular summertime venue. And the pool is certainly the grand centerpiece, nearly long enough for waterskiing. Rude gangs of children jump in and out of the pale blue water, shrieking and splashing, pausing only to pee in warm green currents. Three old women in rubberized bathing caps navigate the shallows with dainty,fearful steps. Most of the old folks are schmeared and laid out upon wood-slatted lounges to sizzle in the sun.

A hefty young tomato in a blue bathing suit shouts across the pool to a small exuberant child,"Don't run, Michael! You'll fall and break your neck!"

On the far side of the pool and connected by a common wall to the "Recreation Hall" is a large wood-shingled pavilion filled with elegant wrought-iron furniture where other guests play impassioned card games. There's also a noisy crowd on the shuffleboard court, where Mickey Nightingale,the hotel's longtime resident tummler, entertains the middle-aged ladies. "Simon sez to put your right thumb in your tochis and your left thumb in your mouth!... Oy, look at the missus here. Your thumb, tateleh, not your pinky.... Simon sez, girls! No, no, that's close enough. We don't want to get raided by the police! That's right.... Now, Simon sez switch thumbs!... Heh! You're all disqualified except Missus Fishbomb here.... "The sound of the ladies' half-hysterical laughter, shrill and clucking, makes me think there's a fox in the henhouse.

Red-shirted attendants of both sexes are everywhere--fetching drinks, dispensing towels, arranging chaise lounges, tables, and chairs, constantly adjusting the tabletop sun umbrellas.

Among the cardplayers in the pavilion I recognize Georgie Klein, a small-time bookie from the Bronx who frequently has useless information to sell. With his protruding Adam's apple, Klein looks like he's just swallowed a doorknob. Also Jimmy O'Hara, a second-string clerk in the Manhattan D.A.'s office whose long bony nose reminds me of a can opener. There's a cut-man named Joe Leibowitz. And Flatfoot Ferdie, a runner for some two-bit mobster. Plus other suggestive silhouettes dimmed by the shade, the familiar sporting crowd and attendant wisenheimers. The game is always seven-card stud and the stakes are a-dollar-and-two. Georgie is dealing.

Eyebrows are raised as I cross the near horizon, and cordial greetings are shouted.

"Hi ya, Barney."

"Good to see yiz, Barn."

"Howdy, boys."

"Hey, Barney," Klein pipes. "What's the spread tonight?"

"The only spread I'm interested in tonight," I say with a sly grin, "is the horseradish on the pot roast."

The cardplayers laugh in sparkling good humor and I favor them with a smile in the shadow of my hat brim. Then I turn away to scout out a poolside lounge chair in the shade.

"See you later, boys."

"See ya, Barney."

Already stretched out on adjacent lounges there in the sunshine beyond the deep end of the pool, Johnny Boy Gianelli is talking to his young wife, Rosie, but I pretend not to see them. Not to see old Gianelli's narrow chin jabbing and thrusting at the young woman like an accusing finger. Or his thin lips sucking on his ill-fitting false teeth. Jeez! A rich man like that, owner of a construction company in cahoots with the Black Hand. You'd think he could afford a better set of choppers.

According to the police blotter, Gianelli is sixty-seven years old--yet he still has a full head of gray hair. (Better gray than none.) Even Gianelli's twitchy little Charlie Chaplin moustache is gray, and bushy gray eyebrows shade his pebble-colored eyes. Gianelli wears a white terrycloth cabana outfit and a floppy straw hat, also rubber thongs that show his blue-lined and gnarly feet.

Gianelli's wife, Rosie, is a shapely dame in her early thirties whom the old fart rescued years ago from the chorus line at the Copa. Sitting next to Rosie and blatantly ogling her tits is Ray Paluski, Jr., six-footthree-inch high-scoring frontcourtsman for the Redmen of St. John's, a Jesuit college in Queens. Junior averaged 11.3 points per game in '49-'50, pacing the Redmen to a 14-and-8 record. Actually a disappointing season for St. John's.

The persistent rumor is that young Paluski is porking Rosie.

I turn away just in time to ignore Paluski giving me the high sign. As an upstanding and righteous purist, I don't approve of scandalous behavior.

Speaking of which, here's Senator Joe McCarthy's face on the front page again, goddamned Irisher, always making trouble for the Jews. Sure, he talks about "Communists" and "the Red Menace," but he's really just another vicious anti-Semite. What's his latest shtick? Waving around pieces of paper--"proof," he says, that the State Department is riddled with Communists and Communist sympathizers. Aha! It's this "sympathizer" business that gives him license to find subversives everywhere he wants to look. And he's got everybody scared, including Truman. Anybody who looks cross-eyed at McCarthy is accused of being "soft" on Communism.

Oy, so much bullshit, so much confusion. Weren't the Communists instrumental in establishing labor unions? Damn right. I wouldn't have a pension in my old age without them. And didn't the Russkies fight the Nazis? So now what? This one's supposed to be guilty. That one's supposed to be innocent. What the fuck do I know about politics?

All I know is that, according to the Constitution, everybody's innocent until proven guilty--and then they're guilty forever. Until then, leave me out of it.

All I know is that the good guys won the war and that eventually the good guys always win.

All I know is that Hitler killed six million Jews, and cocksuckers like Joe McCarthy are trying to finish the job.

All I know is that today's installment of "Sports A-Plenty" is a gem. My theme is baseball--"The Phillies are running on empty." Get it? Phillies ... Fill ies ... empty. Anyway, Philadelphia can't possibly win the pennant because their big hitters (Del Ennis, Andy Seminick, Willie Jones, Granny Hamner, and Mike Goliat) are right-handed and therefore susceptible to the Dodgers' right-handed pitching. Also, only Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons are established pitchers, and how long can the Phillies' ace reliever, Jim Konstanty, get hitters out with the slop he throws?

Have no fear, the Bums will prevail.

Hold on. Who's this gangly Negro teenager, dressed in the hotel's red uniform, hustling up to me with a huge smile on his face. The tall boy is stooped as he carries a thick rubber body pad under his long right arm. He looks vaguely familiar--his ebony skin glistening in the relentless sunshine, the tight smile pressing his puffy lips into a thick red line, the thin white scar above the left eyebrow, and the eyes, the huge round eyes, fawn-eyes brimming with such sweetness and innocence that I suddenly feel fraudulent and hopelessly corrupt.

"Anywhere in particular, Mister Polan?" the boy asks. "I could angle you toward the pool or toward the sun or in the shade. You want an umbrella, suh? Or something cold to drink? Whatever you say, Mister Polan, suh."

I hate being catered to, being waited on. Such ruthless benevolence giving the false impression that I'm a helpless boob. Besides, Negroes always make me feel guilty, for what I don't know. "Over there's good," I say, pointing toward a dark corner with good angles on both the pool and the pavilion. "And, when you get a chance, could you please bring me a bottle of Schaefer? A bottle, not a can."

"Yes, suh," the boy says, and effortlessly aligns the body pad on the designated lounge chair.

"Wait a minute," I say with sudden remembrance. "Haven't I seen you play someplace? I never forget a face."

"Yes, suh," the boy says, boldly rising up to his full six-foot-threeinch height. "I'm Royce Johnson from Seward Park High School down on Grand Street. We won the P.S.A.L. city championship last March in the Garden and I had thirty-one points. You wrote in the paper that I was the best high school player you've ever seen. But, believe me, Mister Polan, you ain't seen nothin' yet."

I'm glad the kid is a braggart. Now I can feel superior to him again, even as I move clumsily to settle into the chair. "Oh, yeah. Now I remember you. With the behind-the-back dribbling and the quick set shot."

The boy hovers over me, beaming brightly. "I got a jump shot, too, that my coach wouldn't let me use."

"So what're you doing here, Royce? Working, huh?"

"Working the pool and helping in the kitchen, yes, suh. Coach Goldberg got me the job for fifteen dollars every Monday and lots of free food. I'm gonna go play for City College next year."

My smile is tight and full of wisdom. "Coach Goldberg won't be too happy about your behind-the-back tricks. The Ol'Coach, he hates show-offs."

"No, suh. Me and Coach Goldberg already got us a understanding. I'm just gonna be proud to play for him and I'll do whatever he wants and don't do whatever he don't want. But after a while, once he learns how good my game is, then I know he's gonna give me the ball and turn me loose."

"I like to see such confidence in a young player," I tell him with practiced sincerity. "Good." Then I pause long enough to let the boy scoot off to get the beer. "Very good."

Actually I'm mildly surprised at the hotel's progressive stance in having a Negro work so out in the open. The young fellow, Royce Johnson, must be quite the hoopster.

Checking my sightlines, I lean back into the cushioned lounge, looking forward to seeing the kid play tonight.

Of course I'd much rather see the Dodgers play tonight, but not in Cincinnati in August. The Dodgers' current road trip includes three games in Cincy, four in Chi-Town and three in St. Louie. No thanks. Sixteen summers of sweltering Midwest roadtrips was quite enough. Sixteen years as beat writer for my beloved Bums.

I can still recall the names, uniform numbers, and essential stats of every player. The stars: Del Bissonette, #25, hit .336 in 1930. Babe Herman, #4, hit .330 in 1943. And the benchwarmers from Johnny Hudson to Al Glossop. Hey, a few of the old-timers are still hanging on. Joe Hatten. Hugh Casey. Rube Walker is now a coach. The Brooklyn Dodgers were my first love and I'm convinced that their newest star, Jackie Robinson, makes them God's team too.

Back in 1925 when I started at The Sentinel as a copyboy, I would've given a trillion-to-one odds against a shvartzer ever playing in the majors.

As of this very morning the Dodgers are still two and a half games ahead of the Phillies, and Robinson is hitting .324, with seven homers, sixty-seven runs scored and nineteen stolen bases.

Even when I was a kid, I always studied the stats, reading The Sporting-News like a sacred text. In the many pressrooms and hotel bars of my acquaintance, I'm the official adjudicater of most sports arguments:

"Who was better, Barney? Ducky Medwick when he was wid the Cardinals or wid the Dodgers?"

"Medwick hit three points higher lifetime with Brooklyn, but he won a World Series with Saint Louie. You figure it out for yourself."

"Hey, Barney? Who won the Davis Cup last year?"

"Ask me next if I fuckin' care."

Thankfully I don't spend much time in pressrooms or hotel bars anymore, and these days I can pick my assignments to suit myself. Sometimes in the spring I'll take the train to Philly or Boston. Perhaps slum at the Polo Grounds when the Dodgers are out West. Another option is a periodic visit to the Bronx to report on the lordly Yankees.

Mycolumns appear on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, forty-eight weeks a year, making 1,296 columns since 1941 (The Collected Woiks?). I remember well my very first column, a spring-training celebration of Mickey Owens's great hands behind the plate. (Six months later, in Game Four of the World Series, the Dodgers had a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth inning when the Yankees'"Old Reliable" rightfielder, Tommy Heinrich, apparently struck out swinging to end the ball game. But the ball also eluded Owens, Heinrich was safe at first, and the Yankees rallied to win, thereby assuming a commanding 3-1 lead in the Series. In my postgame appraisal I now declared that Owens was always a defensive liability and that his was "a name to all succeeding ages curst.")

From Canarsie to Bensonhurst, from Coney Island to Park Slope, baseball is a sanctified ritual. According to a tag line that I use at every opportunity, "Life is a metaphor for baseball."

Truth to tell, I used to be mightily bored in the long off-season. "I don't like hot stoves," was my judgment of winter, "because I once burned my ass on one." And what else was there? Six-day bicycle races have gone the way of vaudeville. What about ice hockey? The N.H.L.? Naw. Just a bunch of dumb Canucks on skates who wear suspenders under their uniforms. Wee? Wee?

The National Football League is a bad joke because too many people know about the fixed ball games. And I absolutely detest the professional basketballers. "The Basketball Association of America," or "the National Basketball League," or "the National Basketball Association," or whatever the hell their name is this week. With forgettable franchises like the Anderson Packers, Pittsburgh Ironmen, Providence Steamrollers, St. Louis Bombers, Toronto Huskies, Tri-Cities Blackhawks. Gypsy teams in a gypsy league. Mercenaries.

Winters were painfully long and empty until just a few years ago when I discovered the several joys of college basketball.

Legend has it that Ned Irish, a twenty-nine-year-old sportswriter for the New York World-Telegram, had been assigned to cover a basketball game in Manhattan College's tiny gymnasium early in 1930 in the hardscrabbling heyday of the Depression. The gym had been filled to overflowing with fans, and Irish had torn his pants while fighting his way inside through an open window. Irish became convinced that college basketball was ready to go big-time. Accordingly, on December 31, 1931, Irish produced the first college basketball program in Madison Square Garden, an S.R.0 triple-header involving six New York colleges, to raise money for the relief of the unemployed. Before long, Irish was promoting similar events for his own profit. Functioning now as vice president of Madison Square Garden, Inc., Irish has become the impresario of college basketball. His crowning achievement was to inaugurate, in 1938, the annual, and always lucrative, National Invitational Tournament in the Garden. He expanded his operations into arenas for hire in Buffalo and Philadelphia. By 1950 Irish could offer a touring college team at least a six-date package, the chance to play their way across the country and back without ever seeing a campus.

Look at all the money generated by college basketball just from the gate receipts and beer concessions. Paydays for everyone from ushers to cleanup crews. For the athletic directors and the coaches. The neighborhood bars and restaurants. "Sis Boom Bah" and "Boola Boola." Damn right.

In my columns I've always made certain to laud the undergraduate cagers because they play strictly for the love of the game. College baskets is the only amateur sport worth watching. Vot den? The rowers? Pole vaulters? Polo players? No, thanks. Only college basketball warms my blood in the wintertime.

Only five months ago, in the N.I.T.'s championship game, the sons of immigrants and the grandsons of slaves miraculously upset the University of Kentucky's top-ranked basketball team, the blue-blooded legions of Adolph Rupp, by 82-59. There it was in black-and-white. On March 5, 1950. Truth and justice proved by a single headline--C.C.N.Y. COPS CHAMPIONSHIP.

Oh, here's one more reason why I suddenly love college basketball--in 1925 I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in journalism from the College of the City of New York. So, if God were to grant me the power to decide, I would never trade City's miraculous N.I.T. title straight-up for even a Dodgers World Series championship come September. Definitely not. Not even if it meant sweeping the Yankees. Another secret I'll have to keep out of my column.

Naturally there's a seedy side to the college game, and I've heard all the rumors of point shaving and dumped ball games, mostly from disgruntled bettors. My own sources never report anything except pissant stuff--college players playing in money tournaments under false names. Varsity coaches skimming their players' meal monies. I constantly receive all kinds of "inside info" from the old-time bookies in several National League cities. Rumors of occasional funny point spreads and unseemly fluctuations. Nothing to worry about. I figure that most of the bookmakers of my acquaintance are so used to setting odds for basketball games that they're often clumsy and capricious when quoting one of the newfangled point spreads. Two-and-a-half? What? Plus or minus 8 1/2? Jeez, a smart college coach with real inside info could make himself a fortune.

Aha! There's the real proof that everything's on the up-and-up. Except for Sidney Goldberg at C.C.N.Y. and Henry Carlson at Rhinegold U. in Yonkers, the other area college coaches are poor men with lean bellies. And except for the lads at Harvard, Yaleand Princeton, I've never seen an undergraduate cager with money to spare. Hey, look at the home-relief kids on C.C.N.Y.'s championship squad: Otis Hill. Barry Hoffman. Phil Isaacson. None can even afford a shine on their shoes.

The defense rests.

Besides which, the American sports public, the writers, the athletes, the coaches, and even the gamblers have learned a painful lesson from the Black Sox Scandal in 1919. Say it ain't so, Barney. Damn right.

Growing up on Ditmas Avenue, only a subway stop from Brooklyn College, I was especially distraught at the newspaper accounts of a sinister turn of events that began early in 1945: The Manhattan County's D.A. office happened to be tapping the telephone of a pawnbroker whom they suspected of receiving stolen goods, when quite by accident, the wiretappers discovered that the supposed fence was also involved in fixing a college basketball game. The sonofabitch! In my expert opinion the conniving pawnbroker's deed was unforgivable, comparable to a shyster swindling a widow out of her savings, or a pederast let loose in a kindergarten.

Surveillance was stepped up and the full plot was quickly uncovered. Five members of the Brooklyn College basketball team were implicated along with several local gamblers. Each player had already been paid a thousand dollars and was promised another two thousand if he "laid down" in an upcoming game against Akron University. It was also learned that one of the Brooklyn College ballplayers wasn't even a registered student. (Fucking 4-F chickenshit bastards!) The gamblers were arrested, the ball game was canceled, and the players were expelled in disgrace.

In "Sports A-Plenty" I went slightly overboard in calling for a public ceremony wherein all the participants would have "666" branded across their foreheads. But surprise, surprise.... I received bundles of letters supporting my suggestion and none in opposition.

An ambitious graduate of St. John's, John Morley was (and is) the district attorney. His official judgment was that the "Brooklyn College betting scandal involved only a neighborhood crowd," and I was easily convinced.

Eventually New York City's lawmakers amended the civil bribery bill to include gamblers who made bribe offers to amateur sportsmen, and the matter was forgotten by nearly everyone.

Of course, several notable individuals did speak out in warning. Most prominent among them was Forrest "Phog" Allen, the basketball coach at Kansas who had learned his Xs and Os from the game's founding father, Dr. James Naismith. Allen predicted a gambling scandal that would "stink to high heaven." But most knowledgeable observers felt that Allen was merely bellyaching because his own teams hadn't been up to snuff in recent seasons. In any event, no further bribery schemes were uncovered, even as gate receipts at the college doubleheaders increased and jubilant alumni continued to fund basketball scholarships by the dozens. One of my subsequent columns featured a spokesman for a national coaches' organization who chastised Allen for showing "a deplorable lack of faith in American youth and a meager confidence in the integrity of coaches."

Rumors of peace. Rumors of war.

In the meantime, all things considered, as far as I can tell, as far as I want to know, college basketball is as kosher as a rabbi's wife.

And there's one last reason why I'm so loyal to college basketball: Red Smith continually rails against the "pituitary goons" who play "roundball." Well, fuck Red Smith and everybody who looks like him. Damn right. I can write rings around that snooty bastard.

Closing my eyes, I can feel the sun's gentle pressure on my face, on my glorious bumper. And I yearn for simpler times. For the grandfatherly guidance of FDR. For the days when G.I. Joe saved the world. Back when the Russkies were dauntless allies. When a tune from Walt Disney set the time:

Whistle while you work
Hitler is a jerk
Mussolini is a meanie
But the Japs are worse

When good versus evil was always a solid bet.

These days I often feel much older than my forty-eight years. Old enough to breathe an ancient sigh. I wish I were home in my tiny apartment in Brooklyn Heights. With a bottle of Schaefer at hand. With the radio tuned to the far-off Dodger game. The electric fan strategically positioned over a trayful of ice cubes so that a frosty breeze blows in my face. All this while I indulge in my most secret of passions:

Only in the private 100-watt illuminations of my apartment am I secure enough to freely devour the Shakespearean canon. In fact even more than my collection of autographed baseballs, my most treasured possession is an oversized replica of the 1604 Folio, which cost me a handsome $550. Every s is printed as an f, and I love reading the soliloquies aloud. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow... "And "life" is like the Boston Celtics' Kleggie Hermsen, "a poor passing player." In one infamous column after the homestanding Dodgers swept the hated Giants in a three-game series in June 1941, I foolishly wrote this: "To paraphrase Shakespeare,'Ah, Ebbets Field were paradise enow.'" My lowbrow readership was aroused as never before or since. One irate letter from Red Hook excoriated me for providing a bad example for the schoolchildren by using "pig Latin." Another letter claimed that only Yankees fans read Shakespeare and that I should be exiled to the Bronx. Chastened, I henceforth kept my Shakespeare en cathedra.

In spite of my obvious blessings, I do have a short litany of annoyances: Giants fans, Yankee fans, and the latest National League pennant race. The Soviets stealing plans for the A-bomb. The hair clogging the bathtub drain. But by far my most persistent, most agonizing problem is finding a suitable topic for my next column, then the one after.... New ideas and fresh slants three times every week, "until the last syllable of recorded time." Sometimes I feel like the merest of hacks.

Mostly, though, I feel weary: Of being divorced and childless. Of consuming too many solitary dinners of canned beans and condensed tomato soup. Maybe I should try getting married again. That spinsterish-looking dame in research has a nice smile and a nice set of headlights.... Maybe I'll have a kid this time. Barney, Junior....

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