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The Friendship Of Basketball

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Football is only half over, but basketball has already started in New York.
By Andy Lipton, Special To Daly Dose Of Hoops, 10-30-17
The Friendship Of Basketball

By Andy Lipton, Special To Daly Dose Of Hoops, 10-30-17


Another NBA season has started and the college season is about to begin. Discussion about how teams will fare is the order of the day. But three recent New York City basketball events reminded me of one of the most important and enduring legacies of the game of basketball: Friendship.  

Watching and listening to basketball players and coaches from long-ago eras brought that home to me. Here are just a few examples.

Coach Lou Carnesecca with his former player and current St. John’s coach, Chris Mullin and with former CCNY player and coach and New York City basketball legend Floyd Layne. (Photo by Andy Lipton/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

You could point to his 526-200 record at St. John’s, leading the Johnnies to post-season tournaments all 24 years he coached there, the eighteen NCAA tournament appearances and six NIT appearances, the twenty or more wins in 18 season, and basketball Hall of Famer, and say "enough said.” But you would miss the essence of the man.
Engaging, warm and personable, Looie is one of the friendliest human beings you will ever meet. He loves people and you feel it as soon as he starts speaking with you. You meet him for the first time and he speaks to you like a long-lost friend. And to the people he knows well, he is a loving friend. 
My dad, who got a kick out of Looie twisting and contorting his body on the sidelines as he tried to impart body English to the play on the court, once met Looie at a restaurant. My dad had never met Looie before. My dad went to his table to say hello and Looie invited my dad to sit down at his table.
Coach Carnesecca was recently honored by the Brooklyn USA Athletic Association at its 43rd anniversary celebration as they inducted him into its Basketball Hall of Fame. The Association was founded by people experienced in education and athletics to help young people in the Central Brooklyn community.

Former Boston Celtics greats Tom "Satch" Sanders and Kevin Stacom catch up at New York City Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. (Photo by Andy Lipton/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

At the reception for the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame induction, I saw former Boston Celtics Tom "Satch” Sanders and Kevin Stacom in conversation. You may have forgotten that Sanders coached the Celtics for a little more than a year. Although they didn’t play on the same Celtic teams during their careers, Satch coached Stacom in the 1977-78 season, and the camaraderie among former Celtic players, is a heritage cultivated by coach and general manager Red Auerbach, the patriarch of the Celtic family.

Hall of Famer Sanders, who went to Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and New York University, is New York City basketball royalty. He won eight NBA Championships with the Celtics during the 1960s, for many basketball fans of that decade, the gold standard of basketball, and his NYU team in 1960 made the NCAA Final Four. 

Stacom, one of this year’s inductees into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, went to high school in Queens at Holy Cross. One of his Providence College teams made the NCAA Final Four in 1973, and Stacom won a championship with the Celtics in 1976.

Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing reminisce at Big East media day, held on Madison Square Garden floor which played host to many of their earliest and fiercest battles. (Photo by Andy Lipton/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Patrick Ewing, the new Georgetown men’s basketball coach, stated at the recent Big East media day that when he was offered the Georgetown position, he called Chris Mullin, the St. John’s coach, for advice.

To put it mildly, St. John’s and Georgetown did not like each other when they played each other in the mid-1980s. It was fierce and intense competition. Mullin played for St. John’s back then and Ewing played for Georgetown.

Make no mistake about it, rival players can develop a dislike for each other based on what happens on the court, but along with the dislike, there is often respect. The respect is born of an understanding of what the competition is trying to achieve and what they are going through to achieve it. The understanding is there because both sides are trying to achieve the same thing. As the years go by, the respect of those basketball rivals often blossoms into friendship when they get to know each other off the court and realize that off-court personalities are often different than the on-court personas.

Minta Walker, Dr. Solly Walker’s wife, poses with a number of her family members and Lou Carnesecca. (Photo by Andy Lipton/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

At the Brooklyn USA Athletic Association’s celebration, there was a memorial tribute to one of its founding members, Dr. Solly Walker, who passed away in May.

Walker, who was a Scholastic Player of the Year and an All-City player at Boys High in Brooklyn, played basketball for St. John’s. He was the first African-American player at St. John’s, and his teams went to the championship games of the NCAA Tournament in 1952 and the NIT in 1953. Back then, the NIT was as prestigious as the NCAA Tournament.

In the 1951-52 season, St. John’s coach Frank McGuire was told by Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp not to bring Walker to Lexington to play in the St. John’s-Kentucky game because of his race. McGuire stood up to Rupp, telling him to cancel the game. The game was played, and Walker played in it.

Dedicated to his large family and the community at large, Dr. Walker was an educator who taught children with special needs and became a principal. He was also the coordinator of youth services for the City of New York, responsible for the creation and implementation of educational and recreational programs. Mel Davis, the former Boys High, St. John’s and New York Knicks player who emceed the luncheon, wrote this about Dr. Walker:  

"I could never repay Dr. Solly Walker for the strength of his personal commitment to me and for what I have and what I have become.”

I could feel Dr. Walker’s legacy as I met a number of his children and grandchildren at the luncheon. They were warm, gracious, and friendly. I was assigned to sit at one of the Walker family tables. When I was seated, I expressed some concern that I might be taking a spot of another family member. One of Dr. Walker’s grandsons, Kevin Walker, dispelled that concern, saying to me, "you’re part of the family.” I was honored. Although I never met Dr. Solly Walker or saw him play, before the luncheon was over, I felt like I knew him.

Near the end of the luncheon, Carnesecca, along with Mullin, former New Utrecht, St. John’s and NBA player George Johnson, and Davis stood together to announce that Walker’s number would be retired at St. John’s.

The following are some of Carnesecca’s remarks about Dr. Solly Walker at the luncheon:


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