New York Daily News.com – Dick Weiss: HOOPS ON HOOPS
August 17, 2008
Scanning the LIU men’s basketball web site, we came across this interesting story that initially appeared in the Aug. 8 edition of the New Jersey Jewish Standard and talks about the decision by the 1936 Blackbirds basketball team to boycott the Berlin Olympics because of the persecution of German-Jews by the Nazi regime.
LIU was the dominant team in college basketball that year and the favorite to win the Olympic qualifying tournament at the Garden that spring. But the coaches and players decided not to participate on principle.
I never heard that story before.
Thanks to author David S. Wyman of the Institute of Holocaust Studies for enlightening me to this inspirational footnote in history.
I did know a little about that special team. The late, legendary Hall of Fame coach Clair Bee – generally acknowledged to be the inventor of the 1-3-1 zone – coached the Blackbirds to 33 straight victories in the 1935-36 season, winning by an average of 23 points. Four starters went on to play professionally.
According to the story in the Standard, some of the members of the LIU team were Jewish. Some were not. Bee and players Ben Kramer, Marius Russo, Ken Norton, Leo Merson, Jules Bender, Art Hillhouse, Harry Grant and Ben Schwarz all deserve enormous credit for standing up for human rights in a world about to go mad as opposed to simply pursuing personal athletic glory.
Russo, incidentally, later switched sports and was a starting pitcher for the 1941 Yankees’ team that won a World Series.
Dick Weiss – better known as “Hoops” – has been covering college basketball for 40 years, and since 1993 for the NYDN. He is a past president of the College Football and Basketball Writers’ Associations and is a member of the USBWA college basketball writers’ Hall of Fame.