I wasn’t going to miss this for the world.
I was informed the South Florida Basketball Fraternity Reunion which conducts a luncheon every year at this time was going to honor Dave Bing.
I’ve attended this gathering which numbers about 650 basketball aficionados several times in the past. Those showing up in Boca Raton for the annual love-fest for the game includes a sprinkling of
the greats of college and pro basketball’s history, high school coaches, officials, sons of officials and the average fan who make up what is really the sport’s fraternity.
Past honorees include, Lenny Wilkens, Rollie Massimino, and Billy Cunningham. VIP attendees have included Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens, Tim Hardaway and Matt Guokas.
It’s a nice, informal luncheon. Low key and relaxing. Nothing fancy.
But when I heard Dave Bing was going to be there, I told my host that not only would I be on hand, I wanted to say a few words. Just five minutes, that’s all.
Just to refresh people’s memory, Dave Bing is a Hall of Fame basketball player who played 12 seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Detroit Pistons. Following his career, he founded a processing company named, Bing Steel, which ultimately grew into a multi-million dollar Detroit-based group, which became one of the largest steel companies in Michigan.
A decade ago he was elected Mayor of Detroit, and served one term in office.
But this is about Dave Bing’s basketball exploits, and how and when he made an impact on me and so many others.
It has been established that I chose Syracuse University because of their outstanding journalism program and their national championship football team. Not necessarily in that order.
But, growing up in the New York area, college football was never as significant to me as college basketball. College football in my area, meant Columbia University, Fordham and possibly Rutgers, on nearby New Jersey.
Basketball, however, was a different story. St. John’s, Manhattan, NYU (yes, NYU, which reached the Final Four and lost to Jerry Lucas and Ohio State in 1960), and Fordham, were all solid hoop programs.
In Philadelphia, the Big Five, including St.Joseph’s, Temple, Villanova and LaSalle featured star players and high-level competitive play.
My interest in the sport extended to the entire nation. Instead of attending parties in high school, I stayed home and listened to college basketball on the radio, fighting through the static of finding out-of-town stations where games would faintly be heard. It’s true.
If I could hear Duke on WBT in Charlotte, or Kentucky on WHAS in Louisville, or any of the Philly teams on WCAU, I was in heaven. I could even hear the St.Louis Billikens on KMOX in St.Louis and
Jerry West and his West Virginia Mountaineers on WWVA in Wheeling, W.Va.
Unfortunately, Syracuse basketball was in a slump. How much of a slump? Well, in my freshman year, the Orange were 4-19, the next season they were worse, 2-22. I’m not positive, but at one point the team lost 19 consecutive games. It may have been more.
Then, a turning point. A new head coach came on the scene. His name was Fred Lewis. And he had been a coach at Southern Mississippi. He brought his assistant, Dr. Morris Osburn.
A new coaching team. But they had to recruit. And did they ever.
Dave Bing was a 6’3 jumping jack with immense quickness and all-around skills. He was a high school All-American at Spingarn High in Washington DC.
I never knew why he picked Syracuse, a team in the doldrums, over other national powers that would get him deep into the NCAA championships.
I found out when he spoke at the luncheon. There were no members of the basketball team that came to follow-up on the coaches’ pleas.
But two members of the Syracuse University football team convinced Dave to play for the Orange.
Ernie Davis and John Mackey. Ernie Davis, who won the Heisman Trophy, and John Mackey, who became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
The story reminded me of my conversation with Kareem Adbul-Jabbar. When Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor was completing his star-studden high school career at Power Memorial in Manhattan, every school came running. He narrowed his choices to five. St.John’s, Holy Cross, Boston College, Michigan, and UCLA. The five finalists were based on various considerations, including closeness to home, where his high school coach would be headed, and other factors.
I was a copy boy at radio station WINS in New York in 1965, when in a gymnasium filled with reporters, with pen, microphone, and camera at hand, breathlessly awaited Alcindor’s decision.
The radio station asked me to take a tape recorder, and get the voice of the 7-foot-2-inch center’s voice for use on the news programs.
Alcindor chose UCLA, and, as they say, the rest is history.
UCLA which had won two consecutive national titles, would miss out on a third straight when Alcindor was a freshman. Freshmen were ineligible to play in those days. But when he was finally a sophomore, UCLA captured three championships, and followed suit when Bill Walton succeeded Alcindor.
Years later, I assumed Kareem had gone to UCLA because of coach John Wooden, the esteemed “Wizard of Westwood”.
I was wrong.
Kareem told me of receiving a letter from Jackie Robinson, who was a multi-sport star at UCLA before he became the first African-American ever to play in the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson saw the dominant basketball center as a symbol as well, who would do his race, and UCLA proud.
It may not have been for similar reasons in the case of Dave Bing. But having the likes of Davis and Mackey urge him to come to central New York had to be powerful.
Manley Field House was the home of the Orange basketball team before the advent of the Carrier Dome. The Field House was small, yet it was a true home for the team that had really had no campus home before Manley. In Fred Lewis’ first year as head coach, he brought in transfers and Junior College prospects to join what was left of the previous team. The varsity won 8 lost 13, definitely an improvement.
I was one of the broadcasters on WAER, the campus radio station who called the home games. I remembering being at the mike for the very first game at the new Field House.
The Orange won, beating Kent State in a close game. Neither team scored 40 points in the contest. But Syracuse won. Remember this was at least 20 years before the shot-clock was instituted.
But the big story was the Syracuse freshman team. They played prior to the varsity contest. And the place was packed to see Dave Bing, and his talented highly-recruited teammates crush the opposition by 30 or 40 points. It was a forecast of things to come. And they did.
Dave Bing put Syracuse basketball on the map.
His tremendous talents, and unselfish play sparked the great revival in SU hoops.
In his sophomore year, the Orange played in the NIT.
In his senior year, they battled Duke in the NCAA Eastern Regional Final, only to fall short.
They were on their way. And, once again, the rest his history.
You can say the same for Bing’s career in the NBA. He was Rookie of the Year. In his second season he led the league in scoring. Dave played in seven NBA All-Star Games, and was named MVP in the 1976 contest. He was named to the All-NBA First Team twice, the first time over Jerry West. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1990.
Bing was introduced by the great Oscar Robinson saying, “Dave is the perfect example of professionalism, class, dignity and humanity.” That kind of says it all.
And a few years later Dave Bing was named one of the Top 50 Greatest Players in the History of the NBA.
But it all started when he arrived at Syracuse and turned the program around to what it is today. One of the best in the nation and his backcourt partner was a walk-on named Jim Boeheim.
We all know who that is!
That’s why I wasn’t going to miss visiting with Dave Bing, once again, at that luncheon in Florida.
I would like to thank all our readers who have followed us either in the Thousand Island Sun or on our blog.
I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday.
See you soon.