Monday, May 22, 2006

Re: Of Oscar and LeBron

----- Original Message -----

Sent: Thursday, May 18, 2006 2:51 PM
Subject: Re: Of Oscar and LeBron


Very incisive hoops analysis. from the pistons series, lebron looks every inch the next great player, of the oscar-jordan-isaiah magnitude. and he's just 21. but when oscar was 21, to start his rookie season, 1960-61, he, like lebron, averaged 30.5 points a game, led the league in assists, at 9.7, and averaged 10 rebounds a game. Close to a triple double, which he achieved the next season. And in his very first playoffs, in his second season, he averaged a triple double. For 10 straight seasons, he averaged nearly a triple double. lebron has a long way to go to match that record, but he may do it. jordan, while having great individual stats, also had that stat of stat, the 6 championships. oscar had 1, but that, of course, is hardly the whole story.

the story as bud olsen, a teammate of both rubenstein (at louisville) and oscar with the royals, told me, was that after cincy beat louisville decisively with oscar scoring an easy 25 points, ruby in the locker room following the game, said quietly to olsen, "I don't care what coach says, robertson has to put his jock strap on differently."

keep up the good political stuff!
I'm also going to send you the eulogy i gave at hershey's funeral.



----- Original Message -----

Sent: Thursday, May 18, 2006 2:57 PM
Subject: berkow

Larry: I had a nice chat with Rubenstein at the funeral, among many other former jewish hoop stars, including irv bemoras and harvey babetch.



Beth Shalom Synagogue

Northbrook, Illinois

Thursday, October 27, 2005 -- 11 a.m.

I saw Hershey just five days before he died. I went to the Alden nursing home to visit him. I did that whenever I was in town. It happened that he was in the lobby with a nurse who was wheeling him to a van to go for his dialysis. He said, in a voice filled with pain, that he was sorry he couldn’t visit with me. I said, “That’s okay. I was just coming here for the chocolate-chip cookies” – chocolate chip cookies were always in a jar at the receptionist’s table.

Hershey’s eyes brightened. “You have to go up to my room. Gail Luckman made me the greatest mandel bread. You’ll love it. Take some – please.” Those were the last words I ever heard him speak, to share some great mandel bread. I went up his room – Hershey, after all, was a connoisseur of food, especially mandel bread and cheese blintzes – and he was right. Gail Luckman’s mandel bread was great.

My first memory of Hershey Carl was watching people try to guard him on a basketball court. He was so tricky, so quick, so deft, that he had defenders falling all over themselves and him. It was as if they had been drugged. I became one of the druggies, in the schoolyard, in gyms, in a Chicago Public League game at Von Steuben. Hershey was the first genius I ever encountered. I was 15, he was 16, and we played on a pickup team together outdoors at Eugene Field park, half court, four-on-four. At one point in the game, I cut for the basket and he threw a pass that whipped through the eight arms and hands of the defenders, the pass swift enough to get through the defenders but soft enough for me to catch it and high enough for me to just lay the ball in the basket. It was an incredible pass. It was really his basket. I had never experienced anything like that. I remember getting a shiver down my spine at the brilliance and beauty of that seemingly simple play.

Hershey and I became friends, going on 50 years now, and I never minded that, when I called him on the phone, he always recognized the voice and said, “I-rat.” Sweet. I actually looked forward to it: “I-rat.”

His brother, Sam, said to me the other day that Hershey gave him so many thrills, he was so proud of him. Well, he thrilled us all, and we were all proud of him. The short kid from the neighborhood who battled the odds and triumphed. Hershey played basketball the way he lived his life, the way he dealt with friends and family, with love and humility and with all his heart.

When Hershey made the Catholic Digest All-American team as a sophomore at DePaul in 1959, he came home with the plaque honoring the achievement and wanted to hang it on the wall in the bedroom of his apartment in Albany Park. His father, an orthodox Jew, said, Absolutely not. On the plaque, between the words Catholic Digest and All-American team was a crucifix. Hershey pleaded with his dad to let him hang up the plaque, that this was a big honor. So Hershey and his dad reached a compromise. Hershey put the plaque up on the wall, but his father placed a piece of tape over the crucifix.

I remember a game in Philadelphia, when he was with the Chicago Packers. I was in the Army, stationed at Ft. Meade, Md. He had called and said he’d have two tickets for me and a friend if we could get away. We did. And there was one particularly memorable play. He had stolen the ball and was on a one-man fast break on the left side of the free-throw lane. Wilt Chamberlain, all 7-feet-2-inches of him, stood at the free throw line, and about to block Hershey’s lay-up, the way Goliath would swat a fly. Hershey went into the air, and turned with the ball to pass to a teammate near the free-throw line. Chamberlain then moved to intercept the pass. But there was no Carl teammate. Instead, Hershey gathered back the ball – still in mid-air – and laid the ball into the basket. That fake, too, was spine-tingling.

Several months ago, I visited Hershey in his nursing room. He had a book on his nightstand that he had been reading, a book of shorts stories by Joseph Epstein with the title, “Fabulous Small Jews.” Hershey recommended it highly.

I bought the book. I liked it, but I thought of the irony of Hershey suggesting that book to me. And I sent him a note, about something that I’m sure hadn’t crossed his mind. “Hershey,” I wrote, “you know of course that YOU are one of the Fabulous Small Jews.”

But everyone here, his friends and his family, knows that it is true.

Ira Berkow