Author: Gus Alfieri
Lapchick is the biography of Joe Lapchick – a basketball pioneer in the first half of the twentieth century and more importantly a legendary coach at St. John’s. The book is authored by Gus Alfieri, a sports columnist who played for Lapchick at St. John’s in the 50’s.
The theme of the book is that Lapchick was a gentleman with a tremendous amount of respect for others and for the game of basketball. He understood people and built lifelong relationships with teammates, players, coaches, journalists and fans. Lapchick’s accomplishments as both a player and coach are distinguished. He was a member of the original World Champion Celtics, won four national titles at St. John’s and was the first coach of the New York Knicks. But it was how Lapchick lived his life that seems to be most commendable and gives the reader a sense that Lapchick would have been successful at whatever he did in life.
Alfieri sheds light on more than a few fascinating and somewhat underexposed topics in basketball history. He writes extensively about the barnstorming days in the 20’s and 30’s and the formation of professional basketball leagues. He also covers the point-shaving scandals that tarnished college basketball in the 1950’s, the prominence of the NIT as the major post-season college basketball tournament and the emergence of black players in the NBA led in part by Sweetwater Clifton for the Knicks (under Lapchick’s realm). Even as a serious basketball fan with a good knowledge of the game I was in the dark on most of these topics.
As a diehard St. John’s fan, a self proclaimed Redmen aficionado, I had often heard the name Joe Lapchick. I used to attend the annual Lapchick tournament at Alumni Hall growing up. But I knew very little about the coach or about St. John’s history before the Louie Carnesecca era. So it was great for me to learn about Lapchick and read about how St. John’s was at the center of the NYC and college basketball scene (something I can only dream about these days). I often boast, somewhat facetiously, that St. John’s is a six time national champion (of the NIT tournament). In the 1940’s and 50’s the NIT was more established and desirable than the NCAA tournament. St. John’s won the tournament four times in this period. Alfieri deftly explains how the NIT was the IT tournament of the day and any how the Garden became the Mecca of sports.
I also learned about the Redmen stars of the era including Sony Dove and Alan Seiden, names that were nothing more than words in the SJU record book. It was special to read about the start of Louie career as an assistant to Lapchick and the controversial way in which he replaced the former coach. Lapchick’s days of head coach of the Knicks also was a primer in the early history of my favorite professional basketball team.
I’m lucky to read the book knowing most of this history would probably have been swept away if somebody didn’t come along and chronicle it the way Alfieri did. In some ways it seemed to me that writing the book just for me.
Best of all, the book was given to me as a holiday present by my Mom. Pretty cool that she somehow knew than I would enjoy it more than even I did.