Author: Gus Alfieri
Year: 2006
Pages: 300
Amazon: Lapchick

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.

Litty’s Take

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.



Blue Blood

Author: Art Chansky
Year: 2005
Pages: 357. A typical sports book. Pretty quick once you get going.
Rating: 77/100. Doesn't capture the magic of the rivalry.
Amazon: Blue Blood

Blue Blood traces the history of the college basketball rivalry between Duke and North Carolina over the last fifty years. Despite being only eight miles apart on Tobacco Road the schools are radically different. Duke is an exclusive private school attended by northern transplants (including the youngest Litvack) with a basketball coach, Coach K, who is a living legend. Carolina is a public institution that embodies the entire state and has rebounded to regain its spot among the elite programs in the nation under new coach Roy Williams who carries on the legacy of Dean Smith. The book does a nice job of chronologically telling the story of how the two teams have see-sawed for dominance of Tobacco Road as well as their impact on the national stage.

Some of the most interesting chapters aren't that well-known, such as when the Larry Brown led Tar Heels battled Ary Heyman and the Blue Devils in the early 60's. Both Brown and Heyman were jewish kids from neighboring towns in Long Island. Both were highly recruited and both had a disdain for the other which boiled over into a huge brawl in Cameron Indoor Stadium on a snowy night in 1961.

Chansky also chronicles both teams in the 90's, a decade in which each team reached the Final Four five teams. Perhaps the most enlightening chapters discuss the post-Smith years at Carolina with the Matt Dougherty fiasco leading to Roy Williams finally taking the job and bringing a national championship back to Carolina.

Litty's Take

As a college basketball fanatic I've always had a special affinity for the Duke-Carolina saga. It always seemed so special and so different from a professional sports rivalry. If I was able to attend or watch only one college basketball game a year it would definitely be Duke-Carolina in Durham over any other game. I was hoping Chansky would bring me into the rivalry and explain it's magic. I wanted to learn about Jordan on campus, Leittner and Hurly at Duke and the legend of Dean Smith. What I got was a lot of bland stories about the coaches and the outcomes of each season.

I wouldn't recommend this book unless you were dying to get more Duke-Carolina info. If you are a Duke or Carolina fan you already know all of Chansky's stories. If you're a college basketball fan who just wants to better understand the rivalry I would recommend you get some tapes of classic Duke-UNC games and see for yourself what it's all about.


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