St. John’s bestowed Legacy Honors on its 10 greatest basketball players and coaches during banner-raising ceremonies at both Carnesecca Arena and Madison Square Garden last weekend.
While other programs such as Duke, Kansas and UCLA have honored their all-time great players in similar fashion, the occasion was one that was a long time in the making for St. John’s.
“St. John’s has so much [tradition] that it was almost criminal not to recognize that,” honoree Mark Jackson said. “But thank God the people that are in that position to make the decisions, they put together a heckuva group.”
The inaugural class consists of Walter Berry, Lloyd “Sonny” Dove, Mark Jackson, Tony Jackson, Dick McGuire, Malik Sealy, Alan Seiden and Mullin and two coaches, Joe Lapchick and Lou Carnesecca. Red and silver banners baring each individual’s name were unveiled during a private ceremony at Carnesecca Arena Friday night and again Saturday afternoon during half time of St. John’s upset of then undefeated Pittsburgh at the Garden. Each of the honorees attended or was represented by family members at the ceremonies.
The banners in Carnesecca also include the players’ numbers and the years they played. St. John’s, however, is maintaining its policy of not retiring numbers. The banners will hang in the arenas each time St. John’s plays there.
“It gives the recruits something to say, ‘One day I want to be hanging up there,'” said Mark Jackson, the school’s all-time leader in assists. “‘Look at those guys. Look at what they’ve accomplished. I want to have my name and number hanging up in the rafters at St. John’s.'”
A committee of key administrators, coaches and other members of the men’s basketball family selected the honorees not just on their individual athletic achievements but on their, citizenship, character and team success.
“Malik Sealy always represented St. John’s in a good way,” said Malik Jr., his 8-year-old son, Friday night. “He was like an ambassador for his school. St. John’s can never go wrong if they go after young men with my dad’s character and integrity.”
The men’s basketball program has been in existence for 99 seasons. It is fifth on the all-time list in wins, won a record six NIT titles, appeared in 27 NCAA tournaments and two Final Fours and won three Big East Championships.
Also 59 of its players have played for NBA teams, including all 10 of those honored in the first class.
“They are playing for the players that came before them,” said head coach Norm Roberts of this year’s team. “To respect that tradition, you have to play with pride when you put on that uniform.”
Others who have worm St. John’s on their chests will eventually be included into this elite group and have their names enshrined forever in the arenas they helped fill.
“This is going to be an ongoing thing because there are many more out there,” Carnesecca said. “Our history is rich. So many great players.”