Family, friends, and contemporaries of Joe Lapchick all came together Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Queens campus’ Little Theater at Carnesecca Arena, to honor and discuss the life of the legendary coach.
As a member of the “Original Celtics” basketball team of the 1920s, Lapchick was considered a pioneer, as he was one of the first agile big men to play the pivot. He continued on to a Hall of Fame coaching career, including a 334-130 career mark and four National Invitational Tournament championships. In addition to his successes at St. John’s, Lapchick helped lead the Knicks to three consecutive championship appearances in the 1950s.
Dubbed the Joe Lapchick Symposium, the event consisted of a two-panel discussion featuring many of the coach’s former players, colleagues and friends.
Lapchick’s son, Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of the National Consortium for Academics and Sport opened the conference with a rare look into the life of his father and the roles he played in the formation of the NBA and its integration of African-American players and coaches.
“Dad was an ambassador of the game and a human rights activist,” Lapchick said. “He was all about justice and breaking down the racial barriers of the NBA as he endured racial epithets from fans who would call our house to voice their displeasure with his stance.”
Moderated by New York sports personality Phil Pepe, the first panel, “Joe Lapchick, Player and Coach,” discussed Lapchick’s successes as a pioneering coach and his lifelong connections with former players and colleagues.
Members of this panel included former New York Renaissance basketball star John Isaacs, former St. John’s captain Jerry Houston, former St. John’s athlete and author of “Lapchick: The Life of a Legendary Player and Coach in the Glory Days of Basketball” Gus Alfieri, and former Knicks all-star and NBA Hall-of-Famer Dick McGuire.
“He wasn’t like the coaches of today; how they holler and scream,” Isaacs said. “He was compassionate and talked to the team just like he was, like men.”
Alfieri also had fond memories of Lapchick, as he disclosed some of the unconventional motivational ploys the late coach used.
“[After a dispute with another teammate] he took a bakery string and told me to break it, in which I did,” said Alfieri. “He then took five strings and tied them together, instructing me to try it again. As you can guess I couldn’t do it. That day he illustrated to me the strength of a team working as one.”
After a short video presentation, “Joe Lapchick: The Man” was discussed. Longtime New York Daily News columnist and sports cartoonist Bill Gallo, legendary broadcaster Bob Wolff, former Knick Ray Lumpp, and former St. John’s Athletic Director Jack Kaiser all took part in recalling fond memories and stories of Lapchick the individual.
“Joe Lapchick was one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” Gallo said. “He was more than a coach. He was a teacher, a philosopher and a babysitter.”
Former coach and legend in his own right Lou Carnesecca closed out the symposium. Carnesecca, an assistant under Lapchick, said the lessons he learned from his head coach have lasted throughout his illustrious career.
“Never teach a dirty trick, always be a pro, show class, present your product as the best,” he said. “If Joe Lapchick would’ve never bounced a basketball, he still would have been a success.”