CCNY double top moment in college hoops at Garden
Nothing was going to keep Irwin Dambrot from making one more visit to Madison Square Garden.
His ongoing battle with Parkinson's, a broken hip in a summer fall, a bout of pneumonia, those things didn't stand a chance at keeping the 81-year-old Dambrot from Wednesday's announcement at The Garden of the top 10 moments in the 75 years college basketball has been played in what's known as ``The World's Most Famous Arena.''
Two hours before the ceremony was to begin, a medical transporter pulled up to the loading ramp on 33rd Street. Dambrot had arrived, bundled in an oversize sweater and a blanket in a wheelchair, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him.
But when CCNY's ``double'' of winning the NIT and NCAA tournament in a two-week span in 1950 was announced as the No. 1 moment, Dambrot and the other two members of the team present - Floyd Layne and Ron Nadell - shared a minute together.
``I can't explain it,'' Layne said, welling up with tears as he rubbed Dambrot's arm. ``It's my brother.''
Dambrot was the MVP of the NCAA tournament that year. It's only been recently that he has struggled with his health. It became a fight to make sure he was present for the big announcement.
``We got a call from Madison Square Garden in September saying they were doing this, and then they sent him a letter about it,'' said Katrin Dambrot, his former wife and current primary caregiver. ``That letter meant so much to him. Wherever we went for rehabilitation, that letter came with us and it became the marching orders for everybody - get him here for today. Until a few weeks ago we really didn't know if he would make it.''
Katrin said Dambrot understands everything going on around him, he just can't respond well to it.
``This was his first trip outside like this since July,'' Katrin said. ``When I told him yesterday that we were going to The Garden, he said 'Make sure you bring my uniform.'''
No other team has ever won the double titles and none ever will. The year after CCNY did it, the rule was changed about allowing a school to play in both tournaments.
The next year was a crushing one for CCNY as seven of the 12 players on the team were implicated in a point-shaving scandal involving games played before the two tournaments. The players pleaded guilty and were given suspended sentences.
They all stayed in touch over the years.
``We were always close. We were always the same,'' said Layne, who still coaches high school basketball in New York City and said eight players from that team are still living. ``We bonded then, we bond now. We will always bond.
``This shows you can go back. It makes you feel great and you get to remember a wonderful feeling.''
The second moment on the list happened just nine months ago when Syracuse beat Connecticut 127-117 in six overtimes in the Big East quarterfinals.
The others included Oscar Robertson's 56-point effort against Seton Hall in 1958, Joe Lapchick's last game as coach of St. John's in the 1965 NIT championship game, Walter Berry's block of Pearl Washington at the buzzer that gave St. John's the 1986 Big East championship over Syracuse and ``The Sweater Game,'' when Georgetown coach John Thompson upstaged St. John's Lou Carnesecca and his ugly sweater before their teams met in 1985 in a 1-vs.-2 matchup.
``To show you how naive I was, I always thought this place was a real garden with flowers and such,'' said Robertson, who was from Indianapolis, ``I look around here and I realize magic basketball is Madison Square Garden basketball. Everyone being honored here today is a No. 1 moment because they put their heart and soul into it.''
Carnesecca has seen more than his share of games at both the old Garden and the current one, which opened in 1968, as a high school coach, an assistant to Lapchick and then 24 seasons in charge of St. John's.
``This is a great building,'' the Hall of Famer said. ``There are many great buildings, but unless you played here, you haven't played anywhere.''