Growing up whenever it came to sports my siblings and I were almost always chasing in the shadow of my father. He succeeded at a high level in three different sports.
I grew up in a sports-crazy family on both sides. My father Ron is often dubbed the greatest Jewish athlete that most of his peers have ever seen. He was on the first Final Four basketball team at Louisville, was a top ranked professional racquetball player in the 1970's and played in the Maccabi games in tennis in the 45 and over bracket in 1985.
He was also successful in several 16" softball leagues when I was very young.has also been inducted into three separate Chicago Sports Halls of Fame. He's in the Chicago Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Chicago Public League Hall of Fame and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
My father has been inducted into three separate Chicago Sports Halls of Fame. He's in the Chicago Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Chicago Public League Hall of Fame and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. From what I remember I was at all three induction ceremonies.
I don't really remember the CJS induction. I vaguely remember the public league induction ceremony. The CSHoF I remember well. It was about five years ago. The keynote speaker was Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari. My dad went up to him and what I thought would have been an awkward meeting, my dad said was very warm and cordial.
His accomplishments in three different sports at its highest levels are more than most athletes who play professionals. Even Michael Jordan failed when he tried to play professional baseball.
Despite being the greatest player in the history of basketball, Jordan proved his flaws attempting a career in baseball after the murder of his own father.
In his one season with the White Sox AA team in 1994 Jordan hit .202 with three home runs, and 51 RBIs. He only had a .289 on-base percentage .266 slugging percentage and a .556 OPS.
My dad played three seasons at Louisville. In 1959 when they made the Final Four for the first time, he averaged 7.3 points per game. He only played in 12 games that season because of an injury.
UofL finished that season 19-12. They played the Final Four on their home floor at Freedom Hall. The NCAA had a consolation game to teams that lost in the regional and national semifinals until 1981.
Louisville lost by 15 to West Virginia and Jerry West in the National Semifinal. They followed that up with a 13 point loss to Cincinnati led by Oscar Robertson in the consolation game for third place Nationally.
He related a story to his childhood friend and Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Ira Berkow of the New York Times about Robertson. The story appeared in Berkow's book To the Hoop.
"Louisville's Coach Peck Hickman told the team that "(Oscar) Robertson puts his Jockstrap on the same way you guys do".
Berkow relayed that UL has lost the game by 25 points. Robertson according to Berkow "Scored at will, passed at will, rebounded at will, stole the ball at will".
My dad doesn't talk a lot about his past accomplishments. He is not a person that likes to reminisce or live in the past. Berkow is always someone he spoke about growing up. Mr. Berkow wrote me a letter of recommendation to Ohio University when I was applying to college.
I was fortunate enough to meet him when he spoke in Chicago a few years ago. I was able to take my son to hear him speak. My parents saw him at a function the night before.
My dad had always considered Robertson the best player ever. When most were considering Jordan the best player ever, my dad stuck with the Big O throughout the eighties. It wasn't until the Bulls title teams that my Dad anointed MJ the greatest ever.
He doesn't give out compliments easily, especially when it comes to sports. I knew from someone that had been on the court with possibly the greatest player ever and the logo that MJ was truly great.
One of my Dad's teammates who he frequently spoke about growing up was Bud Olsen. Olsen was Bill Russell's backup with the Boston Celtics at center with John Thompson during their title runs of the 1960s.
Olsen related to Berkow what my dad thought about their Coach's statement about Roberston.
"I don't care what coach says, Robertson has to put his jockstrap on differently...and I still believe it"
His best season at Louisville came during his Junior season. He was the Cardinals third leading scorer. UL finished 15-11, the only season they missed the NCAA Tournament during his three in college.
He averaged 12.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG and shot 75.1 percent from the free throw line. He averaged more than Olsen who had an eight-year NBA Career. My Dad is 6'0 tall, Olsen was 6'8 220 during his playing career.
His Senior year he averaged only 6.6 points game. After missing the tournament run as a Sophomore, he was able to play in Louisville's three NCAA Tournament games as a Senior. He scored 12 points on four of seven from the floor in their first round victory over Ohio University. Ironically the same school that Berkow would write the recommendation letter for me.
Louisville was eliminated in the next round by Ohio State. They won their consolation game against Morehead State. That was his last game in college.
College was not the end of my Dad's athletic journey. In many ways, it was still beginning....
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