GORDON WHITE: 'Killer Bees' Still Making Headlines
Three decades before the Houston Astros laid claim to the original quartet of Killer Bees in baseball, Syracuse University's basketball team had a fast striking, high-scoring pair of Killer Bee basketball guards from 1963-1966.
They were Dave Bing and Jim Boeheim, who kick-started the Orange from basketball obscurity to what eventually became the perennial national power we are familiar with today. And that was only the beginning of very successful lives for these two Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame gentlemen.
Bing, the better of these two excellent backcourt players, made recent headlines on Election Day, Nov. 3, when he easily won a full, four-year term as mayor of Detroit.
Then Boeheim made headlines eight days later on Veterans Day when Syracuse University whipped Robert Morris from Moon Township, Pa., 100-60. That was Boeheim's 800th victory as the Syracuse head basketball coach.
Bing, a 65-year-old former NBA star with the Detroit Pistons and then a very prosperous business man in the Motor City, won a special election for Detroit mayor last May 5, beating interim mayor Kenneth Cockrel. That special vote came about because Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick resigned in September of 2008 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and pleading no contest to an assault charge. Sentenced to 120 days in jail, he served 99 days.
The 64-year-old Boeheim, who has been the Syracuse head coach since 1976, became the eighth coach in NCAA Division I men's basketball to win 800 or more games. Not bad for a pretty good student from Lyons, a little town just 45 miles west of Syracuse in upstate New York. He was not recruited for his basketball talent and was a walk-on player at Syracuse.
Bing, on the other hand, was a nifty, high-scoring guard from Washington, D.C., who was highly recruited. Bing, Boeheim and a new head coach, Fred Lewis, decided Syracuse was the place for them in 1962.
This brought on the dawn of a great new day for Orange basketball, and there has been no looking back since.
I had the good fortune to cover many games in which Bing and Boeheim combined to lead Syracuse to victory, including their next to last time as a pair of Killer Bees, March 11, 1966. That was a 94-78 trouncing of Coach Lefty Driesell's Davidson team in the old N.C. State drill shed, Reynolds Coliseum, during the NCAA East Regional semifinals.
The following night, Bing, Boeheim and Syracuse lost the final game of these two players' college careers when Duke came from behind in a very fast-paced game and won, 91-81. This concluded a record-setting year for Syracuse during which the Orange fell just one point short of becoming the first major college team to average 100 points per game.
From then on it was off to the NBA for Bing and off to a coaching career for Boeheim after a couple of years in the minors at Scranton of the American Basketball League.
Bing played his way into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a collegiate All-American, averaging over 28 points per game in 1965-66 and then averaging over 20 points a game in seven of his 12 NBA years playing with the Pistons, the Washington Bullets and the Boston Celtics. He entered the Hall in 1990. In 1996 Bing was named one of the NBA's 50 best players in history.
Following his NBA days, a few years of unsuccessful jobs in banks and steel companies went by before Bing started up a steel company of his own. He was sort of a middle man getting pressed steel products from the giant steel companies to the automobile manufacturers.
Within a few months the Bing Steel Company was making millions. In 1984 President Ronald Reagan gave Bing the National Small Business Person of the Year Award. The following year Bing's company, employing 63 people, recorded revenues over $40 million.
He may now be taking on the most difficult task he ever faced as he is the head man at Detroit's city hall. This once proud industrial city that was the heart of the American rust belt has the highest unemployment rate (just under 30 percent) of any of the major cities in a nation suffering from that malady as never before in the lifetime of many of our citizens.
Bing has no easy road to travel. Also, the Bing Steel Company must be suffering since it depends upon the success of the American auto industry.
But one thing is certain. Detroit finally has an honest mayor who won't end up in jail.
Boeheim, a man I know well after covering him as a player and coach for years, is one of the toughest and most competitive coaches you will find. But so are all of the other 800-plus winning coaches.
Bobby Knight with the men's Division I record of 902 victories (Army, Indiana and Texas Tech) and one of his earliest and best guards at Army, Mike Krzyzewski, who started this season with 833 coaching triumphs (Army and Duke) are also tenacious and brilliant coaches.
Boeheim was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005 with a Big East Conference friend and colleague and one of the other 800-game winning coaches, Jim Calhoun, who began this season with 805 victories (Northeastern and Connecticut).
The other 800-victory coaches in Division I men's basketball are Dean Smith of North Carolina, 879; Adolph Rupp of Kentucky, 876; Jim Phelan of Mt. St. Mary's, 830; and Eddie Sutton, who had 804 victories coaching Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky, San Francisco and Oklahoma State. All of these coaches are in the Hall of Fame.
Coincidentally, Bing and Boeheim ended their collegiate careers during the 1965-66 season, which was the first or rookie head coaching season for Bobby Knight at Army and the plebe or freshman year at West Point for Mike Krzyzewski.
Boeheim's record at Syracuse is truly amazing. Although schooled as a player to run and gun in a fast Syracuse offense that produced high scores, Boeheim, like Knight and his student, Krzyzewski, always emphasizes defense. His Syracuse special form of defense is just about the best zone defense around. Boeheim's teams are also rather high-scoring teams. In a perfect world, the Syracuse zone sets up the fast break offense for high scores.
The results have added up over the years and his star players are among the famous college athletes of recent decades. These include Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, John Wallace, Billy Owens, Sherman Douglas and Derrick Coleman.
An independent university when Boeheim played and when he started as head coach, Syracuse became a charter member of the Big East Conference in 1979. The following year, Syracuse moved home games from the dusty, old Manley Field House into the Carrier Dome, which seats about 33,000 for basketball. This is the largest on-campus basketball arena in the nation.
In Boeheim's 33 seasons as head coach, Syracuse has played in three NCAA Championship games, winning the National Title in 2003 by beating Kansas, after losing to Indiana by a point at the buzzer in 1987 and to Kentucky in 1996. His Orange teams have been in 25 NCAA tournaments, have won seven Big East regular season titles and five Big East Tournament championships.
Boeheim served as assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski for the United States team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
But I believe Boeheim's biggest victory of all was his recovery from prostate cancer along with a similar survival by Jim Calhoun which led to their continuing efforts to help cancer patients through the Coaches against Cancer program.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
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