Dambrot Death and the 1950 CCNY Double Championship
When Texas suffered two defeats over a week ago, Kentucky remained the only undefeated major college basketball team and was therefore ranked No. 1 in the nation last Monday. But within less than 36 hours, Kentucky fell, 68-62, to the unranked South Carolina Gamecocks (13-8), who have been crowing loudly ever since.
Another very highly ranked Kentucky team went through a similar experience 60 years ago when it was upset by unranked and lightly regarded City College of New York (CCNY) during the 1950 National Invitation Tournament. That game was one big step during CCNY's record run toward becoming the only team in history to win both the NIT and NCAA titles in the same season.
CCNY's young, native New Yorkers were the toast of the Big Apple just a few short months before all of these glorious achievements were trampled under the ugly reality of the first big college basketball point-shaving scandal.
Although 1950 was the 13th year of the NIT and the 12th for the NCAA Championship, it was only the second year the Associated Press ranked major college basketball teams. Kentucky was ranked No. 3 behind No. 1 Bradley and No. 2 Ohio State when the two tournaments made their selections in March of 1950.
In those days, only eight teams were named to the NCAA tournament with one from each of the eight NCAA regions. Coach Adolph Rupp's Kentucky team, which had won the 1948 and 1949 NCAA titles, was shunted aside by the NCAA selection committee, which named N.C. State from that region. The Wolfpack was ranked No. 5. But Kentucky and not N.C. State was named to the 12-team field for the NIT, which was the more prestigious of the two tournaments in those days.
Both of these 1950 tournaments were held in New York City's Madison Square Garden where, during an 18-day span, March 11-28, CCNY won seven games in a row to take both titles.
Coach Nat Holman's CCNY team was picked for the NIT even though it had a 17-5 record during the regular season, was not ranked among the top 20 teams by the AP and started four sophomores and one senior.
That lone senior, Irwin Dambrot, who was born and raised in the Bronx and led CCNY to both of those 1950 tournament victories, died 10 days ago at age 81.
Kentucky received a first-round bye in the 1950 NIT but never advanced. CCNY, which beat the University of San Francisco, 65-46, in the first round, trounced heavily favored Kentucky, 89-50, in the second round. Dambrot had the game high of 20 points as Kentucky suffered its worst defeat since the university started playing intercollegiate basketball in 1903.
CCNY moved on by beating Duquesne, 62-52, in the semifinals.
Then, on March 18, 1950, in a thrilling title game at MSG, City College beat the nation's No. 1-ranked team, Bradley, 69-61, for the NIT championship in the biggest upset in the history of that tournament. Dambrot led all scorers with 24 points.
That victory earned CCNY a bid to the NCAA tourney. Thus, 10 days after beating Bradley in the 13th NIT final, Dambrot led the Beavers to another championship game victory over the team from Peoria, Ill., 71-68. The second time around proved to be an even more exciting game than the first one.
With 57 seconds remaining, the 6-foot, 4-inch Dambrot scored his seventh and final basket. Then, with 30 seconds to go and Bradley trailing by only one point, Dambrot blocked a layup by Gene Melchiorre, Bradley's All-American star and the game's leading scorer with 16 points. Dambrot recovered the ball and tossed way up court to Norm Mager, who scored the basket that assured CCNY of its second national title in less than a fortnight.
Oh, how New York City cheered its Beavers from 137th Street and Broadway, particularly the five starters - Dambrot, Ed Warner, Ed Roman, Floyd Layne and Al Roth. Mayor William O'Dwyer honored them at a City Hall rally.
Unfortunately, all of this glory melted away when those five CCNY starters plus Melchiorre and many other college players were arrested in 1951 for taking bribes to shave points in games during the 1949-50 regular season. Two of CCNY's subs, Norm Mager and Herb Cohen, were also arrested in the sweeping investigation led by New York City's district attorney, Frank Hogan.
Kentucky's Bill Spivey was implicated in such misdeeds although never arrested while three of Kentucky's leading players on the 1948 and 1949 NCAA championship teams -Alex Groza, Dale Barnstable and Ralph Beard - were arrested for accepting bribes to fix the score of the 1949 NIT game against Loyola of Chicago. They did too good a job shaving points as favored Kentucky lost the game.
This fixing scandal was like a metastasizing cancer sweeping through intercollegiate basketball programs in the East, South and Midwest. But New York City paid the heaviest price as most basketball fans felt, with some justification, that the whole criminal conspiracy to fix the outcome of college games was centered within the New York mob. Some of its members were arrested and sent to prison for being the fixers.
The other colleges with players involved in the 1951 point-shaving conspiracies were Long Island University, New York University, Manhattan College and the University of Toledo, where all charges against four players were dropped.
All seven CCNY players arrested pleaded guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy charges. Six received suspended sentences while Ed Warner was sentenced to six months in prison.
Bradley also had a total of seven players arrested with three, including Melchiorre, getting suspended sentences. The other four were acquitted.
Dambrot was arrested in February of 1951 while attending Columbia University dental school. He went on to a lengthy career practicing dentistry in Queens and Manhattan.
Floyd Layne became the basketball coach at City College during the 1970s and 1980s. Ed Roman, who died of leukemia in 1988, helped emotionally disturbed children after receiving a doctorate degree in psychology. Ed Warner, who died in 2002, became a high school basketball referee and counselor for youth recreation programs throughout New York City. Al Roth entered the Army and, after discharge, finished City College business school and became an insurance executive in Westchester County, New York.
Maybe the best thing to remember about CCNY and Kentucky of 60 years ago is that in each case, the player involved grew up to live a decent, worthwhile life following actions that could well have ruined stronger men than these misguided youngsters.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is email@example.com
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