1965—The Genesis Of It All

In the summer of 1965, the New York World’s Fair was winding down its second and final season to its scheduled close on October 17th.  Its noble theme, Peace Through Understanding, weathered attacks from those rebellious few who noticed the conspicuous absence of any communist nation, as well as from the civil rights activists who threatened to block traffic with a planned Stall-In.  Luckily for the mass of visitors already tarrying in barely tolerable traffic on the Grand Central Parkway, the Stall-In itself stalled; though without  bucking the Fair’s theme, the Congress on Racial Equality did peacefully demonstrate for an understanding of note: “The melancholy contrast between the idealized fantasy world of the fair and the real world of brutality, prejudice, and violence in which the American Negro is forced to live.”

American Negro and Surrealist poet, Bob Kaufman, was in his unique way—some would say in the way of a madman (the French paid tribute to his intemperance by calling him the black Rimbaud)—a poet of the black consciousness movement and recognized as a major figure in the Beat Generation of writers and poets active on the poetry scenes of San Francisco’s North Beach and New York City’s Greenwich Village.  A pioneer of political and social activism through his poetry, he was the original Beatnik as the term was purportedly coined by columnist Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle to describe Kaufman, who was often persecuted by local authorities for his improvised recitations of poetry while perched on the hoods of cars or on coffeehouse tabletops.  Along with Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, he was on the forefront of the literary renaissance of the Beats.  During the summer of 1965 one wouldn’t be able to hear much from poet Kaufman who, after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, took a Buddhist vow of silence, a protest of sorts during which he refused to speak or write so long as the Vietnam War continued.

During the late summer of 1965 in New York City, Norma Becker, a civil rights activist who had previously organized the Teacher’s Committee for Peace in Vietnam, helped create a coalition of many activist groups, liberal left and mainstream, and formed the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee.  Among other things, they planned to march on October 16th, on the day before the official close of the World’s Fair, during the October International Days of Protest, itself the first event sponsored by the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam.

Joining the coalition was the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, which early that summer held a New York City rally against the Vietnam War, attended by seventeen thousand people, at Madison Square Garden.  They rallied for a U.N. peace conference, and Dr. Benjamin Spock—yes, the baby doctor—led two thousand marchers to the United Nations building from Madison Square Garden.

The forty-year old Madison Square Garden on 49th Street and Eighth Avenue was at this time in the summer of 1965 already slated for teardown with construction for the new building already underway above Penn Station.  The Garden had long been home to college basketball’s National Invitational Tournament and the NBA’s New York Knicks, as well as traveling shows like the Barnum and Bailey Circus, Professional Wrestling, and The Harlem Globetrotters.

On December 30, 1964, The Garden, hosting a college basketball tournament known as The Holiday Festival, treated its fans—all 18,499 of them—to a show for the ages when Princeton met Michigan in a semifinal game which showcased the college game’s two most heralded players—Princeton’s Bill Bradley and Michigan’s Cazzie Russell.  With 4:37 left on the clock and Princeton comfortably leading by the score of 75-63, Bradley fouled out of the game after single-handedly leading Princeton to an upset of the nation’s top ranked team, by scoring forty-one points.  Play of the game was halted for more than two minutes to accommodate the appreciative crowd’s standing ovation for Bradley.  Unfortunately for Bradley and his fellow Tigers, Cazzie Russell and his Michigan teammates rallied for an 80-78 comeback victory.  In 1965, Bradley was the first basketball player to ever win the Sullivan Award given annually to the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete, and was also awarded a Rhodes Scholarship for postgraduate study at Oxford University in England.  Though the New York Knicks had selected him with the first pick of the NBA draft, he opted to study abroad for two years rather than immediately play professional basketball.

While Bill Bradley began his study in England in 1965, Jack Molinas, a Bronx schoolyard legend circa 1950, who starred as an All-America basketball player for Columbia University, sat in a jail cell at Attica State Prison in upstate New York, convicted and sentenced for 10-15 years for his part in a nationwide college basketball game-fixing scandal.  Molinas also was an NBA first round draft choice, but during an All-Star rookie season he was suspended in 1954 and barred for life from the NBA for betting on his own team.  During the summer of 1965, arrangements were being made to secretly move Molinas to Manhattan City prison to help the District Attorney investigate horse-race fixing scandals in metropolitan area harness race tracks.

The Rucker tournament, played every summer since 1946 on the blacktop of a playground at 7th Avenue and 129th Street in East Harlem, held its 1965 all-star game to benefit the widow of Holcombe Rucker, the founder of the famous outdoor basketball league bearing his name.  Connie Hawkins was named MVP.  Hawkins—considered by many as the most talented from New York City’s talent-rich playgrounds—was at the time banned from playing in the NBA because while in high school, he had the misfortune of having been introduced by the former playground hero, Jack Molinas, to one of Molinas’ partners in gambling, Joey Hacken who then coached one of the best independent basketball teams in the Bronx.  Tainted by Hacken and his involvement with the college basketball scandals, kicked out of college and banned from both professional leagues (the NBA and the Eastern League), Hawkins proved in that summer of 1965 Rucker game that he could compete with the best the NBA had to offer.  Unfortunately, Hawkins was then relegated to showcasing his enormous skills for the Harlem Globetrotters.

The Harlem Globetrotters are known around the world as basketball’s greatest show, blending outstanding talent with hilarious comedy; although when originally founded by Abe Saperstein in 1926, they were a serious barnstorming team of Negro players who weren’t afforded opportunities in the professional leagues of the time.  Once the comedy was added after Saperstein had trouble finding any legitimate competition willing to play his globetrotting team, their opening warm-up drill was always performed to the musical accompaniment of Sweet Georgia Brown.

In the late summer of 1965, The Dave Clark Five, a British rock and roll group riding high on the wave of Beatlemania sweeping America, released their eleventh charted single, Catch Us If You Can.  The song, remaining on the charts for a respectable nine weeks, peaking at number four, would one day soon replace Sweet Georgia Brown as the musical accompaniment for the opening warm-up drills for the Oldbrook Owls (a fictional high school basketball team featured in Marc Feinstein’s novel, Catch Us If You Can).