A college basketball Cinderella story that turned into a scandalous tale.
The 1949-1950 City College team achieved a feat no other has or almost certainly ever will: The Beavers won the NCAA and the National Invitational Tournament in the same season. This double national championship run was improbable in part because the parochial, academic-focused college in Manhattan consisted of African American and Jewish players in an otherwise mostly segregated, WASPy sports world. However, even years after the Beavers’ legendary season, the team would come to be viewed as more infamous than famous, as prominent City College players admitted to accepting bribes from gamblers to shave points during games in that and the subsequently tumultuous 1951-1952 season. Goodman (Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, 2013, etc.) takes on the story more as a historian than sportswriter, and readers will be grateful for that. The author describes much of the on-court play-by-play with hackneyed language common for the genre. The notable exception is a memorable chapter on the Beavers’ defeat of the University of Kentucky, coached by segregationist Adolph Rupp, who once said, “the Lord never meant for a white boy to play with a colored boy…else he wouldn’t have painted them different colors.” Most of the riveting action unfolds outside the arena, in the halls of government and through the hands of bookies; here, Goodman is at his scene-setting best. While he occasionally provides more detail than is necessary, he smoothly shapes readable narratives of a deep roster of characters, including coaches (Goodman paints Hall of Fame head coach Nat Holman as a hands-off figurehead and assistant Bobby Sand as a sympathetic workhorse), politicians, police, detectives, organized criminals, and, of course, players (with focus on the lives and achievements of Eddie Roman, Ed Warner, and Floyd Lane).
Basketball fans are not the only readers who will be edified by this significant slice of New York City history.