The Jewish and African American Team That Revolutionized Basketball

Jan. 20 2020

In the spring of 1950, the City College of New York (CCNY) basketball team won an upset victory over the University of Kentucky’s top-ranked team. The CCNY team, composed entirely of blacks and Jews, beat its all-white, all-Gentile rivals—some of whom refused to shake hands with their opponents before the game began—with a final score of 89 to 50. Reviewing Matthew Goodman’s The City Game, about this particular City College team, Rich Cohen writes:

It was not just the manner of victory, the fact that CCNY was a team with a revolutionary style characterized by the fast break, [a rapid switch from defense to offense] that reflected the speed and panache of the city playgrounds. Nor was it the David-versus-Goliath nature of the triumph, the fact that CCNY, a tuition-free refuge for ethnic overachievers who’d been quota-ed out of the Ivy League, had taken down the basketball elite. It was that this game, coming at a time when being black or Jewish was exactly the wrong thing to be, seemed less a meeting of schools than a clash of civilizations: old versus new, South versus North, prejudice versus tolerance.

In the summer, many top college players worked as waiters in the Catskills—the Hotel Brickman, Young’s Gap Hotel, Klein’s Hillside Hotel, Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club, the Ambassador Hotel, which “dispensed with individual recruiting and just imported the entire Bradley starting five from Peoria.” Of course, their real job was basketball. They were ringers, brought in to play in the local league and entertain the guests (Wilt Chamberlain had a gig like this at Kutsher’s a few years later).

A strength of Goodman’s book is the way it conjures up the lost worlds of New York. The Catskills, a/k/a the Jewish Alps; the tenements, with their Yiddish-filled hallways and starch-heavy meals, “brisket and roast chicken, and potato latkes, and stuffed cabbage and kugel, washed down with glasses of seltzer and cherry soda”; the Harlem streets, where the numbers game was a neighborhood obsession; the playgrounds, where everyone played basketball because basketball required little space and just one ball, making it the most democratic game.

Those hotels were also where the players—themselves eager to make some money off the sport—met the bookies and gamblers who would eventually bring them into a point-shaving scandal that left them in disgrace.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: African Americans, American Jewish History, New York City, Sports

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy