There are a handful of one-name icons in our culture. That status is helped if the one-word name is unique so “which Joe?” is unnecessary. “Tiger” …. “Madonna” …. “Rush” …. “Babe” and, so I thought, “Wilt”. A seminal moment in sports history (and a generation of fans) takes a humbling hit.
Lennie Rosenbluth was in Chapel Hill last week. Not everyone who reads this column is a UNC sports fan or even a college sports fan. Jeannie and Debbie down in Dallas think Dean’s last name is “Dome” and wonder how “a Christian” could be a famous Devil.
To say “Lennie Rosenbluth” expecting instant recognition across the subscriber spectrum is ludicrous ….. and germane to the story I am about to unfold. Lennie Rosenbluth was the star player on UNC’s legendary undefeated (32-0) 1957 National Champion team. He was National Player Of The Year and his jersey is on “the front row” in the rafters. Lennie’s exploits along with his teammates and Coach Frank McGuire rival only “Choo Choo” among the light blue nation. At least a segment of said nation.
Prince Albert invited Lennie to our Thursday get-together in Kenan’s “Alamo”. That gathering has grown to 60+ now in numbers (and average age). Compared to Anne Frank’s Attic, we do our religious thing not unlike a Boston Red Sox fan club meeting in the Bronx.
UNC Womens BB Coach Sylvia Hatchell had asked Lennie to drop by practice to give a pep talk to her #2 ranked team as they prepare to meet #1 UCONN this Monday. Following our meeting, Prince Albert, Lennie, Dr Danny and yours truly went over to Dean’s Dome.
Descending into the labyrinthian depths of the fabled hoop palace, we came thru the same portal used by ORW and his modern day warriors and on to the fabled floor. Sylvia saw us immediately and motioned us out to midcourt. She read her team a thumbnail of Lennie’s exploits, pointing out his jersey “on the front row”.
It was then that I first noticed the expressions on the faces of the 15 girls on the #2 ranked Tar Heel Womens BB squad. Recall as a child when your mom would introduce you to your Aunt Sophie’s second husband Bert ….. and all you could think about was that he wore really really strong cologne.
Lennis Rosenbluth is a giant figure in Tar Heel sports annals at 6’6” (closer to 6’5”) but now is 75. Unlike most former athletes, Lennie is not noticeably crippled by arthritic knees and hips attributable to a short NBA career. By his late 20s, Lennie was a high school teacher and coach ….. now he’s a 75 y/o Jewish guy telling tales from yesteryear to a team of 95% African-American girls born around 1988 ….. six years after MJ hit the jumper against Georgetown and 31 years after little Tommy Kearns jumped center against “Wilt” in Kansas City.
Sylvia’s girls had two thoughts on their mind ….. (1) this gets us out of running drills …. (2) do we still get our water break ….. as Lennie Rosenbluth described those back-back triple overtime victories. Knowing the details by heart, I still got goosebumps as Lennie recounted them. ….. The 20 y/o girls got a break from running drills.
Dr Danny (Lotz), Lennie’s teammate (and a key contributor in the victory over “Wilt”) gave an anecdote as did Prince Albert Long. I chose the significance of Castleman D. Chesley to history. “C.D.” arranged to have the games telecast live back to North Carolina; quite revolutionary in 1957. The drama of those two nights viewed by a spellbound audience from Murphy to Manteo lit the fuse to the phenomenon of ACC Basketball taken for granted in 2009. ….. All pretty cool stuff you’d think.
Coach McGuire’s mind trick having Kearns jump center is a key element in the mosaic known as ACC Basketball lore. It ranks with David Thompson’s high fall in Reynolds vs Pitt. To appreciate either, one key in each scenario has to be taken for granted ……. How high David could jump in the one case ….. and Who/what is a “Wilt”?
Sylvia’s assistant coach, Charlotte Smith, is DT’s cousin so she surely knew David was “The Skywalker” ….. but “what’s a Wilt?” …… of the 30 or so players, coaches, staff and whozits on the floor of Dean’s Dome on Thursday last ….. that bit of trivia was known only to a former player of the year ….. a retired dentist …. UNC’s last 4-sport letterman …. and an Internet Legend ….. all four of whom were feeling very very old in the moment.
Thanks to Father Time and The Grim Reaper, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain has gained the anonymity that Life denied him.
So has it always been with the passing of a generation ….. BUT its never been MY GENERATION that passed before !!!!! ….. AAARGGH.