Friday, November 22, 2019

In Memoriam: Wat Misaka

Wat Misaka (1923-2019)

Wataru “Wat” Misaka, an Ogden native who was recognized as the first person of color to play in the NBA, died Wednesday in Salt Lake City, the University of Utah announced.

Misaka was 95.

A graduate of Ogden High School, Misaka played for Weber Junior College in his hometown and then joined the Utah program. The 5-foot-7 guard contributed to Utah’s victory over Dartmouth in the 1944 NCAA championship game at Madison Square Garden in New York and to the team’s 1947 NIT title, alongside Arnie Ferrin, who remained a lifelong friend.

“We achieved things that a lot of people never will,” Ferrin said Thursday. “He made us a better team and made me a better person. I can’t say I had anybody I enjoyed being around more than Wat."

Only later did Misaka recognize how he had inspired other Japanese Americans during World War II, as they were “really searching for their identity and to be accepted,” he once said.

A 2008 documentary titled “Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story” enabled even his former Utah teammates to understand more about what he went through in college, hearing racial taunts from fans and having his family endure harsh experiences.

“I’m not sure if we were aware of some of the pressures he had to overcome,” Ferrin once said.

That’s why Wisaka is remembered as being “bigger than the game of basketball,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement.

In his nine years on the job, Ute basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak became acquainted with Misaka, who regularly joined Ferrin at special events. Krystkowiak tweeted that Misaka “embodied such an amazing Ute spirit” and “remained close to the program during my time here, and will be deeply missed.”

The Utah High School Activities Association praised Misaka, whose “legacy helped promote inclusion through sports for underserved populations.”

Some accounts described Misaka as “Hawaiian,” as part of an apparent effort to protect him as he played in road games, but he thrived in New York in both the 1944 NCAA Tournament and 1947 NIT.

Having spent two years in the U.S. Army, including an assignment to Hiroshima after the bombing of the city, Misaka rejoined Utah’s basketball program for his senior year.

The Utes beat Kentucky for the NIT championship, with Misaka holding Wildcat star Ralph Beard to one point. Partly based on that performance, the New York Knicks of the league then called the Basketball Association of America signed Misaka (the BAA's final three years are considered part of the NBA's official history).

He played in only three games for the Knicks before being released. Having turned down an offer to join the Harlem Globetrotters, he returned to Utah and completed his degree in engineering.

Thanks largely to the documentary, Misaka’s role in NBA history as the first person of color came into focus in his mid-80s. In a promotional trip, he returned to New York for the first time since his brief Knicks tenure and visited the new Madison Square Garden.

Misaka received further attention in 2012 when Asian American guard Jeremy Lin made a sensational debut with the Knicks. And, in March 2019, when Gonzaga played in Salt Lake City in the NCAA Tournament, Bulldog star Rui Hachimura appreciated the opportunity to meet Misaka as a legendary Japanese American basketball player.

In his hometown, Ogden administrators renamed “Kilowatt Court” at Liberty Park in a 2018 ceremony, citing Misaka’s nickname. On Thursday, the City Council tweeted, “An Ogden legend, he served our country with courage, broke barriers through basketball and will be remembered for the example he set us all.”

Misaka is survived by a daughter a son. His wife, Katie, died in 2017.

- Kurt Kragthorpe, Salt Lake Tribune -

Friday, November 15, 2019

In Memoriam: Irv Noren

Irv Noren (1924-2019)

Noren, a long-time baseball player who was an All-Star and two-time World Champion with the New York Yankees, was also a professional basketball player, playing with Chicago American Gears in the NBL as well as the Los Angeles Red Devils' barnstorming club.

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Irv Noren, a major-league outfielder from 1950-60 and a longtime supporter of racing, especially at Del Mar, as an owner and fan, died Nov. 15 at his Oceanside, Calif., home. He was 94, two weeks away from his 95th birthday.
Noren was in ill health and under hospice care for an extended period of time.

"But he came out (to Del Mar) two or three times in the summer in a wheelchair," said Jenine Sahadi, a friend, former trainer, and racing official. "I talked to him last week, and he said he wanted to come out to this meeting."
According to Del Mar publicity, Noren played for six teams—the Washington Senators, New York Yankees, Kansas City Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers. He is best remembered for his 4 1/2 years with the Yankees (1952-56) when he was platooned in the outfield with Bob Cerv and started four games at center field in the 1955 World Series for an injured Mickey Mantle.
Noren played on three World Series-winning Yankees teams and was the third-base coach for manager Dick Williams on the Oakland A's championship teams in 1972-73.
Following his playing career, Noren was a frequent visitor to Del Mar and a part-owner of several horses.

In Memoriam: Dick "Clubby" Bennett

Dick "Clubby" Bennett (1921-2019)

Richard Bennett, 98, died Monday, November 11, 2019 at the Schenectady Center. Richard was born in Erie, PA to the late Ignatius and Helen Gabriel Bednarkiewicz, moving to Schenectady at age 3. Richard was a graduate of the former Mont Pleasant High School and Siena College. He was a star basketball player at both schools. While at Mont Pleasant he played for legendary coach, Sig Makofski from 1937- 1940. Coach Makofski considered Richard one of his greatest players, his team was undefeated in the 1938-39 season. After graduating, he attended Michigan State for one season, he left after one semester and transfered to Siena, where he played for Coach Dan Cunha. After two seasons his career was ended by WW II. He enlisted in the Army in 1942 and served in a military hospital, honorably discharged in 1945. Later, he played professional basketball for the Schenectady Comets of the New York State League and the Schenectady Packers of the American Basketball League, starting for both teams. Richard was inducted into the Schenectady School District Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. He worked for several years for A.W. Wood Co, retiring in 1983. Richard was a member of the American Legion, the Rotterdam Elks and the Knights of St. John. Richard was predeceased by his wife, Virginia Byrnes Bennett, who died in 2017; a son, James M. Bennett; a brother, Henry Bednarkiewicz and a sister, Leona Deitz. He is survived by his son, Richard "Skip" Bennett of Rotterdam and a sister, Helen Byrnes of Nashville, TN. He is also survived by nieces and nephews, Pamela (Stewart) Finton, Leslie (James) Laplante, Doug (Donna) Byrnes, Kathy (Gary) Blalack, and many great nieces and great nephews.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

In Memoriam: Mel Rothbart

Mel Rothbart (1928-2019)

Rothbart, who played basketball at CCNY on the eve of the point-shaving scandal that shook the sports world, has died at the age of 91. Rothbart would leave CCNY after his sophomore year and played pro basketball with the Paterson Crescents of the ABL and with Waterbury in the Eastern League.

In Memoriam: Aaron Tanitsky

Aaron Tanitsky (1926-2019)

Tanitsky, one of the last surviving members of the fabled Philadelphia SPHA's, died last September at the age of 93.


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

In Memoriam: Lindsey Oden

Lindsey Oden (1929-2019)

Lindsey "Nug" Oden, age 90, of Pinson, Alabama passed at his home on Saturday, November 2, 2019. Nug was active in sports and enjoyed the long wonderful life that God gave him, he was grateful. He served in the Army during the Korean conflict. He was preceded in death by his parents, Gilbert and Lexie Lindsey Oden; two brothers, Bill Oden and G.C. Oden and two sisters, Frances Kyle and Faye Carter. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Peggy Morgan Oden; son, Jay Lindsey Oden; granddaughters, Rebecca, Kathryn, Emily and their mother, Milette Acton Oden, all of North Carolina and one sister, Patsy Oden Spitzer. Nug will be lovingly remembered by his family for his honesty, hard work and always willing to help a neighbor. "When those who know you the best, respect you the most-you are blessed." The family will receive friends on Thursday, November 7, 2019 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM at Deerfoot Memorial Funeral Home. Graveside service will follow at 12:30 PM at Forest Hill Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to your favorite organization. Deerfoot Memorial Funeral Home-directing.

Monday, November 11, 2019

In Memoriam: Pep Saul

Frank "Pep" Saul (1924-2019)

South Orange, N.J. - Frank "Pep" Saul, Seton Hall men's basketball's first 1,000-point scorer, first to have his number retired and member of Seton Hall Athletics' inaugural Hall of Fame Class of 1973, has passed away at the age of 95.

Saul played for the Pirates as a freshman in 1942-43 before going to serve in the United States Military during World War II. He returned to The Hall in 1946 to earn his college degree and continue playing basketball for the Pirates. He led the Pirates in scoring each of his final three years and became Seton Hall's first 1,000-point scorer on March 5, 1949 in a win over Creighton.

In Saul's four years on the roster, Seton Hall's record was 74-17. This included an 18-game winning streak to start the 1946-47 season when the basketball program and Saul had returned from the war.

After his Seton Hall career concluded, Saul was selected in the first round of the 1949 NBA Draft by the Rochester Royals, 12th overall. He played six seasons in the NBA and won four NBA titles, one with the Royals and three with the Minneapolis Lakers. Saul played important roles on many of those championship-winning teams, including averaging 11.3 points and 3.5 assists in 13 playoff games for the 1951-52 Lakers.

Saul's Seton Hall number three was retired by the school, and in 1973, he was one of 11 inductees into the inaugural Seton Hall Athletics Hall of Fame class.