Did Red Holzman Get His Start in Professional Basketball Due to the Fact That He was Jewish?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about basketball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the basketball urban legends featured so far.

BASKETBALL URBAN LEGEND: Red Holzman got his start in professional basketball due to the fact that he was Jewish.

William “Red” Holzman was one of the most successful coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He coached the New York Knickerbockers to their only two NBA championships in 1970 and 1973. He was the head coach of the Knicks from 1967-1982 (with a short break in the late 1970s when Willis Reed took over as coach) and retired with 613 victories. That was the same number the Knicks used when they retired his number in 1990 (as coaches don’t have numbers). The Knicks retiring his number came five years after he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Even to this day, over ten years since Holzman passed away in 1998, his legacy impacts the NBA with his former pupil, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, continuing Holzman’s tradition of winning. Days before setting the new record for most titles won by an NBA coach, Jackson spoke of Holzman to the New York Daily News, “He is the reason why I am a coach.”

holzman1

While Holzman is a legend in the NBA, he actually got his start in professional basketball in the National Basketball League (NBL), one of two precursors to the NBA (the other being the Basketball Association of America (BAA)) that merged together to form the NBA in 1949. And what’s amazing is that he got his start in the NBL due to one simple fact – he was Jewish!
Read the rest of this entry »

Did the Term “The Real McCoy” Come From a Famous 19th Century Boxer Known as Kid McCoy?

This is the latest in a series of examinations of legends related to boxing and whether they are true or false.

BOXING URBAN LEGEND: The term “the real McCoy” derived from a famous 19th Century boxer called Kid McCoy.

The world of sports is rife with colloquialisms, many of which eventually work their way into our everyday lives. When something is easily achieved, it is a “slam dunk.” If you stick up for someone, you “go to bat” for them. When negotiating, you often tell the other side that “the ball is in their court now.” Adapting sports terminology to everyday usage is so common now that often phrases that have nothing to do with sports are given alleged origins related to sports, particularly when the real origin of the phrase is murky. This brings us to the phrase “the real McCoy.”

Kid McCoy was born as Norman Selby in Indiana in 1867 (he later took the name Charles McCoy). By the end of the 19th Century, Kid McCoy was one of the most renowned boxers in the world. Just five foot eleven and one hundred and sixty pounds, McCoy is still regarded as one of the greatest light heavyweights in the history of the sport of boxing. His punching style included his famed “corkscrew punch” that involved pivoting his hand nearly 180 degrees right before impact. Presumably this unusual style helped McCoy catch opponents unawares. His surprising punching style and his deceptively slight build has led to a number of legends about McCoy that allegedly serve as the basis for the genesis of the phrase “the real McCoy.”

One of the legends involves McCoy being at a bar when a much bigger man began picking on him. Others in the bar warned the man that he was messing with famed boxer Kid McCoy. He laughed them off, figuring that this small guy in front of him couldn’t be McCoy. So he challenged the smaller man to a fight. McCoy promptly knocked him out, leading the man to exclaim, “Oh my God, that was the real McCoy”.

Another version of the story is that McCoy, who was well known for feigning weakness during matches to trick his opponents into being overconfident, was doing just that during a match one day. He was acting like he was languishing until his opponent got close to finish him off, at which point McCoy surprised him with a barrage of punches. This led to the announcer of the match to exclaim, “Which is the real McCoy?!?”

Finally, yet another version of the story is also the most simple. Since McCoy’s build was so reasonably sized, people who were not obviously athletes could attempt to pose as McCoy, especially during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century when there was not as many readily available photographs to show otherwise. Therefore, when McCoy would visit a new city for a match he would have to let people know that he was, indeed, the real McCoy.

Are any of these stories the real origin of the term “the real McCoy?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Did Sun Devil Stadium Get an Extreme Makeover for the Pope’s Visit to the Stadium?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the football urban legends featured so far.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: Sun Devil Stadium had an extreme makeover when Pope John Paul II came to visit during the 1980s.

Since 1946, Arizona State’s football team has been known as the Sun Devils.

The Sun Devil logo and mascot (known as “Sparky”) was designed by former Walt Disney artist, Bert Anthony.

Built in 1958, Sun Devil Stadium has been home to Arizona State football for over five decades. It also was the home of the Arizona Cardinals until 2005.

It has been host to a number of famous concerts and events, including the 1996 NFL Super Bowl.

However, one of its most amusing/historic events was when Pope John Paul II visited Arizona in 1987.


Read the rest of this entry »

Did the Knicks Once Participate in a Special Lottery Where They Missed Out on Bob Cousy by One Pick?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about basketball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the basketball urban legends featured so far.

BASKETBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Knicks participated in a special lottery where they nearly drafted Bob Cousy!

Fans of the National Basketball Association (NBA) are quite familiar with the story of the first NBA draft lottery, which was also one of the greatest days in New York Knicks history. On Mother’s Day, 1985 (May 12th), the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern, pulled out an envelope that had the New York Knicks’ name in it that signified that the Knicks had won the #1 pick in the 1985 NBA Draft (a pick that everyone knew would be Patrick Ewing). Thirty years later, the Knicks had much worse luck, when they were the only team in the 2015 NBA Lottery that moved down in the draft (falling from #2 to #4, with the Los Angeles Lakers moving up from #4 to #2).

So thirty years later, the Knicks had terrible lottery luck. Well, thirty-five years BEFORE Patrick Ewing was drafted, they had more of the same. Did you know that there was a special lottery in 1950 that also involved the New York Knicks? A lottery that the Knicks where the Knicks had the first pick, just like in 1985? A lottery where the Knicks had a 2 in 3 chance of getting a Hall of Famer? A lottery that the Knicks managed to pick out the sole non-Hall of Famer in the bunch and yet came away from the day thrilled with their pick?

Well, if not, let me tell you about the 1950 Chicago Stags Dispersal Draft Lottery and how Bob Cousy was nearly a New York Knick.
Read the rest of this entry »

Did Ted Williams Infamously Insult Jimmie Foxx During His Rookie Season?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL LEGEND: Ted Williams had an infamously cocky response as a rookie when told how he could learn from watching the great Jimmie Foxx hit.

As the story goes, when Ted Williams went to the Boston Red Sox training camp in the spring of 1938, either a sportswriter or Williams’ former teammate on the San Diego Padres (then a minor league team), Bobby Doerr, said to Williams, “Wait until you see Jimmie Foxx hit.” The 19-year-old Williams replied, “Wait ’til Foxx sees me hit.”

It almost perfectly encapsulates the unbridled cockiness that Ted Williams certainly DID possess. It’s so perfect that it was being quoted in Time Magazine for a piece on Williams as soon as 1946.

But did it actually happen?
Read the rest of this entry »

Did Ohio State Once Give Up a Touchdown to One of Its Own Players?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the football urban legends featured so far.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: Ohio State once gave up a touchdown…to its own player!

The grand legacy of Ohio State football began in 1890 (here’s a team photo)…

Frederick “Jack” Ryder was an early football innovator, bringing Oberlin College their very first football team. In 1892, Ryder was hired as the very first head coach in Ohio State history. He made the staggering total of $15 a week. Ryder served as head coach for three years before he left the team to serve in the Spanish-American War.

He returned in 1898, following a dreadful 1897 Ohio State season where the team won the grand total of ONE game – and that win was courtesy of a forfeit by Ohio Medical in a game that Ohio State was trailing at the time!

Ryder’s career ended with a record of 22-22, with 2 ties, but one of his losses in the 1898 seasons is likely the most notable game in his coaching career.
Read the rest of this entry »

Did Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller Take on Someone Else’s Identity to Compete in the Olympics?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about the Olympics and Olympians and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Olympic urban legends featured so far.

OLYMPIC URBAN LEGEND:Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller took on a fake identity so he could represent the United States in the 1924 Olympics.

Followers of U.S. politics surely know of the controversy that surrounded President Barack Obama and his birth certificate throughout his pursuit (and attainment) of the highest elected office in the United States. “Prove you were born in America” was a common refrain from certain circles (heck, even after the President did reveal his birth certificate that has not stopped some folks who still believe he was born outside the United States). Ninety-one years ago, there was another political “birther” topic, only it was about Chicago swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. In the days leading up to the qualification tournament for the 1924 United States Olympic swimming team, Illinois Representative Henry Riggs Rathbone expressed his doubts that Weissmuller, the swimming sensation (who later went on to become a film superstar as the portrayer of Tarzan on the screen), was born in the United States. Why won’t he produce a birth certificate? Was he eligible for the U.S. Olympic team? Obviously, the U.S. Olympic swimming team allowed Weissmuller to compete, since he won five Gold Medals for the U.S. in 1924 and 1928. But was Weissmuller a U.S. citizen when he won Olympic gold?

After becoming one of the most famous swimmers in the world, Weissmuller translated his success into being a spokesperson for BVD. He then turned that into a long series of hit films playing first Tarzan, King of the Jungle (it was Weissmuller’s films that debuted the legendary “Tarzan yell”) then Jungle Jim and finally just playing himself.

When Johnny Weissmuller died, his obituary listed Winber, Pennsylvania as his birthplace and that’s the answer Weissmuller gave everyone, including his five wives, three children and even his official biographer. At the height of his fame, the town celebrated their hometown hero in 1950 with a special day for Weissmuller (schools even closed for the day) and the Rev. Father MacKowiak presented Weissmuller with his church birth records, the same records that secured him a spot in the 1924 Olympic Games. But were they actually Johnny’s records?
Read the rest of this entry »

Did Men’s Fitness Photoshop Someone Else’s Biceps on to Andy Roddick’s on a Cover?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about tennis and whether they are true or false.

TENNIS URBAN LEGEND: Men’s Fitness gave Andy Roddick someone else’s biceps for the cover of the magazine.

Former professional tennis player Andy Roddick was (and is) a very fit man.

Just check him out playing tennis without a shirt on…

The guy had no complaints in the body department.

However, when he was featured as the cover model for a 2007 issue of Men’s Fitness, the folks at Men’s Fitness thought that they could make some improvements…
Read the rest of this entry »

Did a Billion People Watch the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about the Olympics and Olympians and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Olympic urban legends featured so far.

OLYMPIC URBAN LEGEND: A billion people watched the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics.

Back in 2012, viewers were given a treat for their eyes and ears with the sensational opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England. With a presentation designed and coordinated by Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle, the spectacle (titled Isles of Wonder) took viewers on a journey through England’s past, present and future, complete with references to pretty much all of the greatest achievements in British history, not to mention a strong dose of British popular culture, from a horde of Mary Poppins battling a giant Voldemort from the Harry Potter books to James Bond escorting the Queen of England to the ceremony via parachute to Rowan Atkinson parodying Chariots of Fire, seemingly no piece of British entertainment was untouched. Listeners were treated to an audio cornucopia of classic British music, from the Rolling Stones to the Kinks to the Jam to David Bowie to the Beatles, with a final musical performance from perhaps the most famous living British musician, Sir Paul McCartney.

The ceremony received near universal acclaim. Danny Boyle clearly did his country proud. However, there was one thing that I couldn’t help but notice while watching the broadcast. The announcers on NBC kept mentioning that “a billion people” were watching the ceremony. This figure seemed to permeate the coverage of the event. In the Daily Mail, an article on the event opened with, “For many, it was the most stunning and captivating opening ceremony to any Olympic Games. More than one billion people around the world watched Danny Boyle’s astonishing and fantastical journey through British history which kicked off the London 2012 Games” (emphasis added). Is that true? Did a billion people really watch the opening ceremony? Let’s find out…

Read the rest of this entry »

Could Brett Gardner Not Even Make His College Baseball Team as a Walk-On?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL LEGEND: Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner didn’t even make the College of Charleston’s baseball team as a walk-on!

Baseball history is filled with players who did not fit into the prototypical mold of what a star baseball player “should” look like. Athletes tend to fall somewhere on the physique scale between guys like Alex Rodriguez (who looked like he could play Major League Baseball when he was 15 years old) and David Eckstein (who can’t seem to get an article written about him that doesn’t mention the fact that he’s five foot seven inches tall). The Yankees’ Brett Gardner falls a bit more towards Eckstein on that scale. The slender, five foot ten Gardner certainly does not cut an imposing figure on the baseball diamond, but whatever he lacks in the “fear factor,” he makes up for in the “baseball playing ability factor.”

Gardner has been a mainstay in the Yankees lineup since 2010. His speed has led to him appearing twice in the Yankees’ top ten list for the most stolen bases in a single season and currently has the sixth most stolen bases in Yankee history (he will surely climb up that list over the rest of his career, as he is signed with the Yankees through 2018 and is just sixty stolen bases away from #3 on the list. He has an outside chance of passing Derek Jeter for #1 on the Yankee all-time stolen base list. He currently trails Jeter by 166 stolen bases).

And yet, since Gardner did not “look the part” coming out of his small South Carolina high school, Holly Hill Academy, he did not receive a single baseball scholarship offer from a NCAA Division 1 school. That’s not that strange, as neither did Eckstein, but Eckstein walked on to the Florida Gators baseball squad and made the team, later receiving a scholarship from Florida. Florida has one of the best college baseball programs in the country.

Gardner, meanwhile, tried to walk on to the College of Charleston, a NCAA Division 1 school that is known more for their academics than for their athletics.

And he didn’t make the team!

Read on to find out what happened!
Read the rest of this entry »