Basketball’s Tallest Man

EddieEinhorn

February 29, 2016

Over the years Basketball players have become physically bigger and taller in stature.

It has been almost three quarters of a century since Bob Kurland, the first 7footer and George Mikan who was 6’10” came along to usher in the era of the “Big Man” and forever change the game of Basketball.

In the early 1940’s, Kurland playing for Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) led the Aggies to two NCAA Championships while at the same time, George Mikan would lead his school, DePaul to NIT Championships.

At that time, the NIT (National Invitational Tournament) with the nation’s top 8 teams, played at Madison Square Garden in New York, was considered by many to be the real Collegiate Championship.

The NCAA though wasn’t very glamorous, lacked luster and although it was the officially sanctioned championship, the best  teams would play in the NIT.

Back in the 1960’s, Eddie Einhorn standing only 5’4”, when no one else saw any value in the Tall Man’s game of Baseketball, brought the NCAA games first to Radio and then TV.

This made him Collegiate Basketball’s all-time “Tallest Man”.

Eddie was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.  Without Eddie, his talent, and his business acumen, “March Madness”, soon to be upon us, would never have become one of the world’s most exciting annual sports events, and would probably never have existed.

Eddie, who was my friend, was 80 years old this week when he died from complications of a stroke. He was one of a kind and many of his trail-blazing sports projects are part of his legacy.

I worked alongside Eddie throughout part of the 60’s, the 70’s, and a bit of the 80’s. Under all kinds of pressure, you could always find Eddie, the coolest guy in the room armed with an infectious smile, a quick wit and a dervish-like mind that never stopped spouting ideas.

Eddie’s career in Broadcasting actually started when as a Law Student at Northwestern, working out of his dorm room, he put together a network from a handful of radio stations to broadcast the National Collegiate Basketball Tournament .  Eddie was both the producer and announcer.

It was the late 1950’s.  At the time, College Basketball only had a small regional following for local teams. Eddie was able to purchase the radio rights for a tiny fee.

Recently, the NCAA Tournament was sold for 14 seasons to TV for more than 11 billion dollars,

In the 1960’s, he put together his own Ad Hoc Syndicated  Network,  “TVS”, but the  NCAA product was met with little, or no interest. Eddie, however, did not stop , he saw what he believed what the future might bring.  Not even he, as he often told me, could imagine how big it would become.

The actual breakthrough came on Jan.20, 1968.

UCLA, with Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) at center, took a 47-game winning streak into the Houston Astrodome to face the also undefeated University of Houston and its star center, Elvin Hayes. The Dome at the time was only three years old and considered the “8th Wonder of the World”.

More than 52,000 people attended… an extraordinary number for a basketball game, even today. Millions watched on Eddie’s TVS. Eddie through tireless effort had put together a syndicated network of 150 stations in 49 states.

Many of the stations were affiliated with the day’s only three networks – CBS, NBC, or ABC and angered the parent networks when they broadcast the game instead of carrying their network program… millions watched.

Eddie had proved that once shown the product the fans would flock to view it. He was right!

In 1971, along with Eddie, Howard Zuckerman and myself, we put on the first NBA/ABA All-Star game. The fledgling ABA was seeking to compete successfully against the established NBA. The game was Broadcast on TVS and over 37,000 people filled the same Astrodome.

Using the rules of each league for a half, many were different, it had most of the day’s great players. It featured the NBA’s best including Oscar Robertson, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and Dave DeBussechere. The ABA’s best at the time were a bunch of no names like Charley Scott and Mel Daniels.

It was a tight game with the NBA winning by five points but the most valuable player was the ABA’s Rick Barry, who later after the merger of the leagues was to become an NBA All-Star.

For me, the highlight of the game and a part of Basketball lore was personal. It was the fact that our NBA center from the Milwaukee Bucks did not show up in Houston to play that day. Lew Alcindor was married in a Musiim ceremony in Washington, D.C. and forever changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

I took his unworn 7’2” sweat suit, with the name “Alcindor” on the back (the last official time it would ever be used) home to my 13 year-old son Steven.  Since Steven never grew into it, I donated the entire outfit to the Helms Sports Hall-of-Fame.

Eddie went on to become Executive Producer of CBS Sports.  Here he revitalized the lagging CBS Sports Spectacular, making it the most watched weekend Sports program with the exception of live major events.

When Eddie learned that I was a member of the General Assembly of International Sports Federations and I was going to the 1978 Annual Congress, he joined me. It was his first visit to any International Sports Meeting.

Here he discovered a Treasure Chest of Sports disciplines that had never been seen on TV. As a result, in his new capacity at CBS, he signed many to Network contracts and gave Sports Spectacular an exciting new look.

At the meeting there were representatives of the Olympic Sports as well as countless others from all over the world like Cycling, Yachting, and Softball that wished to be included in the Olympics. The 1984 L.A. Olympics was well represented by my pals Rene Henry, Mike O’Hara, and the late Hal Uplinger, also one of Peter Uberroth’s lieutenants, Dick Sargent.

Upcoming Olympic Venues including Nagano Japan, Athens, Sarajevo and Melbourne were there.  Also in attendance were others like Atlanta, Lake Placid, Sochi, Salt lake City, Barcelona and Beijing looking for support to become host cities.

Eddie moved with ease cementing new relationships and building his CBS base.

He gave so much more to the world of sport.  His last active position prior to falling ill was as part owner and President of the Chicago White Sox.  In this capacity, he negotiated not only the White Sox TV deals, but he was responsible for putting Major League Baseball on a solid footing with a multi-billion dollar Broadcast package.

Eddie, was one of a kind.  As I said, although diminutive in stature, when it came to sports he was always the “Tallest Man” in the room, especially in the world of Collegiate Basketball.

When you watch March Madness take a moment to remember the man who made it all happen.

R.I.P… Eddie Einhorn