An Open Response to Marvin Kalb


The below response was submitted to The Atlantic concerning an article published April 25, 2013 by Marvin Kalb entitled "The College Basketball Victory That Seemed Too Good to Be True - and Was".

In the response was a direct request for Kalb to provide supporting documentation or sources for a particularly serious claim that he made concerning Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp. Regrettably, the publisher has failed to allow the comment to pass through moderation.

So I've included it below. Mr. Kalb is still welcome (and in my opinion should be compelled if he wants to be taken as a serious journalist) to respond to the below request.


I wanted to respond to Marvin Kalb's claim that Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp "once boasted that he would never allow a 'black' or a 'kike' to play on his team," along with his handshake claim.

First of all, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Rupp made such a remark, despite what Kalb and a few others may say. Unfortunately, Kalb appears to be of the generation where he thinks that because he was around during that time, that he can say whatever nonsense he likes and no one would be able to search for and verify such claims because they happened so long ago. What these people apparently haven't realized is that many of the newspapers etc. from around the country have been digitized in recent years and are easily searchable.

If Rupp had indeed made such a remark, then it would have been published SOMEWHERE, and it would be trivial to locate the original mention of it from newspapers or other sources around 1950 and before. The excuse of something happened in the distant past so it's virtually impossible for anyone to know what was reported during a given time period is no longer a valid excuse. In fact it's the opposite, as someone with the desire can easily search and locate numerous sources that were published in a given day or time period, from ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, and even world.

For what it's worth, I've done a tremendous amount of research into Rupp which has included talking to numerous historians, researchers, authors, sports information people, journalists etc. and have NEVER seen any such remark substantiated. This includes talking with former Jewish historians and players, and many black players who were recruited by, and who faced Kentucky over the years. The only reason I started looking was it was mentioned by Bruce Jenkins in a book published in 1999 about Pete Newell, although I talked to Jenkins himself and he could not provide any basis for it. (this may have been an off-shoot of an HBO documentary discussed below, which Kalb himself played an influential role.)

Since Marvin Kalb is a long-established journalist, with presumably a lot of resources, then this should be a piece of cake to provide an actual citation or reference for his claim. I challenge him today (April 28, 2013) to back up his claim right here on this webpage for all to see. This will serve as a reminder to how well (or poorly) he is able to back up his own words.

The clock is ticking, Marvin. . . . .

Having said that, regarding the supposed handshake, much of this same claim was made previously by Kalb in 1998 as part of a HBO documentary on the Scandals of 1951 called 'City Dump, the Story of the 1951 CCNY Basketball Scandal'. Marvin Kalb was interviewed about CCNY and was obviously extremely excitable when talking about his beloved school. Ed Bark of Knight Ridders News Service reviewed the documentary and noted this too. Wrote Bark: "Marvin Kalb, a 1951 City College of New York grad, is not generally known for dynamism. But he's Damon Runyon on a coffee jag when talking about CCNY's storied 1949-50 team."

In that version of events, Kalb claimed that Ed Warner extended his hand to a "tall, blonde, gorgeous giant." This time around the blond part was omitted and it's supposedly to "Kentucky's top scorer". The only problem with this is that UK's top scorer that year was Bill Spivey, who while tall was certainly not blond. In fact very few of UK's players were blond. So the details of Kalb's version of remarks are questionable to begin with.

But this brings a more fundamental issue. Spivey is dead and is obviously no longer around to defend himself. Neither is Rupp. It makes me wonder why Kalb decided to bring these things up now when he can say what he wants seemingly without the people he slanders able to respond. Surely if Kalb was interested in doing some sort of social good he would have brought it up earlier (such as in 1950), when it actually would make a difference?

Beyond that, it would be nice if someone had found video of the game to confirm the claim, or at least interview those who were there as to the truthfullness. None of the newspaper stories about the game that I've seen have noted the supposed incident that Kalb describes.

I should note that whether the Kentucky players shook hands with CCNY players just before the tip-off or not proves nothing. Maybe they saw it as an obvious stunt or knew it was not in good faith? Maybe they had already shaken hands during introductions? Or maybe it's simply another of Kalb's exaggerations? Who really knows. Without a more thorough look into the game then it's a stretch to read too much into it.

As far as Nat Holman, it wouldn't be a great shock if he indeed pulled such a stunt to try to get his team fired up by playing up racial differences. In late December 1946 Holman was in a well-publicized incident with the coach of Wyoming (Everett Shelton) who reportedly complained during a game that "the Jews are getting away with murder." (AP, Charleston WV Daily Mail, January 3, 1947, see Marvin, it's not difficult to find actual quotes from actual references; if you make the effort) Holman reportedly responded and "used language of such base obscenity and vileness and depravity as to be unprintable here or anywhere" (AP, Charleston WV Daily Mail, January 13, 1947) and nearly punched Shelton. Suffice to say Holman was very passionate about the issue.

Unfortunately in the early 1950's, race-baiting to get your team fired up was probably considered progressive. I would hope that in today's world, we've evolved above such juvenile behavior and see it for the divisive and pessimistic practice that it truly is, rather than celebrated by the likes of Kalb.

Another point that seems to be lost by many, even today, is that Kentucky in this case was coming to New York to play integrated teams at a time when very few Southern schools did so. Because of this, for better or worse they served as the 'face' of the South in that they were present to receive the brunt of whatever pent up aggression and hostility opponents held in store, no matter how ill-conceived it was.

(Similarly, Rupp has over the years been cast as the villian in terms of race relations, even though his actions and established quotes suggest the opposite. Unfortunately, because Rupp is not around to defend himself, it has opened the field to the exact same type of clap-trap that Kalb spews without a shred of evidence backing his claim.)

If indeed Holman chose to try to capitalize on race-baiting or even better to prove some social point, perhaps it would have been more appropriate to target it against those numerous schools who were still cowering in the shadows and continued to segregate themselves from the broader society? Kentucky and Rupp were not one of those schools.

In fact one point Kalb fails to recognize is that Kentucky did indeed have Jewish players under Rupp, including prior to 1950. One of the most decorated players was Bernie Opper of the Bronx, who was an All-American under Rupp in the late 1930's. Opper had seen Kentucky play in Madison Square Garden and wanted to play for the Wildcats. Rupp accepted him after receiving letters of recommendation from LIU's Clair Bee and CCNY's Nat Holman! (which only makes Marvin Kalb's initial claim even more ridiculous)

Another bit of backstory is that Holman and Rupp had known each other for many decades, going back to the 1920's when Holman played with the Original Celtics and Rupp often conversed with them discussing the game of basketball. By all accounts Holman and Rupp had a great relationship which lasted to their deaths.

Written by - April 29, 2013

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