Dave DeBusschere

Earlier this week, Dave DeBusschere died, and I feel it’s important for me to note his passing. Several articles have reviewed his accomplishments, and my words in recounting many of them will pale compared to their actual significance. Allow me to simply list them…

  • Member of 2 NBA Championship teams, the New York Knicks 1970 and 1973
  • 8 time all-star
  • 6 time member NBA all-defensive team (the first six years the award was given)
  • Member Hall of Fame
  • General Manager of the ABA’s New York Nets and NBA’s New York Knicks
  • Last commissioner of the ABA, and considered an integral part of the league’s 1976 merger with the NBA
  • Named one of the 50 greatest players in the history of the NBA in 1996
  • GM of the Knicks when they won the first draft lottery in 1985 and selected Patrick Ewing
  • Youngest NBA coach ever, when named player-coach of the Detroit Pistons at the age of 24 in 1964

As if some of these items weren’t enough, I’d like to toss in a couple of my favorites that I haven’t seen mentioned as often…

  • Spent two seasons as a pitcher in professional baseball, while playing basketball at the same time. Was 3-4 for the Chicago White Sox in 36 appearances. Although he decided to pursue basketball, his career ERA was 2.90.
  • Game seven of the 1970 championship series against the Lakers is best known for Willis Reed. DeBusschere was holding on to the ball when the clock expired in that game.
  • One of his teammates was Bill Bradley. In his book The Open Man, DeBusschere hints toward Bradley’s eventual political career, noting his reading habits and that his teammates referred to Bradley as “Mr. President.”

I have always loved sports, and my father and uncle, tremendous influences in my life, fed my appetite with their passion and support. About the age of eight or nine, I was at my grandmother’s house, and I found a book in my uncle’s room. It was The Open Man, by Dave DeBusschere. He wrote it as a diary about the championship season of 1969-1970. Working with him on the project were Dick Schaap and Paul Zimmerman, two sports writers that have become well-known and respected in their field over the years that followed its publication.

At the time I wasn’t a big Knicks fan, and realistically I’m still not. But being young when I read it and also having been born in 1968, I knew very few of the historical names from the NBA. That would change thanks to this book, which brought me details about the history, franchises, and players. And at different times, the names Reed, Bradley, and Jackson have been played over and over to me. They have been involved in politics. They have become members of NBA management. And DeBusschere was there as GM of the Knicks, being elected to the Hall of Fame, and being named to the 50 greatest list.

Here’s an example of how even the smallest details of this book intertwined with my life. My father and uncle were season-ticket holders for Providence College basketball during the 1970’s. My father actually worked with Dave Gavitt, head coach of the Friars at the time, filming the games for the school. Jimmy Walker played at PC, went to the Pistons (where DeBusschere had started his career), and was noted in the book. And how about Mike Riordan? He played at PC before joining the Knicks to start his NBA career.  Little touchstones for me ran throughout the length of the book.

And so I became a DeBusschere fan. And every so often, another nugget would come back to me, something I had learned about the NBA or sports in general by paying attention to things taking place around him. Heck, Robert Redford is mentioned in the book.

DeBusschere has been referred to as smart, dedicated, and respected. And the world doesn’t need me to praise these things now that he is no longer with us. But in a small way, by producing a book that very few people are talking about because of its stature when compared to several other significant accomplishments, he made me feel welcome. Almost a part of the group. He taught me things I didn’t know, and still find timely pieces of conversation today. And he touched upon items I did know about, making me feel smarter for knowing them. I am grateful for it.

I never met the man, but I will miss him.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com