This is the twenty-first in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) of examinations into different games, events and decisions that impacted Knicks history in some way, shape or form. Stories that are not as famous as, say, “The Dunk” or Willis Reed playing Game 7, but still have a place in Knicks history, especially for die-hard fans. Here is an archive of all the stories featured so far.
I’ve written in the past about how the Knicks had a stretch of high draft picks in the early 1960s that was particularly brutal for the team, as it seemed like none of the players turned out the way that the Knicks hoped. However, none of them can quite compare to the Knicks’ first round pick in the 1950 NBA Draft (seventh overall) who spurned the Knicks’ advances to instead pursue…a career in dentistry!
Read to discover more about the City College of New York (CCNY) basketball great (and longtime dentist) Irwin Dambrot, and how his legendary run with CCNY in the 1950 college playoffs was later tarnished forever.
(You can’t believe how bad I wanted to make a dentistry joke with the “tarnished forever” line)
Irwin Dambrot was a native New Yorker who attended William Howard Taft High School in the South Bronx during the 1940s. Upon graduation, he attended the City College of New York, where he was the leader (and only starting Senior) of the legendary 1949-50 CCNY basketball team, which shocked the world by not only winning the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), which was the postseason tournament at the time, but also the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, which eventually became the dominant postseason tournament for college basketball. CCNY remains the only school to ever win both championships in a single year (of course, that is difficult to do since nowadays teams aren’t allowed to compete in both tournaments).
Dambrot, a sharp-shooting 6 foot 4 inch forward, was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Tournament.
As you might imagine, a Jewish native New Yorker was quite the catch for the New York Knickerbockers, who were only in their second season in the National Basketball Association (NBA) after being in the Basketball Association of America (BAA) the previous few seasons. The Knicks had just drafted Dick Maguire with their first round pick in 1949, so Dambrot would be a nice scoring pair with the young Maguire.
However, the NBA was a lot different back in the 1950s. Players got paid decent salaries, but certainly nothing excessive, and when you compared it to the wear and tear on their bodies, it was not necessarily worth it. To wit, the legendary George Mikan retired from the NBA before the age of 30. The money just wasn’t worth the toll on his knees. Having a successful dentist practice in New York City likely would leave you better off, financially, than playing professional basketball. So Dambrot turned the Knicks down and instead attended the Columbia School of Dentistry. Interestingly enough, the 1950-51 New York Knicks made it to the NBA Finals, losing in seven games. You have to wonder if Dambrot would have made a difference.
While his financial future is certainly good reason to turn down pro ball, there is a chance that perhaps something else was weighing on Dambrot’s mind. You see, Dambrot and his CCNY teammates were caught up in the infamous point shaving scandal of the 1950s. Nearly a year after Dambrot spurned the Knicks to take up dentistry, CCNY was preparing for the 1951 NIT when they were approached by a man from the New York City District Attorney’s office. Six players from the 1949-50 CCNY squad were arrested on charges of being paid by gamblers to keep the scores in games under the point spread. The players arrested were current CCNY players Ed Roman, Ed Warner, Norman Mager, Al “Fats” Roth, Herb Cohen, Floyd Layne and the now-graduated Dambrot. Players from a number of teams were caught up in the scandal, including players from LIU, Bradley, Manhattan, Kentucky and NYU (and almost certainly there were more who did it and just did not get caught).
All six CCNY players pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of point shaving. All but Warner received suspended sentences (he served a six-month prison sentence). Years later, Dambrot would refer to his work in dentistry in Forest Hills and Manhattan as “A lot of us just wanted to do things for people, to help.” The scandal clearly weighed on the man, and he almost never spoke of the situation over the years, choosing only to discuss his playing career (he would attend a number of anniversary celebrations over the years).
Dambrot worked as a dentist in New York City until his retirement in 1995. He passed away early last year at the age of 81.
Thanks to Ira Berkow for a lot of the information needed for this piece.
If you folks dig these stories, you’d probably also get a kick out of my Sports Legends Revealed site. There is an archive of the ones about basketball here. I also have one Sports Legend featured every Tuesday at the LA Times.
If you have any suggestions for future Unsung Knicks History pieces, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’d prefer you share your suggestions via e-mail rather than in the comments section, so we can keep them a surprise! Thanks!