Pride Before Bribe
A college basketball player caught up in the 1950s point-shaving scandal lands on the right side of history
By Jack Laub as told to Brian Burnsed
I played basketball for City College of New York and the legendary coach Nat Holman for two years in the 1940s but enlisted and served in the Merchant Marines during World War II. After the war, I wanted to get a basketball scholarship somewhere else because I hoped to prepare for medical school.
I heard the University of Cincinnati had a good medical program. A friend of mine called up Al Rubenstein, a Cincinnati player who had just gotten back from serving in the Navy. Al played a season at Long Island University before the war and was joining a lot of Midwestern players — several were veterans — from Ohio and Indiana. Al called me and said, “Do you really want to come out here?” I said yes. So he told his coach, John Wiethe, that I had just come back from the war and had played two seasons at CCNY.
Coach gave me a four-year scholarship on the phone without even meeting me. George Washington University and Yale University both offered scholarships, but they wouldn’t let me play right away. But the Mid-American Conference had a rule: If you were a veteran of World War II and honorably discharged, you could start over and play for four more years.
I flew out to Cincinnati in late December of 1946. I had never played with anyone on that team, but we meshed immediately because we were all unselfish players. It was a balanced team: One guy scored 10, another guy 12, another one 16, another one 18. We went 20–6 in my final year and were able to beat some of the best teams in the country because we took them by surprise. Cincinnati had never won a conference championship, but we won the conference four straight years.
During my final season, a promoter came to Al and me in the locker room once after practice and said, “You know the Kentucky team — they’re the best team in the country — they’re shaving points.” He offered Al and me a new Cadillac each to do the same. It was ridiculous. I had never heard of any school shaving points. We told him no — we didn’t want to let our teammates down. I was proud of doing that.
I graduated in 1950, and I was really shocked when the scandal broke in ’52. We were brought in for questioning by the New York district attorney, who asked if anyone ever attempted to bribe us. We said, “Yes.” I found out later that there were 15 teams, top teams in the country, caught shaving points. I am forever grateful that I had Al as my trusted teammate and friend. We never thought twice about our decision. After the national scandal broke, the district attorney praised Al and me in the press for having turned down the bribe.
In 1950, we had beaten Long Island University by 18 points in Madison Square Garden. We were underdogs, and we beat a very good team that had Sherman White, who was 6-foot-9, an All-American and considered by many the top player in the United States. We later learned that Long Island was shaving points in that game. I was very disappointed in the news. It put a taint on the game. But when I spoke to my teammates about it years afterward, they all felt that we were a better team. I definitely feel disappointed because I think that we would have beaten them.
On that team, there was a great friendship between guys who came from different ethnic groups, who lived together, who did everything together and never had a dispute in all the years I was there. We had a great attitude. We had a great record. We won four conference championships. We turned down the bribe. The banners are still hanging.
I’m going to be inducted into the University of Cincinnati Hall of Fame on Nov. 3. This will be the third hall of fame induction in my career, but the most significant one. I will finally join Al Rubenstein, Dick Dallmer and Tay Baker, three of my teammates who are in the school’s hall of fame. If I had made a different decision as a young man, that wouldn’t be happening. It’s the biggest victory. When I look back, the thing that gives me the proudest feeling is that I turned down that bribe.
Originally published at championmagazine.org on October 19, 2016.