It Happened in Jersey: Basketball
YOU’RE FIRED: 1922
Six decades before Donald Trump left his impetuous imprint on Atlantic City, a newspaperman named Marvin Riley (right) fired every member of a future Hall of Fame basketball team. The year was 1922, the bootleg liquor flowed freely along the Jersey Shore, and professional basketball was still in its freewheeling wildcat days. The unquestioned class of the hoops universe were the New York Celtics—a team owned by entrepreneur Jim Furey that featured such immortals as Nat Holman, Joe Lapchick, Benny Borgmann, Honey Russell, Barney Sedran and Tom Barlow. In Ferbuary, the Celtics decided to jump from the Metropolitan League (where they were 12–0) to the Eastern League, which promised better competition and fatter revenues.
To do so, the Celtics had to swap uniforms and become the Atlantic City Sandpipers. The owners of the Sandpipers agreed to pay Furey and his players $900 a week, with two-thirds of that amount split between the players. The Celtics/Sandpipers played their home games in an arena at the famous Steel Pier. As expected, they continued rolling over the competition. But to the chagrin of their new owners, the more the team won, the fewer tickets they sold. Apparently, Atlantic City tourists wanted close, exciting games, not blowouts.
After three weeks, just before Christmas, the team was sold to the aforementioned Marvin Riley. Riley’s present to his new team was a salary cut from $900 a week to $400. The players refused. So Riley fired the entire team!
Riley was no basketball neophyte. On the contrary, he was among the individuals who brought the game to the Garden State in 1892. A Trenton newspaper writer, he spent the next quarter-century moonlighting as a highly respected referee—often for a cut of the gate—and so pocketed as much from officiating games as writing about them.
Riley knew where to dig up local talent. He hired new players and announced that he would coach the Sandpipers himself. After three games (and three losses), Riley gave up and the club folded. The Eastern League itself limped through the first two weeks of 1923 before disbanding.
As for the Celtics, they became a barnstorming club after that. Their record for 1922-23—including the stints in the Metropolitan and Eastern Leagues—was 193–11, with one game declared a tie. Furey estimated that his club performed for over a million people—including a crowd of 23,000 in Cleveland. The Celtics would go on to revolutionize team play and bridge the pioneer and modern eras of basketball.
YOU'RE FIRED: 2007
The 2006–07 season marked a landmark effort by the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Vivian Stringer’s squad of tough and talented players made it all the way to the NCAA championship game. Their dream season ended with a 13-point loss to Tennessee, but the nightmare didn’t begin until the morning after. During his top-rated CBS morning radio show—which was simulcast on MSNBC—Don Imus and sidekick Bernard McGuirk engaged in some goofy banter that quickly crossed the line:
Imus: That’s some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and…
McGuirk: Some hard-core ho’s.
Imus:·That’s some nappy-headed ho’s there.·I’m gonna tell you that now, man, that’s some…woo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know…
The blowback was immediate. Junior Essence Carson, a Paterson schoolgirl legend, said that Imus had “stolen a moment of pure grace from us. “"I would like to express our team's great hurt, anger and disgust toward the words of Mr. Don Imus," she stated. "We are highly angered at his remarks but deeply saddened with the racial characterization they entailed."
"Our moment was taken away,” added Heather Zurich. “Our moment to celebrate our success, our moment to realize how far we had come, both on and off the court, as young women. We were stripped of this moment by degrading comments..."
"I achieve a lot,” said Kia Vaughn. “Unless they have given this name of ho a new definition, then that is not what I am."
Stringer said it best: “Let me put a human face on this…these young ladies are valedictorians of their class, future doctors, musical prodigies and, yes, even Girl Scouts. They are all young ladies of class. They are distinctive, articulate.”
CBS suspended Imus for two weeks immediately after the incident, but as the uproar over his comments grew, the network fired him.