Born: June 2, 1922
Died: January 20, 2001
Edward J. Donovan was born June 2, 1922 in Elizabeth. Likeable and quiet, Eddie was a talented all-around athlete who had a special knack for basketball. Eddie attended St. Patrick High School and starred as a quick-thinking point guard for Buzzy Fox’s Celtics. Eddie’s plans for college were sidetracked by World War II, but he enrolled at St. Bonaventure in upstate New York in 1946.
Eddie was a varsity starter as a sophomore, junior and senior for Melvin Milkovich, graduating in 1950. After his playing days, Eddie joined Milkovich’s staff as an assistant. In 1953, Eddie was named coach of St. Bonaventure. Unlike the fiery Milkovich, Eddie was quiet and encouraging. He led the Bonnies to the NIT Tournament each year from 1957 to 1960, and in 1961 the team received an NCAA Tournament bid. The Bonnies reached the Sweet 16 before falling to Wake Forest. All told, Eddie was 139-57 as a college coach.
Eddie was hired as head coach of the New York Knicks the following year and coached them to three losing seasons. He was replaced by Harry Gallatin during the 1964–65 campaign, and became the team’s General Manager. A good judge of talent and shrewd trader, he was better suited for an NBA front-office job, As coach, he had already drafted little known Willis Reed.
As GM, Eddie helped engineer a championship dynasty. He was asked to return to coaching a few years later but instead suggested the team hire Red Holzman. Eddie called the shots in the draft and was responsible for bringing in Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, Cazzie Russell, Phil Jackson, Mike Riordan and Dave Stallworth. He was also the brains behind the deal that sent Walt Bellamy to the Pistons for Dave DeBusschere.
The trade enabled Reed to play his natural position, and gave the team a defensive-minded forward who could can 20-foot jumpers on the other end of the court. It also freed up a spot for Bradley to become a forward, which gave Frazier more time at guard. The Knicks finished atop the Eastern Division in 1969–70 for the first time since the early 1950s. Eddie announced that his job was done, and he was moving on to a new challenge. A few weeks later, the Knicks beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals for the championship.
Eddie’s next NBA stop was Buffalo, where he helped turn the Braves (now the LA Clippers) into a winning team in their fourth season. He was named NBA Executive of the Year. The hiring of Jack Ramsay as coach and the drafting of underclassman Bob McAdoo were the keys to the team’s sudden success.
Eddie returned to the Knicks as GM for the 1975–76 season and ran the team until 1982, and then worked four more years as director of player personnel. He returned to St. Bonaventure in 1988 and worked in fundraising for his alma mater. Eddie passed away at age 78 on January 20, 2001 in Bernardsville after suffering a stroke.