Random Memories No. 3 – Bloom, Violets, Bloom!!

This was one of the candidate cheers we came up with in the forties for the New York University Violets, the only team we knew of that had a flower as a “mascot!” And their uniforms were and are white and violet. I see now that they have chosen the overused bobcat as the game mascot – easier to make a bobcat costume than one for a violet.

We never got to see NYU play in those years, of course, because TV wasn’t available and most all of their games were played in and around NYC. Radio coverage of games was quite sparse in those days. We at UK could almost always count on our team’s games being broadcast on a Lexington station.

One special game, the finals of the 1947 NIT, being played out west between Utah and UK (Utah won) was filmed by the station people who were also calling the game for Lexington, and, upon their return the film was shown on campus in Memorial Hall. The film had no sound and a young announcer who had called the game on radio, Caywood Ledford, narrated the film. I remember that Utah had the first Asian-American player I had seen, Wataru “Wat” Misaka, from Ogden, Utah.

NYU was very competitive in the forties, as were other now-seldom-heard-of basketball teams, including the CCNY Beavers, LIU Blackbirds, Holy Cross Crusaders, Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, Duquesne Dukes, LaSalle Explorers, and the San Francisco Dons.  But only NYU of this group never won the NIT or NCAA tournaments.

CCNY is the only team ever to win both tournaments in the same year, a feat that Kentucky also tried but point shaving by some of their players was over done and UK lost in the early NIT round. Now the NCAA outlaws such NIT and NCAA “combines.” Many players were caught in these gamblers-players point shaving crimes of those days and suffered for years afterward. UK’s two All-Americans, Ralph Beard and Alex Groza were convicted as was LIU’s Sherman White who many considered the best player of the era.

Beavers in NYC? I didn’t stumble over any when I lived in Brooklyn in the early 1950’s! But I did see some blackbirds, and not just because LIU was only a few blocks from where I was teaching. I bet that the Crusaders of Holy Cross can always count on not being invited to play in the Arab League! Ramblers, Explorers, Dukes, and Dons make some kind of sense as mascots for the other schools. But Violets makes no sense, perhaps the coach or AD in the beginning had some “thing” about the color violet.

During this period all teams but NYU won at least one tournament, NIT and/or NCAA. One school, Long Island University, is still playing respectable basketball and, this year, made it to the NCAA, but lost to North Carolina in the first round. NYU was once runner-up in the NIT and made it to the NIT final four at least four times. Holy Cross won the 1947 NCAA with star guard Bob Cousy, who also won many honors playing for the Celtics, and is now in the NBA Hall of Fame. And the Crusaders won the NIT in 1954. San Francisco won the NIT once and the NCAA twice, 1955-6, with Bill Russell and K.C. Jones as the team’s heart. LaSalle won the NIT in 1952 and the NCAA in 1954. Loyola won the 1963 NCAA and was runner-up twice in the NIT. Duquesne won the NIT in 1955 and was in the final four five times in the tournament’s first 25 years. LIU won the NIT two times.

These teams were always competitive and dangerous in those days. I find it sad that, with few exceptions such as St Johns, such schools no longer rate with the best. But the Violets are still called the Violets even though they have adopted a bobcat as mascot, but they now play in NCAA’s Division III.

Perhaps they have the right balance between athletics and academics.


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