History in the Making: Lapchick Statue Coming to Campus

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The late Joe Lapchick holds a special place in St. John’s Men’s Basketball history. And through the generous efforts of alumnus Kevin Reed ’75C, this former head coach’s legacy will soon be on full display on the Queens campus.

With the help and support of fans and St. John’s administrators, Reed spearheaded a project to construct a life-sized statue of Lapchick and ultimately place it across from Carnesecca Arena in an area slated to be called ‘Legends Plaza’. The statue will be unveiled during a special ceremony tentatively planned for Spring 2014.

“The idea came to me while I was watching a documentary on MSG Network about Joe Lapchick,” Reed recalled. “It highlighted the ways Coach Lapchick left an indelible mark on not only St. John’s, but on the entire game of basketball.”

In 20 seasons as head coach of SJU Men’s Basketball, Lapchick captured four NIT championships (during a time in which the NIT was the nation’s premier collegiate basketball tournament). Additionally, Lapchick was a player on the original Celtics and later served as coach of the New York Knickerbockers, breaking the color barrier in the NBA by signing the league’s first African-American player, Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton, in 1950.

“By all accounts,” Reed continued, “Joe Lapchick was a Hall-of-Fame coach and a Hall-of-Fame person. I began to wonder: ‘Why are there no prominent monuments on the Queens campus honoring Lapchick’s legacy?’ And that’s precisely how this statue idea got off the ground.”

To make his dream a reality, Reed reached out to a handful of Lapchick’s former players, including Gus Alfieri ’59C, ’64GEd, the author of Lapchick: The Life of a Legendary Player and Coach in the Glory Days of Basketball. Reed also befriended Lapchick’s son, fellow alumnus Richard Lapchick, Ph.D. ’67C, ’01HON, who has himself enjoyed a remarkable career in academics, studying how athletics can combat racial, gender and social inequalities.

It all culminated in a fundraising dinner in May, hosted by Reed to support the Lapchick statue. Dr. Lapchick served as the guest of honor and spoke about why he feels it’s important for St. John’s to remember its roots.

“I think that the younger generation does not necessarily have a great sense of history,” Dr. Lapchick noted. “This statue of my father will serve as a unique way of bringing them that history, of making them understand whose shoulders they’re standing on, and I think that’s very important.”

Funding for the Lapchick sculpture has already been secured, but Reed and SJU administrators hope to add more statues to “Legends Plaza” in the near future. As Dr. Lapchick was quick to point out at the fundraiser, there is certainly no shortage of legendary Men’s Basketball figures for the University to honor.

“There are so many great people associated with St. John’s, such as Lou Carnesecca ’50C, ’60GEd, ’00HON, Jack Kaiser ’49C and others,” he explained. “Those two men in particular are perfect reflections of the mission of the University, embodying the warm, family feeling you get when you step foot on campus. It’d be truly amazing to honor individuals like them with statues one day, too.”

Reed, meanwhile, is thankful to all of the fans, alumni and administrators who helped him raise funds for the Lapchick statue.

“As always, the St. John’s community joined together to honor its rich history,” Reed said. “Hopefully ‘Legends Plaza’ will serve as a wonderful addition to campus and teach today’s students about a very special figure in our Men’s Basketball tradition.”

Want to support future additions to ‘Legends Plaza’? Contact Kevin Barry ’06MBA at (718) 990-6147 or Rino Grzinic ’77SVC at (718) 990-6787.