Jeremy Lin’s basketball skills were known to the Class of 1947 at Grandview Heights High School near Columbus, Ohio, long before he led the resurgence of the New York Knicks.
A member of that class, Ed Smith, was the last Harvard University graduate before Lin to play in the National Basketball Association, suiting up for the Knicks in 1953-54. Lin, a second-year player who twice was cut by other teams, is set to start his 12th game at point guard for the Knicks tonight, one more contest than Smith played in an NBA career shortened by U.S. Army service and a broken hand.
Smith, who died in 1998 from cancer at age 69, has been linked through Crimson ties in news stories to Lin, who is the first Chinese- or Taiwanese-American to play in the NBA. Smith’s name also has been shown in graphics during Lin’s nationally televised games, delighting his family and keeping alive the memory of a man who barely scratched the pro basketball record books more than half a century ago.
“It started appearing as soon as Jeremy was being considered for the NBA as of two years ago,” 75-year-old Terry Smith said in a telephone interview after his older brother was among the discussion topics last week at a monthly high-school reunion luncheon. “I think he would have been a little embarrassed.”
Smith, a 6-foot-6 forward, went to Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard on an academic scholarship, graduating in 1951. He was drafted twice that year: by the Knicks with the NBA’s sixth pick and by the Army, where he served until 1953.
He played basketball in the Army, and Terry Smith said he recalled his brother facing a squad from Lockbourne Air Force Base in Lockbourne, Ohio, that was coached by future New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner, a lieutenant, was athletic coordinator at Lockbourne, which is now Rickenbacker Air Force Base, according to MilitaryTimes.com, which reports on the U.S. armed forces.
Smith made his NBA debut in 1953, joining a team coached by Joe Lapchick and a roster that included future Hall of Fame coach Al McGuire, All-Star Carl Braun and Ernie Vandeweghe, the father of former NBA player Kiki Vandeweghe.
Smith was limited to 11 games after breaking his hand. He underwent surgery and later was hospitalized because it became infected, according to Terry Smith.
“At some point the surgeon told him it would be risky to play any more ball,” the younger brother said. “Not that it ever stopped him.”
Invited to Camp
Smith was invited to training camp the following season before being cut, ending his NBA career with 28 points and 26 rebounds. He played several more years for local professional teams in Ohio while also holding down a day job.
“Eddie was just an all-around good athlete; he was an end on the football team, I believe a catcher on the baseball team and just a fantastic basketball player,” Jack Lenhart, Smith’s high-school teammate and close friend, said in a telephone interview. “It was a treat to watch him.”
Smith worked at International Business Machines Corp. for 27 years before retiring at 55, according to his wife, Mayme Smith.
“Ed was never a braggart,” she said in a telephone interview. “When people asked where he went to college I think he just said ‘East.’”
Lin’s promotion to starting point guard has resuscitated the Knicks’ season, leading the team to an 8-3 record as television ratings and ticket prices on the secondary market have soared.
“I don’t really know much about him, to be honest, but I have heard about him a number of times,” Lin, 23, said of Smith after the Knicks’ practice yesterday in Tarrytown, New York. “A lot of respect to him and what he’s done, but I’m still worried about making sure that I’m in the NBA and I accomplish what I want to accomplish.”
Lin has deflected praise toward teammates and coaches, a humble philosophy that Smith also shared regarding his own pro career.
“Most people didn’t even know Ed played in the NBA,” Terry Smith said.
In March 1951, Smith had his first contest at Madison Square Garden, an East-West College All-Star Game in front of 14,000 fans.
“I thought I was going to be nervous, but I wasn’t,” he told the Harvard Crimson newspaper. “It didn’t really make much difference.”
While it’s a different version of the Garden that now stands in Manhattan, Lin also has played fearlessly in front of New York basketball fans, averaging 22.4 points, 8.8 assists and four rebounds per game as a starter. The Knicks, 17-18 on the season, host the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight.
“He absolutely would have been impressed,” said Terry Smith about how his brother would have viewed Lin. “I think he would have liked his whole story.”
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