(Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on St. Bonaventure basketball great George Carter, for whom a proper burial and memorial service took place this morning following his death in November at age 76 from throat cancer. Today: Looking back on Carter’s outstanding athletic career.)
As a boy, growing up outside of Albany, my fandom tended toward New York City, a mere 2½ hours down the Thruway.
Most of my friends had four favorite teams, the Yankees, football Giants, Rangers and Knicks.
My loyalties were three-quarters with them, but not in baseball. Even though the Dodgers exited Brooklyn after the 1957 season and moved to Los Angeles in my pre-teenage years, they were still my team, even from 3,000 miles away.
And while I loved the football Giants, I wasn’t so enamored of the Rangers because hockey was the sport I knew least. Not so with the Knicks, who weren’t very good back then but didn’t temper my enjoyment following them.
Then, in 1961, there was hope.
The team hired a highly successful college coach and drafted one of the best players in the country, both from a place called St. Bonaventure.
Eddie Donovan struggled in his four-season run as Knicks coach, but that was far offset by his success as general manager in becoming one of the most respected executives in NBA history.
Tom Stith’s story was sadly different.
The second overall draft pick behind Indiana center Walt Bellamy, he brought a glittering résumé to the NBA as the Bonnies’ first consensus All-American. He scored 2,052 points in only three seasons, still holds SBU’s all-time single-season average (31.5) and helped Bona to two NITs and one NCAA berth over his career.
But a tuberculosis diagnosis ended his rookie season before it started, and a year later, after a disappointing disease-weakened campaign, Stith left the game.
Bona fans have long cited the knee injury suffered by Hall of Famer Bob Lanier in the “Unfinished Dreams” 1970 NCAA Tournament as the worst health issue ever endured by the program.
Yet while Stith completed his St. Bonaventure career, in effect, a lung disease cost him an entire pro career.
AND THAT brings me to another star for the Bonnies who caught my attention but never seemed to get the publicity he deserved possibly because the team went 44-24 during his three campaigns with no postseason appearances after making tournaments seven of the previous eight years.
Still, he was an easy selection to the Top 20 players in school history when St. Bonaventure celebrated 100 years of basketball.
George Carter was picked by Detroit in the eighth round (81st overall) of the 1967 NBA Draft.
And that’s not all. The Silver Creek native was also drafted by the Bills (1967’s 13th round as a halfback) and the Mets (‘67’s 52nd round as an outfielder) making him the only Western New York-born athlete to be drafted by three professional teams.
It could easily be argued that Carter was the best pure athlete in St. Bonaventure history.
The 6-foot-5 forward came to pro basketball with impeccable credentials. Fifty-four years after he graduated from Bona, his 1,322 points now rank 23rd in school history, but seventh among players with only a three-year career. His scoring average (19.4) is the school’s ninth best and Carter’s nearly 12.5 boards per game are second only to Lanier’s 15.7, and he ranks fifth on Bona’s all-time rebounds list.
Unfortunately, the beginning of his pro career coincided with the heart of the Vietnam War and, after playing only one game for the Pistons, he was in the Army for two years.
Upon his discharge he played seven seasons in the fledgling American Basketball Association, including an all-star stint with the Washington Capitals, plus stops with the Virginia Squires, Pittsburgh Condors, Carolina Cougars, New York Nets, Minnesota Muskies and Utah Stars. He played only 10 games for the latter during the 1975-76 season, after which the league merged with the NBA. During his ABA career he averaged over 18 points and nearly seven rebounds per game.
Carter’s pro career ended in France with his basketball skills putting him in three sports Halls of Fame: St. Bonaventure (1974), Chautauqua County (‘84) and Greater Buffalo (2012).
THIS MORNING at 11 o’clock a graveside service was held at the St. Bonaventure Cemetery for Carter, who passed away last November at age 76.
The service, coming nearly seven months after his death, is a product of the efforts by a group of friends, fans, former players and coaches from St. Bonaventure who wanted to assure he was interred with dignity.
After his playing career ended, Carter drove a limousine in Las Vegas until he was stricken with throat cancer, had to give up his job and was on the verge of being homeless. The Dropping Dimes Foundation, a group supporting down-on-their-luck former ABA players, who get no assistance from the NBA, stepped in. It paid his medical bills and made a downpayment on new housing.
But when Carter passed, his family couldn’t be located, and he faced a pauper’s burial in Las Vegas.
However, once the Bona group learned of that fate, it began the process of returning his body to the cemetery of his alma mater and their efforts were rewarded this morning.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)