Holman Left His Mark On Basketball Legendary College Coach Developed So-Called Eastern Manner Of Play
Nat Holman, a man of finesse on the court and in the classroom, is dead.
Holman died last Sunday at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in the Bronx of natural causes, said his nephew, Tom Holman. He was 98.
Called “Mr. Basketball,” Holman was widely credited with bringing class and sophistication to the game and helped spawn the eastern style of basketball known as “The City Game.”
As a player, he improvised individual moves that became the foundation for a type of basketball played in New York. As a coach, his teams at the City College of New York used this street-smart style to leap to the top of the college basketball world.
In 1949-50, Holman’s CCNY team won the National Invitation Tournament and the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship, a double that will never be duplicated.
But several members of that team were arrested the year after their big season for dumping games in the biggest pointshaving scandal in college basketball history.
Late in life, the scars of that infamous season still showed on Holman.
“I will not at any time say anything about it,” Holman told a reporter once. “That situation is dead. My heart bleeds for some of those youngsters who made a mistake. They say to err is human, to forgive divine. The press will never get anything from me. They’ll never get it from the coach.”
“Nat was a great coach,” said Red Holzman, who played for Holman at CCNY from 1940-42 and later coached the New York Knicks to their only two NBA titles. “He had a lot to do with the development of the game. His philosophy of basketball was great. He was a great teacher and a great player.
“He preached team basketball, passing the ball to the open man, moving without the ball, unselfishness, defense. He taught me a lot of things that I preached later on (with the Knicks). I owe him a lot. I’m saddened by it.”
“What a great loss,” former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca said. “He was a great player for that era, a tough competitor, a natty dresser. His teams were always well-skilled and well-prepared. He was a great fundamentalist.”
Holman grew up on New York’s Lower East Side. He starred at New York University and began playing professionally with the Germantown (Pa.) basketball team. Concurrently, he was serving as a coach at CCNY.
“I was one of the few men who was able to play pro basketball and coach a college team at the same time, but it was rough,” Holman said. “If my college boys played in Detroit, for instance, I would make a 6 o’clock train or take a sleeper to New York after the game and get home in the morning, ready to play a pro game the next night.”
From 1920 to 1927, Holman played with the Original Celtics, the most celebrated barnstorming team of the era. They paid the price for loyalty, though.
“We had to contend with all kinds of conditions,” Holman said. “Very often, we would arrive in a town just in time to lie down in our hotel room, grab a sandwich and play the game.
“If a team beat the Celtics in those days, it would make the season for them.” “The team that won the double championship should be given credit as the best team I ever coached,” said Holman, who coached for 41 years. “Those fellows went into tournament play not ranked too highly. But they went in, gave all they had and did what they had to do. That was my most satisfying season, no doubt.”
After retiring from coaching at CCNY in 1960 with a record of 421-190 during a 37-year span, Holman was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1964.
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