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Knicks Star Dean Meminger Remembered at Childhood Basketball Court

By Claire Cameron | August 24, 2013 4:17pm | Updated on August 24, 2013 8:26pm
 Dean "The Dream" Meminger was found dead at 65 in a Harlem hotel room on August 23, 2013.
Dean Meminger, Former Knicks Player, Found Dead
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HARLEM — Basketball star and former Knicks champion Dean "The Dream" Meminger, who was found dead on Friday, never forgot where he was raised: the basketball courts of Rucker Park.

On Saturday morning, friends and former competitors gathered courtside at the famed public outdoor courts at West 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard to commemorate Meminger's legacy by holding a minute of silence and watching a new generation of kids following in the player's footsteps. 

Meminger, who began his basketball career at Rucker Park as a 12-year-old, rose to the top of his game, playing point guard for the championship-winning 1973 New York Knicks team. On Friday night, Meminger was found dead in his hotel room at the Hamilton Heights Hotel on 145th Street. He was 65 years old. 

"I am sort of shocked, sort of not shocked," said Samuel "Sam" Stith, who played for the New York Knicks in 1961 and 1962 at the memorial. "Dean had a lot of lifetime issues. I was hurt though." 

The exact cause of Meminger's death is unknown, pending further lab tests according to the Medical Examiner's spokeswoman Ellen Borakove, but Meminger reportedly struggled in the past with drug addiction.

Meminger had checked into the hotel Thursday night at 6 p.m. with a single suitcase a manager said, and was found fully clothed on a bed midday Friday. He lived only a few blocks south, but stayed at the hotel once or twice a month, according to the hotel manager.

Stith remembers Meminger from their days in high school, Stith attending St. Francis Prep, which was in the same neighborhood as Meminger's school, Rice High School (which closed in 2011).

"He was one of the best ball players on the team," said Stith, reminiscing about Meminger's high school prowess. "He was a role player. He could be what you needed him to be."

In a statement to the press, Knicks Executive Vice President Glen Grunwald said he was "saddened" by the news.

"From the day he was drafted by this franchise in 1971, Dean was a friend and close member of this family," he said. Another basketball legend, Wali "Wonder" Jones, a former starting guard for the Philadelphia 76ers who played on the 1967 championship winning team, had traveled from Philadelphia to see his former foe on the court and friend Meminger. He too, was deeply saddened by Meminger's death.

He was a competitor and a friend,"said Jones. "I feel that we lost a fraternity brother. We were like a family."

"We used to come up when we were 12 years old, and the best in Philly would play the best in New York," he said. The boys played as respective members of the Charles Baker League in Philadelphia, and the Rucker League in New York, Jones said. "Not only was Dean a great ball player, but he was a community activist."

Meminger was one of the first professional players to get involved with the youth initiative Each One Teach One, which provides after school, weekend, and summer sports and activities, including basketball coaching, for local children, his friends said. The initiative has now been running for at least 50 years.

While the veterans stood at the court side, a team of young players were picking up a game.

"This is what he should be known for," said Jones, gesturing at the boys. "He was one of the first professional players to get involved in the community."

Meminger's family sent out a statement Friday echoing his friends' recollections of him as a player that gave back."...He helped countless people around the country receive scholarships, high school and college admissions, and even employment," the statement, which was sent out through NY1 where his son, Dean, Jr. works as a criminal justice reporter, said.

On the other side of the park overseeing the memorial, Bob McCulloch, Jr. said he was once one of those inspired boys. Meminger coached him while he was in his senior year of high school, taking McCulloch upstate to a basketball skills camp in the summer to refine his talents. He said he was a great coach, and very personable.

"He had a system that helped you stay in the position of triple threat," said McCulloch, Jr. "In my senior year he taught me the skills that got me to the senior championships."

McCulloch said part of Meminger's appeal was his engagement in the community that he lived in and had come from, a legacy which McCulloch knew would live on with Each One Teach One.

"At the time when Each One Teach One started, the Knicks hadn't won a championship yet," he said. "So to have him be a part of it, then have the Knicks play and win...It made a large impact on the kids."

"They could really believe that someone from where they came from could do that."