Holman, Nathan

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HOLMAN, NATHAN (Helmanowitch , "Nat ," "Mr. Basketball "; 1896–1995), U.S. basketball pioneer, professional player with the Original Celtics, coach of City College of New York, which won ncaa and nit titles in 1950; member of Basketball Hall of Fame. Holman was the seventh of 10 children born on Norfolk Street on New York's Lower East Side to Orthodox Russian immigrants Mary (Goldman) and Louis, who operated a grocery store and kept a kosher home. Holman learned sports from his six brothers, and from playing in the local Seward Park and at the local settlement houses. Holman graduated Commerce High School, where he was unanimously chosen as goalie for the All-Scholastic Soccer Team, left halfback on the All-City Football Team, unanimous All-Scholastic pick in basketball, and pitcher and second baseman for the school baseball team. Holman then received a degree from the two-year Savage School for Physical Education, while at the same time launching his professional career with the Knickerbockers, playing 80 games his first season and getting paid $5 a game.

Holman also began working at City College as coach of soccer and freshman basketball, and after a year in the Navy he returned to ccny as head coach beginning in the 1919–20 season, becoming at 23 the youngest college coach in the country. While earning a master's degree at nyu, Holman continued playing professionally for some dozen teams in the Eastern League and Penn State League, including Bridgeport, Syracuse, Scranton, and Germantown, but it was when he joined the Original Celtics at the end of the 1921 season that he became the greatest basketball player of his day, known for his exceptional ball-handling, accurate shooting, and court savvy. Holman's extraordinary skills as an adroit passer and floor leader revolutionized the way basketball was played, and made the Celtics virtually unbeatable: the team won 90 percent of its games over the next eight years winning 720 of 795 games, including a 204–11 record in 1922–23 season, 134–6 in the 1924–25 season. The team disbanded in 1928 and Holman played two more seasons with Syracuse and Chicago, retiring from competition in 1930 to devote time to his head coaching duties at City College, and to the newly built 92nd St. ymha. At ccny he introduced the street-smart style of basketball that came to be known as the "City Game," emphasizing ball handling, speed, and passing. Holman was also an early proponent of keeping files on potential opponents, and convinced ccny to pay for scouting films of college games played at Madison Square Garden.

Holman retired in 1960 after compiling a 423–190 record in 37 seasons at ccny, highlighted in 1950 when his Beavers becoming the only college team in history to win both the ncaa and nit tournaments. Two years later the team was implicated in a gambling scandal that led to Holman's being dismissed by the New York City Board of Higher Education, but he appealed the decision to the New York State commissioner of education, which rescinded the ruling and reinstated Holman at ccny.

In 1949, Holman was the first American to coach in Israel and train Israeli youth. He was a lifetime supporter of sports in Israel, raising millions for the effort, and was president of the U.S. Sports for Israel Committee, sponsors of the U.S. delegation to the Maccabiah Games, from 1973 to 1977.

Holman was enshrined in the Helms Hall of Fame in 1934, the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1964, the Boys Athletic League Hall of Fame in 1976, and had the ccny gym (1977) and the Wingate Institute School for Coaches and Instructors (1978) named after him. He was named the third-greatest player on the Associated Press' First Team of the Half-Century (1900–50). Holman wrote four books: Scientific Basketball (1922), Winning Basketball (1932), Championship Basketball (1942), and Holman on Basketball (1950).

[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]