The Italian American stars in US sports: Basketball and Bowling
- WTI Magazine #91 May 14, 2017
Forrest "Red" DeBernardi was the first Italian-American star to shine in the firmament of American basketball in the twenties (All-Conference in '22 and '23). After college, he played for 11 seasons in the National Athletic Amateur Union (AAU), collecting 7 selections for the AAU American Team. In '38, the Associated Press elected him "best center" for the College All-Time team and in '61 he was included in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Angel "Hank" Luisetti was the wizard of the one hand shot. He also perfected the suspension shot, which he dreamt of and which put into practice another way of playing basketball. In '34 he was nominated best player in Frisco's high school, in '37 he was an All-American at Stanford with an average of 20 points per game and 1,596 in a season (national record). In 1950, the Associated Press nominated Luisetti as one of the two best basketball players of the first half of the century, along with George Mikan. Pro basketball came late in Angelo's life: in 1959 he was one of the first 4 players to be included in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Alfred "Digger" Cervi, recruited by the new franchise of the Buffalo Bisons of the Pro league NBL (National Basketball League) directly from high school in the 1937-38 season, he played there only one season. After the military service (1940-1945) he was hired by the Rochester Royals where he won the 1945-46 NBL title. In 1948 in the new NBA he moved to the Syracuse Nationals with the dual role of player-coach, winning the title in 1950. Subsequently he refused to move to California to renounce a contract as a Los Angeles Lakers coach. There is a place for him too in the Hall of Fame.
It was an unpredictable bounce that of Fulvio "Chet" Forte, from the barn to the moon and back, his face on TV and then down into the dust. In youth he had been the best basketball player at Columbia University, not too tall but a real sniper. In 1957 he scored 45 points in the match against Penn, realizing 694 in the season and winning the NCAA MVP title, surpassing nothing less than the great Wilt Chamberlain. After college, he threw himself in the glittering world of TV: a 25-year career on ABC where he worked in a long series of successful transmissions (first of all the Monday Night Football) in the roles of creator, producer and host. But his unbridled passion for gambling and clandestine bets threw him into the dust: a national scandal, a swirling lap of money and a judge who, instead of the prison, sentenced him to social services. But this is another story.
Albert "Al" Ferrari, a guard born in New York, was the first pick of the St. Louis Hawks in the 1955 NBA draft, with which he played until 1963, scoring 2,525 points (6.8 ppg), 830 rebounds and 943 assists.
Al "Blinky" Bianchi graduated in 1954 from Bowling Green State after an excellent sporting career. In '56 he signed in the NBA with the Syracuse Nationals (that later will move to Philadelphia with the name of 76ers) with whom he played until 1966. He then became a coach, first as assistant in Chicago, then as head coach of the Seattle Supersonics (1967-69) and then in Washington and Virginia in the American Basketball Association (ABA) until 1975. Bianchi returned to the NBA as coach and then general manager, scout and consultant.
Ernest "Ernie D" DiGregorio, a playmaker native of Rhode Island, after a great college career - with a Final Four NCAA - in Providence, was chosen in 1973 on the first round of the Buffalo Braves NBA draft. After an astonishing debut among the pros (1974 NBA Rookie of the Year and Assists leader) in 1976-77 he scored an incredible 94.5% in free throws. In 1977-78 he was bought by the Los Angeles Lakers and then, before the end of the season, he went on as a free agent to the Boston Celtics.
Vincent "Vinny" DelNegro, a native of Springfield (where his grandparents arrived from the Salerno province), was the first pick of the Sacramento Kings in the NBA draft in 1988. After just one season, he went to Italy to win a championship with Benetton Treviso. In 1992 he returned to NBA for 6 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs and then, from 1999 to 2002, with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns. Later, as coach, he led the Chicago Bulls until 2010 and then the Los Angeles Clippers until 2013.
Thomas J. "Tom" Gugliotta was called from Washington to the first round of the NBA draft in 1992 and played with the pros until 2005, dressing the shirts of Bullets, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks. He won the 1993 NBA All-Rookie team and the 1997 NBA All-Stars, with a score of 9,895 points (13.0 ppg) and 5,589 rebounds (7.3 rpg).
In the end we want to add a note dedicated to the many Italian American coaches of the American basketball like the Hall of Famer Ben Carnevale, Lou Carnesecca and Rick Pitino, but also, at various times and to this day, like Dick Motta, Jim Valvano, Mike Fratello, Tom Izzo, Mike D'Antoni, Geno Auriemma and John Calipari. And a further note is worth for the referee Dick Bavetta (inducted into the Hall of Fame) and the ex-coach and a brilliant journalist Dick Vitale.
In 1895, the first American Bowling Congress was organized in New York. In 1909 the modern era of this game started, with lighted and colored rooms, parquet, betting, professional players and imaginative nicknames. Then came the automated AMF machines in 1957 and an incredible success with a myriad of bowling halls opened all over the nation. With the advent of the Professional Bowling Association (PBA) in '57 and the boom of television competitions, bowling really boomed.
Andy Varipapa, born in Carfizzi (in Sicily) in 1891 and emigrated to the United States, represented the history of the bowler profession as a player-coach on contract in a circle that three or four times a year departed on tour to play in the first Pro tournament and give lessons around the country. Mature and still strong, a little luvvy - he was ambidextrous, and thus occasionally performing with two-handed multiple launch - he won his first titles after turning 50, in the second part of the '40s. He was one of the few to win 2 Bowling Proprietors Association of America (PBAA) tournaments and at 69 years old he was still able to triumph, scoring 9 strikes in a row. He was included in both the Bowling Halls of Fame.
Basil "Buzz" Fazio, born in 1908 in Michigan, was head of the professional players in the Stroh's Beer team: 9 years of success and national titles, television appearances and famous challenges. In 1957 he left Detroit and moved to St. Louis to organize the Falstaff Beer team and collect more successes and titles. At age 56, Fazio won the California Open, played the Masters until 1968 and, in the 1973-74 biennial, was elected President of the PBA.
Louis "Lou" Campi, born in Verona (Italy) in 1905, was one of the champions of the 40s and 50s in the New York metropolitan area. In 1947 he won the double BPAA title with Andy Varipapa and, in 1957, won it again playing in pairs with the other "paisà" Lindy Faragalli.
Alfred "Lindy" Faragalli, a native of New Jersey, was a Hall of Famer who often played in pairs with other "guests" of the USBC Hall of Fame as Lou Campi, Chuck Pezzano and Graz Castellano. In 1958 he won the USBC Open Championship.
Hank Marino, a native of Milwaukee, in 1951 was elected "Bowler of Half Century" and later by "Bowling Magazine" nominated in the Pre-1950 All-America Team. In '36 he won 3 international tournaments in Berlin, during the Olympics.
Johnny Petraglia, from New Jersey, was another Hall of Famer with a long career, which started with the first PBA Championship in 1966 and interrupted for several years because of the Vietnam War. In the seventies he won a bunch of important titles. In 2008, he was ranked 16th in the all-time ranking of the 50 best players in the PBA.