New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

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Bobby Nystrom

Bobby Nystrom (Hockey.  Born, Stockholm, Sweden, Oct. 10, 1952.)  Among skaters, no one logged more years with the Islanders from their inception than Robert Thore Nystrom.  A third-round draft pick (33rd overall) in 1972, Nystrom played 14 seasons with the club, retiring in 1986.  In 900 regular-season games, he scored 235 goals with a high of 30 in 1977-78.  Nystrom scored only 39 playoff goals, but four came in overtime (second-most in N.H.L. history) and none was more significant than the game-winner May 24, 1980.  That afternoon, he beat goalie Pete Peeters with a backhand at 7:11 of the extra session to give the Islanders a 5-4 victory over Philadelphia at Nassau Coliseum.  Nystrom’s goal off a pass from John Tonelli ended the Cup final series in six games and gave the Islanders the first of their four straight Cups.  During the years that the Islanders were a dominant team, Nystrom played right wing on the “Banana Line” (so called because they wore yellow jerseys during practice), with Tonelli on left wing and Wayne Merrick at center.  When he retired following the 1985-86 season, Nystrom left only goalie Billy Smith still on the team from the original 1972 Islanders (for whom he played 11 games).

Paavo Nurmi

Paavo Nurmi (Track.  Born, Turku, Finland, June 13, 1897; died, Helsinki, Finland, Oct. 2, 1973.)  Paavo Nurmi had already won six Olympic gold medals and one silver running for Finland when he first appeared in New York in 1925.  Nurmi immediately dominated the mile events in the major indoor meets at the Garden, beating reigning U.S. king Joie Ray (Jan. 6, 1925) in the mile and 90 minutes later broke Ray’s record by 10 seconds in the 5,000-meter run.  At the Millrose Games three weeks later, Nurmi bested Ray twice (at ¾-mile and again at 1½ miles).  Then at the New York A.C. Games, he won again in the two-mile run (8:58 2/5), becoming the first man ever to break nine minutes in the event.  He then bowed out of the Knights of Columbus, the year’s final major meet, with a distressed stomach blamed on a beef pot pie.  Nurmi won another gold for Finland at the 1928 Olympics and then returned to the U.S. for a tour in the 1929 indoor season.  In the Millrose, the first major event of the year (Feb. 9), Nurmi was upset by Ray Conger, a former N.C.A.A. mile champ from Iowa State, by eight yards in the Wanamaker Mile.  It was hailed for many years after as the “greatest upset in track.”

John Nucatola

John Nucatola (Basketball.  Born, New York, NY, Nov. 17, 1907; died, Scotch Plains, NJ, May 8, 2000.)  When seasons were shorter than they were to become, John Nucatola averaged over 100 games per season as a college (1934-59) and professional (1946-54) basketball referee.  For many years, Nucatola also worked high school games in the New York City area.  But it was in the colleges in which he had his greatest impact.  During his early years, officiating was dominated by Pat Kennedy, Chuck Solodare, and Matty Begovich, who as a group were very demonstrative in their calls and often gave evidence of playing to the crowd.  Nucatola maintained a dignified and controlled demeanor throughout a game and was responsible, more than any other man, for setting the tone that is now universal among basketball officials.  He was the model referee.  As such, he was greatly in demand for major events.  Nucatola worked his first N.I.T. final in 1942 (with Kennedy).  He was to become a fixture at the N.I.T., then considered equal (or even superior) to the N.C.A.A., working the Final in 1947, 1948, and nine times over the next 10 years (1950-59).  Nucatola was also an original B.A.A. referee when the pro league was formed in 1946 and continued after the N.B.L. merger formed the N.B.A. in 1949.  But after a Knicks overtime win at Syracuse Nov. 22, 1953, Nucatola criticized the N.B.A. and its coaches when he and Hagan Anderson needed a police escort out of the arena.  He resigned Jan. 27, 1954.  “I hope my action will help other N.B.A. officials get the respect they deserve,” he said.  Nucatola was supervisor of officials for the E.C.A.C. (1960-72) and the N.B.A. (1972-77).

Jim Norris

Jim Norris (Executive.  Born, Chicago, IL, Nov. 6, 1906; died, Chicago, IL, Feb. 25, 1966.)  Although he lived virtually his entire life in his native Chicago, James Dougan Norris was noted in New York sports for a decade of major activity.  Following World War II service in the Navy (1942-45), Norris became co-owner of the N.H.L. Chicago Blackhawks in 1946.  He was also active in horse racing as an owner and breeder.  The boxing business caught his notice and in May 1949, Norris formed the International Boxing Club to buy out the ailing Mike Jacobs and the 20th Century Sporting Club, the principal New York fight promoter.  He also acquired Jacobs’ shares in the Garden and shortly owned 40% of the outstanding stock.  Norris became associated with several underworld figures who moved into the boxing business, including Frankie Carbo and Frank (Blinky) Palermo.  Norris’ half-brother, Bruce, owned the Detroit Red Wings and the Norris family owned arenas in St. Louis, Mo., and Omaha, Nebr.  Within four years, the combination of corruption and monopoly created legal problems for the I.B.C.  Its executive secretary (Truman K. Gibson, Jr.) was indicted and, in 1957, the I.B.C. was found to be a monopoly by federal courts.  Owing to its control of the New York, Detroit, and Chicago franchises in what was then a six-team N.H.L. (sometimes called the Norris House League), Norris was ordered to divest himself of his Garden holdings and dissolve the I.B.C.  After an unsuccessful appeal of the court ruling, and a messy U.S. Senate investigation into its corruption, the I.B.C. was dissolved in 1959.  The same year, Norris sold his interest in the Garden for $4 million to Graham-Paige, a New York closed-end investment firm.  He later stated his regret about ever entering the boxing business.  His racing interests centered around Spring Hill Farms (originally Peconic Farms) in Paris, Kent., and Norris’ colt, Jamie K., narrowly lost the 1953 Preakness to Native Dancer.  Both Carbo and Palermo served jail time for their boxing activities while Gibson was convicted but received a suspended sentence.  Norris’ father, James Sr. (who died in 1952), took over the Red Wings in 1933 and the same year joined the group supporting the efforts of Col. John Hammond to control the Garden.  After Hammond was ousted by John Reed Kilpatrick’s faction in 1935, the elder Norris alone among his major supporters remained.  He was elected to the board in 1936 but it was the son who became the dominant force in Garden affairs.

Martha Norelius

Martha Norelius (Swimming.  Born, Stockholm, Sweden, Jan. 20, 1908; died, St. Louis, MO, Sept. 23, 1955.)  Coming to the U.S. as a child with her swimming coach father (Charles), Martha Norelius was the best freestyle woman swimmer in the world for most of the 1920s.  Norelius joined the Women’s Swimming Association of New York and won 18 national individual championships (1925-29), as well as four relay titles for the W.S.A.N.Y.  She also became the first woman Olympian ever to win the same event in two successive Olympics by winning the 400-meter freestyle in 1924 at Paris and in 1928 at Amsterdam.  Astonishingly, Norelius lost her amateur eligibility in 1929 (and was stripped of five more indoor titles) for giving an exhibition in Miami, Fla., when pros were present.  At the time, she held nine world records.  Norelius turned pro when her defense was rejected and won $10,000 in a Wrigley Challenge race at Toronto.  Later, she married Canadian Olympic sculler Joe Wright, Jr., whom she had met at the Amsterdam Games.

Marty Noble

Marty Noble (Sportswriter.  Born, The Bronx, NY, June 25, 1948.)  One of the most knowledgeable baseball writers of his era, Martin Walter Noble began his career with The Herald-News in Passaic, N.J., in Aug. 1970.  Noble then spent over eight years at The Record in Hackensack, N.J. (1972-81), going on the baseball beat in 1974.  In January 1981, he became a baseball writer and columnist at Newsday.  For nine seasons, Noble regularly covered the Yankees, shifting to the Mets in 1990.  During the next 15 seasons (1990-2004), he provided thorough and insightful coverage of the Mets, though it became noted for his combative relationship with manager Bobby Valentine.  Noble left Newsday after the 2004 season but continued to cover the Mets for until 2010.

Lou Niss

Lou Niss (Sports editor.  Born, Minsk, Russia, Oct. 5, 1903; died, New York, NY, Apr. 30, 1987.)  The last sports editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, Louis Niss was also the first front-office employee hired by the Mets, in 1960.  Niss began his newspaper career in 1923 wirh the Brooklyn Times and worked his way through a series of mergers that ultimately reduced four Brooklyn dailies to zero.  The Times absorbed the Standard Union to become the Times Union and then, in 1937, the paper was sold to the Eagle.  In 1941, Niss became the Eagle sports editor, succeeding Jimmy Wood.  (The other principal Brooklyn daily, the Citizen, closed in 1947.)  When the Eagle folded in 1955 during a strike, Niss did publicity for Yonkers Raceway for three years (1955-58) and then joined Branch Rickey’s projected third major league, the Continental League.  When the league forced expansion in the A.L. and N.L., Niss was hired by the Mets, initially as a publicist.  Starting in 1962, however, Niss spent 19 seasons (through 1980) as the team’s traveling secretary.  While with the Eagle, he served as chairman of the B.B.W.A.A. Brooklyn chapter several times, the first in 1944-45.

Phil Niekro

Phil Niekro (Baseball.  Born, Blaine, OH, Apr. 1, 1939.)  A righthanded knuckleballer who spent just two seasons with the team, Philip Henry Niekro nevertheless achieved the significant milestone of his 24-year career (1964-87) with the Yankees.  Niekro was 32-20 in his two seasons in New York, winning 16 games each in 1984 and 1985.  He won his 300th career victory on the final day of the 1985 season Oct. 6 at Toronto, 8-0.  Niekro spent virtually all of his career with the Braves in Milwaukee (1964-65) and Atlanta (1966-83), and was briefly with Cleveland (1986-87) and Toronto (1987) after leaving the Yankees.  He finished with a lifetime 318-274 record.  At his retirement, Niekro ranked in the top 10 in several career categories, including losses, games (864), innings, walks, and strikeouts.

Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus (Golf.  Born, Columbus, OH, Jan. 21, 1940.)  Winner of more major tournaments than any other golfer in history, “the Golden Bear” captured 20 major titles, with two of his most dramatic victories coming in U.S. Opens at Baltusrol in Springfield, N.J., in 1967 and 1980.  Jack William Nicklaus also won the Open in 1962 and 1972, as well as a record six Masters, five P.G.A. championships and two U.S. Amateur crowns.  His first-round 71 in the 1967 Open placed him behind amateur Marty Fleckman (67), Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper (69).  A second-round 67 drew him to within one stroke of Palmer’s 68-137.  Fleckman regained the lead on the third day.  But for Nicklaus, the first 54 holes were just a warm-up for his blistering finale.  Nicklaus roared through the final 18 in 65 strokes and knocked in a birdie putt on 18 to finish four strokes ahead of Palmer.  He had eight birdies on Sunday and finished at 275, an Open record, breaking the standard set in 1948 by Ben Hogan in Los Angeles.  Perhaps even more dramatic was his 1980 triumph, which enabled him to become only the fourth man ever to win four U.S. Opens.  Nicklaus came off a 1979 that was his worst year ever on the tour.  He hadn’t won a tournament since July 1978, at Philadelphia, and in 1979 was a miserable 71st on the money-winning list.  Yet he turned in another Open record with a 63-71-70-68-272.  He needed that brilliant performance to shake Japan’s Isao Aoki, who toured the 72 holes in 274.

Harry Newman

Harry Newman (Pro football.  Born, Detroit, MI, Sept. 5, 1909; died, Las Vegas, NV, May 2, 2000.)  As a triple-threat tailback from the University of Michigan, Harry L. Newman signed a contract with the Football Giants that gave him a percentage of the gate.  Newman justified the deal by leading the N.F.L. in passing in 1933 as a rookie and helping them win the 1934 N.F.L. championship.  In the 1933 championship game at Chicago, he threw the first touchdown passes in league playoff history, but the Giants lost, 23-21.  In 1934, Newman set a club single-game record with 38 rushing attempts against Green Bay, but a week later cracked two bones in his back and didn’t play in the famed 1934 “Sneakers Game,” in which the Giants beat the Bears to win the N.F.L. title.  He played seven games in 1935  and then joined the Brooklyn Tigers in the new A.F.L., retiring after the 1937 season.  Newman later became an executive with the Ford Motor Co. and owned major Ford dealerships in Detroit and Denver, Colo.

About This Dictionary

The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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About Bill Shannon

A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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