Lennie Rosenbluth, who led North Carolina to a title, died at the age of 89
Lennie Rosenbluth, the All-America forward who led a North Carolina team with a New Yorker starting lineup in an unbeaten season and a thrilling victory over Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas squad in the 1957 NCAA Basketball Tournament championship game, died Saturday. He was 89.
His death was announced by the Athletic Department of North Carolina, which did not cite the cause or say where he died. He lived in Chapel Hill, NC, home of the university’s main campus.
Rosenbluth, at 6 feet 5 inches, averaged 28 points per game in the 1956-57 season and beat Chamberlain for the Helms Foundation College Basketball Player of the Year Award. His Tar Heels went 32-0 and ended their season with a 54-53 triple overtime victory over Kansas, with Rosenbluth scoring 20 points before breaking down late in regulation. Chamberlain, who has become one of the most dominant players of the National Basketball Association, was held to 23 points after averaging 30 in the regular season.
In the semifinals, Rosenbluth scored two jump shots in the third overtime of North Carolina’s 74-70 victory over Michigan State and finished with 31 points.
A native of the Bronx, he played sparingly for the basketball team at James Monroe High School in that area, but did an impressive show playing basketball at Catskill Summer Resort Hotels, a magnet for leading New York metropolitan players. He came to the attention of Frank McGuire, who was named the North Carolina coach in 1953 after joining St. Louis.
Rosenbluth was orchestrated by McGuire in the avant-garde of a player pipeline from New York to North Carolina.
“Basketball was not yet a truly national sport, and the game was still more and more often a city game, best played, it was believed, in New York,” David Halberstam wrote in the 1999 New York Times. “But it was a bad time for college sports in New York. The point-fixing scandals of the early ’50s destroyed the sport locally.
McGuire formed a North Carolina team that baptized in a predominantly Protestant region with a formation that included Rosenbluth, who was Jewish, and four Catholic teammates: Tommy Kearns, who played high school in St. Louis. Ann played, in Brooklyn; Pete Brennan, of St. Augustine, also of Brooklyn; Joe Quigg, of St Francis Prep, on Queen’s Day; and Bobby Cunningham, of All Hallows, in the Bronx.
Rosenbluth averaged 28 points and 8.6 rebounds a game in the Tar Heels’ 1956-57 regular season. His 2,047 career points are the most ever from a North Carolina player who has appeared in just three seasons.
He was named by the Associated Press and United Press International for the 1955-56 season as a second-team All-American when he was a junior, and a “consensus” All-American for the 1956-57 championship season, which means that a host of outlets agreed that he was one of the top five players in college basketball.
He was selected by the Philadelphia Warriors as the sixth player in the 1957 NBA Draft. But the Warriors already had high-scoring Paul Arizin on the small forward. Rosenbluth, his backup, averaged just 4.2 points per game in his two pro seasons.
Leonard Robert Rosenbluth was born on January 22, 1933, a son of Jack and Rose Rosenbluth. His father worked in the television manufacturing business.
After graduating from North Carolina and playing for the Warriors, Rosenbluth learned American history and trained basketball at a high school in Wilson, NC, east of Raleigh. Comparing different types with his Tar Heel National Championship team, he once said like “my first year, we had a perfect season again, except we lost every game.”
Rosenbluth learned history again and coached high school basketball in Florida for some 35 years. When his first wife, Helen (Oliver) Rosenbluth, known as Pat, was diagnosed with cancer, she returned to Chapel Hill so she could be treated at the University of North Carolina hospital system. She died in 2010. He married Dianne Stabler in 2011.
Rosenbluth had a daughter, Elizabeth; a son, Steven, and grandchildren from his first marriage. A list of survivors was not immediately available.
He was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Israel and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Commack, NY, on Long Island.
In 2002, the Atlantic Coast Conference selected Rosenbluth for its 50th anniversary basketball team and named him one of the 50 greatest athletes in the history of the conference. North Carolina has its 10th.
During the 2006-2007 college basketball season, Michael Jordan and James Worthy, who played on the 1982 Tar Heel Championship team, participated in an event for North Carolina title teams. They thanked the players who brought North Carolina to national basketball prominence in 1957.
As Rosenbluth told the New York Times, “They said things like ‘You left everything.’