Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Memorable Dream

Dean "The Dream" Meminger might have set the template for the prototypical modern New York guard.

The three-time All-City pick out of Harlem's Rice High School in the 1960s had superior handle, uncommon passing vision, smothering one-on-one defense — and an outside jumper that left a lot to be desired. With that skill set, he antedated Pearl Washington, Kenny Smith, Kenny Anderson and scores of other citified point guards.

Meminger was one of coach Al McGuire's prized New York recruits at Marquette, and "The Dream" didn't disappoint. He scored 1,637 points in his three seasons with the then-Warriors, who went 78-9 in that stretch.

Meminger was drafted 16th overall in 1971 by his hometown New York Knicks. But playing time was scarce in a crowded backcourt that included Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and Dick Barnett.

Despite being undersized for the NBA at just under 6 feet, Meminger showed flashes of brilliance.

His greatest performance came in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1973 against the Boston Celtics.

The Knicks had squandered a 3-1 lead in the series. The Celtics had never lost in their nine previous Game 7s. To make things more difficult for New York, Monroe was out with an ailing hip and the game was being played at the imposing Boston Garden.

Meminger stepped into the breach left by Monroe in the starting lineup. Knicks coach Red Holzman handed Meminger, not defensive ace Frazier, the assignment of guarding Boston's red-hot Jo Jo White.

The Celtics were able to take a 22-19 lead after the first quarter, but Meminger flipped the script in the second quarter. He scored nine points as the Knicks headed into halftime with a 45-40 lead.

Meminger finished with 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals in 36 minutes. His harassing defense held White to 10-of-22 shooting.

The Knicks pulled off a surprisingly easy 94-78 victory. The Celtics shot just 31 of 83 and turned the ball over 23 times.

Meminger was the catalyst that propelled the Knicks into the NBA Finals, where they beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games.

Thirty-seven years later, former Knicks reserve Phil Jackson remembered that Game 7 against the Celtics:

“Jo Jo White was punishing us with high screen-rolls, and Dean Meminger was saying, ‘I don’t get any help,’ ” the Lakers coach said during the 2010 NBA Finals. “And Red Holzman barked at him, ‘The job has got to get done.’ As you know, Dean Meminger had the game of his life in the seventh game."

Meminger ended up playing six years in the NBA, including two with the Atlanta Hawks, averaging 6.1 points and 2.5 assists per game.

He's been all over the map since, cropping up as a coach at diverse locales like Manhattanville College, the Women's Professional Basketball League and the CBA, where he preceded Jackson with the Albany Patroons. Like many players of his era, Meminger battled substance abuse. He last surfaced as the victim of a housing fire in New York in 2009.

Based solely on career stats, Meminger's NBA stint can be viewed as a disappointment. But he had flashes where "The Dream" had to be seen to be believed.