Boykoff, Harry : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Boykoff, Harry

Harry, who joked that he had no middle name because his parents couldn't afford one, was taught how to really play basketball by fabled St. John's coach Joe Lapchick. Turning his bulk and relative ungainliness into a virtue, Boykoff became so proficient at blocking shots that because of his play, the rules of the game were changed to prevent shots being blocked on their way down towards the basket. Harry was also a pioneer of taking shots from over his head, instead of shooting a two-handed set shot from his chest. Because of his unusual height, this particular set-up was extremely hard to block.

Despite his seeming lack of natural athletic talent for basketball, Boykoff became a star in college before playing professionally. At 6'9", he was the tallest player ever to represent a New York Metropolitan school when he enrolled at St. John's. In 1943, Harry gained national fame when he scored 45 points against St. Joseph's of Philadelphia in Madison Square Garden, and led St. John's to a 21-3 record. After a three year stint in the Army, Boykoff returned to St. John's in 1947. There he set a Madison Square Garden record with 54 points against St. Francis College (the most scored in a single game that season). Later in life, Harry appeared in bit parts in films and television (including Star Trek). He died of lung cancer on February 20, 2001, at the age of 78.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. July 24, 1922 - Feb. 20, 2001

Career Highlights:
A product of Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, the 6’9” center Boykoff, and fellow sophomore, 5’8” guard Hy Gotkin, joined the St. John’s basketball team in 1943 and helped the program reach new heights. That season, Boykoff made an immediate impact in college basketball and led his squad to a 9-1 record midway through the season. The tallest player in New York City history when he first suited up for St. John's, he was featured in a 1943 Newsweek article that stated, "... this tall man with the high reach has already been tagged the player to watch in remaining games and championship competition…Boykoff left grammar school at 6 feet 1, added four inches during high school, and four so far at St. John’s. It is rumored that the reason the 20-year-old sophomore is studying accountancy is so that he can tally his final height…Nowadays, the young giant no longer winces at, 'Hi, stretch!' But he does feel morose when he remembers he’s 4F: ‘I’d make as good a soldier as a little man.'" (February 1, 1943)

By the end of the 1943 season, Boykoff had led St. John's to the mythical New York City Metropolitan championships and a record of 17-2. Named Converse and Sporting News first team All-America, and Helms second team All-America, Boykoff was also unanimously selected first team All-Metropolitan. Invited to the NIT (National Invitational Tournament), St. John’s rolled over their opposition and won the championship by defeating Toledo 48-27 in the final. Boykoff was named tournament MVP after averaging 18.3 points per game. Following the NIT contest, St. John's played NCAA tournament champion Wyoming in a charity game to benefit the Red Cross; St. John's was upset in overtime, 52-47.

Boykoff served three years in the Army during World War II (during his physical he straddled the scale, instead of standing on it, thereby measuring a mere 6'5", thus allowing him to serve), then returned to St. John's in 1946 and led them to a 17-5 regular season record. Named first team All-Met, and True second team All-America, Boykoff led St. John’s in scoring with 339 points (17.0 average), and was joined in the starting line-up by backcourt players, Lennie Doctor, and future NBA star Max Zaslofsky. St. John’s returned to the NIT for the fourth consecutive season (they repeated as tournament champions in 1944), but Boykoff was held to seven points and they lost in the first round to West Virginia, 70-58.

His final collegiate season was in 1947 when Boykoff was captain of the St. John's team. They finished the regular season with a record of 16-6 and again played in the NIT. In the final regular season game against rival St. Francis, Boykoff set a Madison Square Garden record with 54 points, breaking the one set by the legendary George Mikan. In fact, Boykoff outstored the entire St. Francis squad as St. John's won, 71-52. Following that game, St. John's had high expectations entering the NIT, but they were dashed in the first round as Boykoff was held to 12 points in a 61-55 loss to No. 11 North Carolina State. Boykoff, who was named second team All-Met, was also named to the East squad in the annual East-West All-Star game; Boykoff scored 11, but the East lost the game, 66-58 (one of his teammates on the East was NYU great Sid Tannenbaum.

After his terrific career at St. John's, Boykoff turned professional and played with the Toledo Jeeps of the NBL (National Basketball League). The following season, he moved to the Waterloo Hawks. In his two seasons in the NBL, Harry played in 120 games, and scored 1,351 points (11.3 average). During the 1948-49 season, he finished sixth in the league in scoring with 12.6 points per game.

Following the '48-'49 season, the NBL folded and Waterloo (along with five other NBL teams) were absorbed into the Basketball Association of America, which then changed its name to the NBA (National Basketball Association). Boykoff remained with the Hawks, which finished the season with a 19-43 record. That season, he was fourth in the league with .413 field goal percentage (288-698) and fourteenth in free throw percentage (203-262 for 77.5%). Waterloo folded after the season (as the NBA went from 17 to 11 teams), and Boykoff began the 1950-51 season with the Boston Celtics. He moved midseason to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, which finished in last place in the Western Division with a record of 25-43. He retired after the season.

Boykoff is a member of the St. John’s Athletics Hall of Fame and the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame

New York City

Career Dates:
Harry played center at St. John's University in 1943, returning to St. John's in 1946-1947. He was in the army from 1943-1946. He played in the NBL with the Toledo Jeeps in 1947-1948 and for the Waterloo Hawks in 1948-49. Harry played in the NBA with the Waterloo Hawks in 1949-1950, and with the Boston Celtics and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in 1950-51.

Physical description:
6'9", 230 pounds

Career Statistics:
In the NBA:
Games: 109
Points: 1105 points
Points Per Game: 10.1

Field Goals Made: 414
Field Goals Attempted: 1,034
Field Goal Percentage: .400

Free Throws Made: 277
Free Throws Attempted: 362
Free Throw Percentage: .765

Rebounds: 220
Rebounds Per Game: 2.0
Assists: 209
Assists Per Game: 1.9

Personal Fouls: 426
Disqualifications: 12 (record incomplete)

In the NBL
Games: 120
Points: 1,351
Points Per Game: 11.3

Field Goals Made: 518
Field Goals Attempted: not available

Free Throws Made: 315
Free Throws Attempted: 426
Free Throw Percentage: .739

Rebounds: not available
Assists: not available

Personal Fouls: 456
Disqualifications: 28

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Also, read a chapter from The Jew in American Sports by Harold U. Ribalow and Meir Z. Ribalow

encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Official NBA Encyclopedia: Third Edition, edited by Jan Hubbard (New York: Doubleday, 2000)
The Modern Encyclopedia of Basketball, edited by Zander Hollander (New York: Doubleday, 1979)
Inside Sports Magazine: College Basketball, by Mike Douchant with Jim Nantz (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1997)
Ronald Encyclopedia of Basketball, edited by William G. Mokray (Ronald Press: 1962)
1949 Converse Basketball Yearbook, by the Converse Rubber Company (Malden, Massachusetts, 1949)