One of the greatest Jewish basketball players in the mid-1930s, Rubenstein helped NYU capture the mythical Eastern championship in 1934 and the Helms National Championship in 1935. In an interview on February 22, 2001, Leonard Lewin, dean of New York sportswriters, made the following comment about Willie's career at New York University in the 1930s, "He was an outstanding shooter, and the best player on the team, by far -- and they were the best team around in those years." Rubenstein later played professionally in the American Basketball League and won a league championship in 1939.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Dec. 28, 1912
A guard from the Bronx, Rubenstein was a three-year star for New York University (NYU) in the mid-1930s when the Violets were one of the best teams in the country. After captaining the freshman team during the 1931-32 season, Rubenstein left school briefly before returning to NYU in the fall of 1933. That year as a sophomore, he joined the varsity and immediately became a vital cog in the Violet machine. In his debut, Rubenstein scored a team-high 10 points against St. Francis,helping NYU to a 28-18 win, and showed the flashes of brilliant scoring that would become his trademark over the next three years.
After that initial victory over St. Francis, Rubenstein and his NYU teammates began rolling over their competition. In the middle of the season, the Violets defeated three tough opponents (Yale, Temple, and St. John's) in a five-day span, and people began speaking of NYU as the best team in the East. However, to officially earn this distinction, NYU had to beat the two-time defending Eastern champion, CCNY (City College of New York). In their annual meeting in the final game of the season, both teams entered the game undefeated and the contest was touted as the most important in New York City history.
The game itself was something of a letdown as NYU defeated CCNY, 24-18, behind Rubenstein's game-high 11 points (he finished the season as the teamís second highest scorer in 1933-34 with 119 points). The Violets remained undefeated that year, with a record of 16-0 (the first time in 25 years that a New York City team went undefeated). They won the mythical Eastern and Metropolitan championships and served notice that they had taken over as New York's top team. The NYU-CCNY face-off sparked remarkably high interest from the fans, demonstrating that college basketball could indeed thrive as a big-time sport. The following season (1934-35), the match-up moved into Madison Square Garden, where college doubleheaders began to become commonplace events.
The 1935 season saw NYU as the Garden's "house" team, and the Violets continued their success of the previous campain. Rubenstein returned to the starting line-up as a juniorand was joined in the backcourt by sophomore guard Milt Schulman. With senior forward (and captain) Sid Gross and juniors Len Maidman (another forward) and center (and All-America football player) Irwin Klein, NYU notched early-season wins against Notre Dame and Kentucky (at the Garden during doubleheaders), and then defeated CCNY, 31-29, in the final game of the season to cap off a 18-1 record. Rubenstein led the team in scoring with 156 points and was named All-Met. The Violets went on to capture the Helms National Championship (the first time a New York City school won the national title since St. Johnís in 1911).
In 1936, Rubenstein captained the NYU team that lost Gross to graduation, but replaced him with sophomore center Irwin Witty. With a nucleus of Rubenstein, Schulman, Maidman, and Klein, NYU began the season well, winning its first seven (including a convincing victory over Kentucky) and running their winning streak to 20 games. Considered by many to be the best team in the country, the Violets suddenly dropped three of four in the middle of the season with losses to Georgetown, Temple, and Notre Dame. They recovered to finish strong with a record of 14-4, but hopes of a second National Championship were dashed. Named first team All-Met, Rubenstein led the Violets in scoring with 175 points (eighth in the Metropolitan area).
After his college career, Rubenstein played in the American Basketball League, the top professional league in the East at the time. He began his professional career in the ABL with the New York Jewels, helping the team reach the championship in 1937-38, where they lost a six-game playoff with the Jersey Reds. The following year, Rubenstein played in 28 games and averaged 5.0 points per game for the Jewels (19-15), who returned to the championship and captured the ABL title by defeating the Reds, 3-0.
Although Rubenstein did not return to the championship during his career in the ABL, he was among the league leaders in scoring the next two seasons. In 1939-40, he finished tenth with 174 points (6.4 average) as the Jewels finished 15-15 and lost in a round-robin playoff. He followed that by coming in seventh with 204 points (7.0 average) in 1940-4. That year, New York finished 14-14 and did not make the playoffs.
Rubenstein played parts of two more seasons in the ABL, but by the early 1940s his career was clearly waning. In 1941-42, the Jewels folded midway through the season and Rubenstein moved to the Washington Brewers, who finished 10-13 and out of the playoffs (Willie scored 4.8 points per game). The following year, Rubeinstein appeared in only two games for a different franchise called the New York Jewels, averaging 5.0 points per game.
Rubenstein played at NYU from 1934-1936. He played in the ABL with the New York Jewels from 1936-1941, with the Washington Brewers in 1941-42, and with a different New York Jewels team in 1942-43.
6'1", 175 pounds
Use links below to navigate through the basketball section of Jews In Sports.
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Modern Encyclopedia of Basketball, edited by Zander Hollander (New York: Doubleday, 1979)
Ronald Encyclopedia of Basketball, edited by William G. Mokray (Ronald Press: 1962)
New York Times, March 5, 1934
New York Times, March 6, 1935
New York Times, March 9, 1936