Melitzer, Sam : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Melitzer, Sam

Samuel Melitzer

Melitzer played at Columbia University in the first decade of the twentieth century, and was the first Jewish basketball player to receive collegiate sectional recognition. Melitzer recalled he encountered anti-Semitism on the court, and said: "Especially during the Christmas holiday week when we went South to play...Occasionally someone would shout, 'Get the Jew,' but I never let it bother me." After his playing career, he coached at NYU for one season and then became a mining engineer. After travelling throughout the world, Melitzer settled in New York City in 1930 where he became a physical education and math teacher in the public school system.

In 1909, Melitzer was picked for the All-East team by his coach, Hall-of-Famer Harry Fisher, who said: " unanimous choice of every critic for the position of right forward. No man ever stepped on a court that possessed so many excellent qualities that tend to make a star basketball a floor player he had no equal; no guard was capable of stopping his speedy dribbling and dodging which so often electrifed the audience and carried the opposing team off their feet...his defense was excellent and few men during the past season can lay claim to having scored against him...he was a good scorer and an especially dangerous man within a radius of 15 feet of the basket. Besides being a master of all the finer points of the game, he possessed a cool head and was a general in time of emergency."

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Nov. 19, 1888 - d. Sept. 1970

Career Highlights:
Born on the Lower East Side to Austrian immigrants, Melitzer began playing basketball as a youngster at the Clark Settlement House. He told the encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, "...gymnastics was really my first love, but the sport was not strenuous enough for me to work up a good sweat. So, I played basketball for a few minutes before I took my shower." Melitzer played only one season of high school basketball, but had enough talent to play in college. As a freshman at Columbia, he suited up for the varsity after someone familiar with his ability pointed him out to Columbia coach, Harry Fisher.

Melitzer, who was an excellent dribbler and quick point guard, played sparingly as a freshman in 1906. Midway through the 1907 season, he became a regular and started every game for Columbia for the rest of his career. In 1907, Melitzer was named first team All-Ivy League, All-East, and to the All-America team (composed solely of Ivy League players). That year, he led the Lions to a 14-4 record (8-2 in conference) and they were rated as one of the top ten teams in the country (there were no official polls until the late 1940s).

The following season, Melitzer was again spectacular for Columbia as he was named All-East and second team All-Ivy League, finishing tenth in the conference in scoring with 4.3 points per game. The Lions had another very good season, finishing 13-3 (5-3 in conference). In 1909, Sam had his best season as he scored 7.0 points per game (fourth in the conference) and was named All-East, All-America, and first team All-Ivy League. He led the Lions to the Ivy League title with a 7-1 conference record! Columbia finished the season rated among the best teams in the country with an overall record of 16-1.

An excellent all-around athlete, Melitzer also participated in gymnastics at Columbia, taking third in the all-around competition of the All-Eastern Intercollegiate Championships in 1909. After graduating from Columbia, Sam played as a professional in a few games before coaching NYU in 1911 to a 8-5 record.

New York City

Career Dates:
Melitzer played at Columbia University, 1906-1909.

Physical description:
5'5 1/2", 120 pounds

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
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)