No one is uplifted in a vacuum. I just made that up for myself, but I’m only halfway through my coffee and it’s entirely possible that many people, much wiser than myself have already come up with that phrase.
I am an ex-New Yorker. I lived in the Yorkville area of Manhattan for several years in a tiny studio apartment before moving to Denver. While New York is far from perfect, and while it is a class conscious, money conscious place, it also has a big heart. The city is not without its compassion or humanity. I have good memories of the place though I would not (even if my next book is a bestseller) move back there again. New York City can be quick to forget and at the same time, quick to remember. When a person honors the city in some way, she or he is honored back.
For a while, certainly in the early months of 1951, Junius A. Kellogg was the toast of the town. After the basketball scandal was broken open by Junius Kellogg, millions of New Yorkers realized that schools like CCNY and LIU played them for chumps. Athletes black and white, Jewish and Gentile, were cashing in on the backs of a lot of good people who were so proud of “their athletes.” Most of the basketball players playing for New York City teams were home grown. When they saw “their kids” hauled into the courts it was a major shock. Let’s not forget that the scandal was only five years removed from WWII. It shocked many sports fans to their core.
Years passed. Junius graduated in 1953 and made the Harlem Globetrotters roster. In April of 1954 he had his tragic accident. Most people shook their heads and felt badly for him, but they got on with their lives. Junius had a difficult and long rehab. By the time he was moved north to the Bronx VA in 1955, much of his deed was forgotten. Not so for Milt Gross.
Milt Gross (shown here with his daughter Jane) was not only an exceptional sports writer, but a great human being. Unlike many writers of his day, Gross was not an “aristocrat.” He did not cover sports from afar, wearing a fashionable suit and sporting a boutonniere, but was an Oscar Madison (Odd Couple) prototype. He liked to get close to athletes to see what made them tick. The jug-eared, plain-talking reporter was additionally unusual for his day in that he championed “People of Color.” He saw athletes as men regardless of race. Many of his contemporaries were no so inclined.
Gross remembered Junius Kellogg and loved him not only for what he did in 1951, but for his courage in overcoming his major physical challenges. Milt started to write about Junius for the New York Post and on a freelance basis for several magazines. He would not let Junius’ memory fade. For the sake of my book, one such article has been invaluable. Gross interviewed Junius in 1956 for an issue of “See” magazine. It was done in the first person, Junius’ own words. The article, entitled: “They Say I’ll Never Walk Again,” is an amazing resource. If that had been all Milt Gross had done, it would have been enough. However, Gross was just getting started.
Milt Gross floated the idea to establish a Junius Kellogg honesty fund. Here is where New York’s heart was revealed. For a little while small donations were coming in for Junius to be able to leave the VA and find an apartment of his own. Then out of the blue, a man who made Gross promise that his name could never be revealed, gave Junius a new, 1957 DeSoto complete with hand controls.
Milt Gross appeared with Junius on several occasions such as on the popular quiz show “Strike it Rich.” Milt Gross handled Junius’ financial matters for a while and Gross convinced several leading businessmen to fund Junius and other down on the luck athletes. As Junius gained in independence, Milt Gross quietly stepped into the background.
Gross was another friend who supported Milt Gross with expectation. It is a magical story.