For Two Old Teammates, Risks Of Loyalty Are Real

Nov 30, 2011
Originally published on November 30, 2011 12:07 pm

It is not uncommon for outstanding athletes to succeed in later life, but it is rare for teammates, literally playing side by side, both to be in the spotlight almost half a century later.

But such is the case with two old boys from Syracuse, who were roommates as freshmen, went on to become the starting backcourt, saw their lives diverge after college — and now, at an age when most men have retired, are facing two very different but very painful challenges in the professions they've chosen, in the places they love.

The men, those starting guards of so long ago, are Dave Bing and Jim Boeheim.

I think it's safe to say that no one in sport has ever described the path of Dave Bing. After being an All-American at Syracuse, Bing became, simply, the best player in the history of the Detroit Pistons. That is, he stands, with Ty Cobb of the Tigers, Barry Sanders of the Lions and Gordie Howe of the Red Wings in the most exquisite athletic company of that one major city.

Now, after a successful business career, he is the very beleaguered leader of that place where once he was only an idol.

Bing volunteered to be mayor of the most distressed large American city in the crest of civic corruption. Detroit may literally be broke by the spring, and Bing must impose the most drastic, unpopular measures upon the citizenry. He could have lived out his days as the beloved old hometown hero. He chose to put himself in the caldron. Above all, he was loyal in hard times.

Jim Boeheim not only grew up near Syracuse; he has hardly ever left. Soon, he will have won more games for his alma mater than any coach, ever, in men's basketball at any one college. But now Boeheim's old friend, his assistant coach Bernie Fine, has been fired — vividly accused of molesting young boys.

When the accusations were made, in an eerie echo of the sordid pedophilia scandal at Penn State, Boeheim refused to believe the charges against his assistant. And the fact is that Jim Boeheim is indeed very much to his university and basketball what Joe Paterno has been, in football, a couple hundred miles due south.

And, now it seems, something of Boeheim's grand reputation –– his very legacy –– will, like Paterno's, be much diminished of grace.

Unlike Paterno, though, Boeheim appeared truly thunderstruck by the revelations, and his immediate visceral reaction now looms as unfeeling as it was hasty and foolish. But then — like Bing, the other member of the old backcourt — above all, Boeheim was loyal in hard times.

Loyalty comes in many types. Sometimes it is unabashed. Sometimes it is naive. Always, though, it is risky. But then, if loyalty is to mean anything, there must be a risk attached. And surely the greatest risk to loyalty is deceit.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Among many other things, the phone-hacking scandal has sometimes raised questions about people's loyalty to each other inside a company. The recent scandals in college sports got commentator Frank Deford thinking about the price of loyalty.

FRANK DEFORD: It is not uncommon for outstanding athletes to succeed in later life. But it is rare for teammates, literally playing side-by-side, both to be in the spotlight almost a half-century later. But such is the case with two old boys from Syracuse, who were roommates as freshmen, went on to become the starting backcourt, saw their lives diverge after college and now, at an age when most men have retired, are facing two very different but very painful challenges in the professions they've chosen, in the places they love.

The men, those starting guards of so long ago, are Dave Bing and Jim Boeheim. I think it's safe to say that no one in sport has ever described the path of Dave Bing. After being an All-American at Syracuse, Bing became, simply, the best player in the history of the Detroit Pistons. That is, he stands with Ty Cobb, of the Tigers; Barry Sanders, of the Lions; and Gordie Howe, of the Red Wings; in the most exquisite athletic company of that one major city.

Only now, after a successful business career, he is the very beleaguered leader of that place where once, he was only an idol. Bing volunteered to be mayor of that most distressed large American city at the crest of civic corruption. Detroit may, literally, be broke by the spring, and Bing must impose the most drastic, unpopular measures upon the citizenry. He could have lived out his days as the beloved, old hometown hero. He chose to put himself in the cauldron. Above all, he was loyal in hard times.

Jim Boeheim not only grew up near Syracuse, he's hardly ever left. Soon, he will have won more games for his alma mater than any coach, ever, in men's basketball at any one college. But now, Boeheim's old friend, his assistant coach, Bernie Fine, has been fired, vividly accused of molesting young boys.

When the accusations were made, in an eerie echo of the sordid pedophilia scandal at Penn State, Boeheim refused to believe the charges against his assistant. And the fact is that Jim Boeheim is, indeed, very much to his university and basketball what Joe Paterno has been in football, a couple hundred miles due south. And now, it seems, something of Boeheim's grand reputation - his very legacy - will, like Paterno's, be much diminished of grace.

Unlike Paterno, though, Boeheim appeared truly thunderstruck by the revelations, and his immediate visceral reaction now looms as unfeeling as it was hasty and foolish. But then, like Dave Bing, the other member of the old backcourt, above all, Boeheim was loyal in hard times.

Loyalty comes in many types. Sometimes, it is unabashed; sometimes, it is naive. Always, though, it is risky. But then, if loyalty is to mean anything, there must be a risk attached. And surely, the greatest risk to loyalty is deceit.

INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each week from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.