10.16.2009

Easy Ed's Belated All-Star MVP

Ed Macauley Weekend

His performance one night 47 years ago was to become a part of basketball history, but Easy Ed Macauley -- and everyone else involved -- did not know it at the time. On March 2, 1951, 20 of the best players in the 5-year-old National Basketball Association gathered in Boston for the inaugural N.B.A. All-Star Game. There was no glitzy All-Star weekend, nothing special for the fans or even for the players. But those who played at Boston Garden that night put on a show, with Macauley leading the East to a 111-94 victory and earning most valuable player honors -- eventually.

It was not until two years later, in preparing for the third annual game, that league officials decided to designate an m.v.p. for each year's game and that they should go back and select a player to honor from each of the first two games. Macauley's 20 points and his defensive work on the bigger, stronger George Mikan made him an easy choice for the first game. Paul Arizin received a belated award for the 1952 game. "I got the award two years later and I still never got a trophy," Macauley, 69, said recently in a telephone interview from his home in St. Louis. "Now they get an award, cash, a car. I didn't even get a paper clip. I never got a trophy. Still, it was a wonderful feeling."

Macauley and the original All-Stars had little hint of what was to become of the game. Neither did the N.B.A. team owners of the day, some of whom opposed the idea of an All-Star Game. The league needed to draw 10,000 fans to the game to break even financially, though the Boston Celtics' president, Walter Brown, offered the use of the Garden at no cost to the league. But the Celtics were averaging 5,000 to 6,000 fans for their games, which left some doubt the game would be a success.

The game "wasn't a big deal," said Macauley, who played for Boston at the time. "There was no luncheon. The players who weren't from Boston came up and stayed in an old hotel near the Garden, not really a high-class hotel. We played the game. That was it." "The crowd was just over 10,000 and everybody was delirious," Macauley added. "The place seated about 18,000, but this was a success. It was a game, and the fans enjoyed it. The owners were ecstatic. It was a predicted possible disaster and, afterward, everyone was happy, except for the West."

Harry Gallatin, one of the Knicks in that first All-Star Game, said: "I think that in the beginning of the league, we were just pretty happy about anything that helped as far as recognition. We were scratching to get as much publicity as we could. "I know we were excited to be a part of it because it gave us something to use to try to get a little more money out of the owners. In those days, we were appreciative of anything we could get."

The showcase took hold from the start. In that first game, the East ran wild, using a smaller, quicker lineup to befuddle the West, setting the tone for the up-tempo style prevalent in more recent games. Macauley recalled walking into the locker room and meeting players he had competed against but never talked to. "It was an experience to be in the same locker room with those guys," Macauley said. "The first thing I thought was, hey, there's Harry Gallatin, the guy who beat my brains in last week. But he turned out to be a nice guy and we turned out to be a good team.

"I had to play against Mikan, and I know a lot of guys play as individuals in the All-Star Game, but I said: 'I'm going to play in front of him. Give me help.' We had a team that couldn't match the West's strength. But we had the greatest backcourt with Bob Cousy, Andy Phillip and Dick McGuire. We had the three greatest passers in the game; it was the greatest thing that could happen to me." With Dolph Schayes and Joe Fulks helping him inside, and with McGuire of the Knicks dishing out 10 assists, Macauley got the best of Mikan, limiting him to four field goals. He had no inkling his work would be designated an m.v.p. performance. Neither did he have any idea that the game would be a precursor of today's.

"I don't think anybody who played then could imagine what has developed in all areas of sports," Macauley said. "You couldn't. It would have been like saying, 'Who will be the first to land on the moon?' People would've looked at you like you were crazy. It was fun. I think we had more fun than guys today." Gallatin agreed. "I think we got nothing to play in it that year," he said. "In later years, I remember getting a $100 cash stipend, then getting a ring. I think the difference between the modern players and the pioneers is that we probably would have played for nothing. Of course, we didn't tell the owners that."

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