The Big Cat

Tonight memory was at flood tide as I drove to Olean, New York along with my wife and daughter. We were going to have dinner somewhere in Olean and then drive to St. Bonaventure University.

I remember watching St. Bonaventure led by Bob Lanier defeat the Purdue Boilermakers in the 1969 Holiday Festival in Madison Square Garden. I sat with my father and brother in our family room and watched the game on our black and white television. Mr. Lanier scored fifty points that night and put St. Bonaventure on the map that year. Bonaventure up ended the favorite, Purdue which was led by All-American Rick Mount.  Purdue’s center who was called the “Big Dog” told New York papers that he was going to take the “Big Cat” from St. Bonaventure to the cleaners that night. The reverse happened and Bob Lanier went on to become the MVP of that year’s ECAC Holiday Festival.

Bob Lanier returned to Olean and St. Bonaventure today and tonight to dedicate the new basketball floor at the Reilly Center that is named in his honor. In 1969 and early 1970 New York’s southern tier was talking proud. St. Bonaventure University Men’s basketball team led by Bob Lanier had advanced to the NCAA finals. Names like Billy Kalbaugh, Matt Gantt, Greg Gary and Paul Hoffman and others filled newspapers and the airwaves. These guys were heroes to a seventeen year old boy who loved the game of basketball.

After dinner at Attards on North Union Street in Olean we drove to the St. Bonaventure Campus and walked into the Reilly Center a bit late but arriving in time to see Bob Lanier signing autographs and the current St. Bona’s squad scrimmaging. It was great to see my childhood hero in person again. My daughter marveled at the height and stature of Mr. Lanier. My wife and I recalled the memories of our childhood and the memories of the spring of 1970 when a group of young men captured the hearts and minds of thousands of fans in Western New York.