When tales of an Italian codista combined with the NCAA tournament, I was afflicted with remembrance of sports events past. In post-WWII New York City, basketball was the sport of obsession with Jews, in part because it was a low-cost, low user of space. The City College of New York, known as the Jewish Harvard but without the tuition or Jewish quotas, was a force in the collegiate game, as was NYU, and the New York Knicks, showing their stuff in the armory on Lexington Avenue, featured such stars as Sonny Hertzberg, Ralph Kaplowitz, Leo Gottlieb, Ossie Schectman (who scored the first basket in the NBA), and, yes, Frank Mangiapane.
During his 38-year coaching career at CCNY, Nat Holman taught the game to 518 players, 438 of whom were Jewish, according to sports historian Jack Kugelmass. Like my friends, I believed the racist trope that our superior intelligence accounted for Jewish dominance of the sport, a pride diluted later when so many of our co-religionists, including the cousin of my then-wife, shaved points in return for cash from gamblers. In my case, I was doubly irritated because there is nothing a bettor hates more than a point-spread manipulated by corrupt players.
All of these memories came roaring back when I found myself delighted to watch Kentucky lose to Indiana during this year's NCAA tourney, a game in which I hadn't expected to have much interest. In my day as a teenager the Kentucky Wildcats were a basketball powerhouse, an all-white team coached by an aptly named Adolph Rupp, the best in the business, with the possible exception of Holman, and a man who swore no black player would ever play for him and reportedly used the word "kike" quite freely. Or so I recall, which means it probably happened.
Anyhow, in 1950 Rupp's storied Wildcats, winners of the 1949 NCAA tournament, came storming into Madison Square Garden to take on the largely Jewish-and-black underdogs from CCNY. Contemporary reports indicate that at tip-off Kentucky's center refused to take the outstretched hand of CCNY's black center, a rarely used player sent in by Holman for the tip-off and immediately replaced by a white player. The City College team ran Kentucky off the Garden court, 89-50, in the process pinning the worst defeat on Kentucky since it started playing basketball in 1902, and eventually winning both the NIT and NCAA tournaments.
Lest you think this is ancient history, consider this: The arena in which Kentucky now plays is named after none other than Adolph Rupp. Now, as one who opposes tearing down the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford in an attempt by, get this, a Rhodes scholar to expunge the imperialist from history, as Stalin did by removing images of onetime allies from photos of Communist party events, I have no desire see that arena renamed. Rupp was a great coach and an integral part of the university's history, and should be remembered, warts and all. As I have done here.
Which brings me to that other memory-jogger, a codista. According to the Economist, Italians spend some 400 hours per year queuing to pay bills, post mail, and deal with the bureaucracy. Rich Italians have traditionally hired people to do their queuing for them. Along comes Giovanni Cafaro to make that service available to the masses by formalizing the business—introducing contracts and fixed hourly rates for his codisti, or line-standers. He teaches his employees the requirements of various government offices for signatures, stamps, etc.
Not very different from the deals we high schoolers cut when the football Giants were called what they were, the New York Giants, and showed their wares in the now-gone Polo Grounds. That was before the owners took the team to New Jersey, where they are too embarrassed to do the honest thing and change jerseys and helmets to read "New Jersey Giants." (Where are the Federal Trade Commission's false advertising cops when we need them?) The New York Giants in those days allocated a handful of tickets to high school students at a reduced price that I recall was around $2.50, available by queuing at the box office on game day, often in the bitter cold. So a few of us arrived around five o'clock on frigid mornings, thermos bottles of hot chocolate in hand, and headed the queue. When it got long enough, around ten, we offered to let latecomers get ahead of us if they would pay fifty cents and let us get ahead of them after we let them in. This was not risk-free income, since on occasions when people at the rear of the line noticed what we were doing, we had to confront them physically or cut them in. Fortunately, it only took five line-busters at fifty cents to give me the price of a ticket. But I must confess that I did not have Mr. Cafaro's entrepreneurial drive and failed to build this into a business.
I can attest that all of the above is as accurate as my memory permits.
Irwin M. Stelzer is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, director of -economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, and a columnist for the Sunday Times (London).