BY RAY FLORIANI
Maybe it was just fitting.
The Palestra, the cathedral of college basketball and a favorite venue of yours truly. March 1995, in the upper press reaches of the storied edifice, was the place I first got to meet George Rodecker.
We were covering the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals. On occasion, we had crossed paths and exchanged ‘hellos.’ On this Sunday, we formally met.
Just over two decades of friendship with ‘Roadie.’ On one hand, it seems longer, but that’s from a good standpoint. The times spent traveling together, sharing press row, and generally discussing the game were numerous and hard to believe they were packed in just two decades. On the other hand, those 20 plus years were much too short. Two days shy of his 65th birthday, George was called by the Lord.
Back in the nineties, George published a four-page draft report, a modest but incredible work of draft prospects by position and ranking. He loved the NBA draft and was very well connected to NBA scouts, whom he introduced me to and became good basketball friends of mine as well. George later wrote for several other publications as Basketball Times, Eastern Basketball, College Insider, College Chalktalk, and Hoopville, among others. The draft was George’s specialty, yet he followed and loved the college game. It was my honor and pleasure to collaborate with George on several articles over the years.
In later years, to introduce his son Michael to the game, George brought him to Marist women’s contests, the reasoning being the women’s game was a bit slower, below the rim and fundamentally sound, affording a great opportunity to learn basketball’s nuances. It happened at the time Brian Giorgis was turning around the downtrodden fortunes in Poughkeepsie. It turned out to be a great time to follow the Marist program and women’s game in general. George soon was hooked, and became immersed in women’s basketball. He even wound up a voting member of several awards panels in the women’s game.
Still, thoughts constantly return to those times spent going to games. We drove to Madison Square Garden games frequently. The eight-mile trip from my home to MSG would take about an hour with traffic, but it never bothered yours truly, as discussing the game and/or other topics with George seemed to make the time fly.
Road trips were classic. A few years ago, we were heading to Albany for the MAAC women’s quarterfinals. Game one was tipping off at 9:30 a.m. I drove to George’s residence to meet him and he would drive the final hour to the arena. When I got there, he greeted me with two longtime favorites, a large coffee and a cigar, breakfast on the New York State Thruway.
We both loved the NIT. After the tournament finals, we would drive home with our unofficial recap of the season ended. For George, the next assignment would be Portsmouth, Virginia, and the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a pre-draft tournament he loved to cover.
George’s roots were in New Jersey: Jersey City, then North Arlington, where he graduated high school. After getting married, he moved to Orange County in New York State. George loved the area, especially those picturesque fall seasons. While George was immersed in the game, he was first and foremost a family man. There was always time for his children, even after they reached adulthood. A devout man of faith, George served his local catholic parishes well in many capacities. No doubt, a few prayers were offered for his beloved Chicago Cubs.
Very well connected, more importantly very well liked, George, per one colleague was ‘the governor,’ offering a smile and a friendly greeting for friends and colleagues in the media, all part of what he termed ‘working the room.’ He was great at it, and loved the friendships associated with it. Even ushers and usherettes, especially at the Garden, were greeted cordially. Latter years saw less coverage on George’s part. He remarried and always brought his wife, Daria, to games. George started going to games less with health becoming more of an issue. He talked of getting out to more games and some team practices. Again, his health intervened.
It is such irony that a man with such a wonderful heart suffered from a cardiac condition. The EKGs or other tests could never measure how big a heart he had, in terms of reaching out and helping so many people over the years, not just those connected to the game, but others in various other walks of life.
Gone too soon. Those who had the good fortune to know George will certainly measure that time in his company in terms of quality, not quantity.
Life has its imposed limitations. Memories, ever so precious, do not.