The fate of the urban athlete with promise usually gets depicted as a path with a fork in it—this way, basketball star; that way, casualty of the streets. The life of Dean Meminger, who died of undetermined causes in a Harlem hotel room last Friday at 65, repudiated all such binary tidiness. He was a star, to be sure; no player 6 feet and 175 pounds more thoroughly made New York City's game his, from early exploits on uptown playgrounds to later ones at Madison Square Garden, where as a junior he led Marquette to the 1970 NIT championship, and three years later, as a lockdown, off-the-bench defender for the world-champion Knicks. But he also traced an addiction to cocaine back to idle moments during his playing days.
Meminger had a sound bite Boswell in his college coach, Al McGuire, who once described him as "quicker than 11:15 Mass at a seaside resort." That, along with long arms and a rugged court presence, accounted for Dean the Dream's success more than any ability to shoot well or dribble artfully. He'll always be remembered for an essential contribution to basketball's Bartlett's, the pronouncement (known as Meminger's Law) that "if you don't play ball, you can't hang out." As it happened, the salubriousness of playing ball steadily gave way to the depredations of hanging out until, there being no fork in his road, Meminger found himself back in the same patch of Upper Manhattan where he had begun.
VERNON BIEVER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (MEMINGER)