SBD/September 19, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Influential Basketball Pioneer Dave Gavitt, Who Founded The Big East, Dies At 73

Gavitt served as Chair of the Basketball HOF from '95-03
Big East Conference founder and Basketball HOFer DAVE GAVITT died late Friday at the age of 73 "after a long illness," according to Kevin McNamara of the PROVIDENCE JOURNAL. Gavitt was "the most influential sports figure in Rhode Island for the last half century." During his time as Providence College AD from '71-82, Gavitt "thought Providence and other Eastern basketball programs were getting hurt by the lack of a major athletic conference in the East." He "went about cobbling together the interests of seven original members of what became known as the Big East" in '79. Syracuse men's basketball coach JIM BOEHEIM said, "There wouldn't be any league without Dave. He's the only guy who could bring us together." Gavitt also served as a "trusted adviser to a legion of coaches, including stars like Georgetown's JOHN THOMPSON and Duke's MIKE KRZYZEWSKI." He was elected Chair of the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee "and led an expansion of the wildly-popular NCAA tournament to 64 teams." McNamara noted Gavitt eventually left college basketball to become a Celtics Senior Exec VP from '90-94 before serving as Chair for the Naismith Memorial Basketball HOF from '95-'03 (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 9/18). In N.Y., Sarah Maslin Nir noted Gavitt "harnessed the burgeoning power of televised sports coverage -- particularly with ESPN, newly created at the time -- to cover the Big East's postseason games, which he arranged to take place at Madison Square Garden." Former Big East Commissioner MIKE TRANGHESE: "Eastern basketball was nothing without him; it was just a bunch of individual schools trying to compete on a national level, and none of them were having any success." Gavitt also served as President of USA Basketball and is "credited with being an architect of the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics." Big Ten Commissioner JIM DELANY: "He's really one of the most significant people in college sports the last 30 or 40 years" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/18).

A GIANT AMONG MEN: In Boston, Bob Ryan wrote Gavitt was "perhaps the single most important non-playing figure in college basketball over a 20-year period." As the founder of the Big East, he "changed the entire landscape of Eastern college basketball." Ryan: "I can only imagine how much it hurt him to see his creation eventually hijacked by football, and what a sad turn of events to have Syracuse and Pitt applying for admission to the ACC on the very day he died. But were it not for Dave Gavitt, there would have been nothing to hijack." Meanwhile, Gavitt was "an American leader in the realm of international basketball," and it "eventually led to his becoming head of USA Basketball." Gavitt was scheduled to be the head coach of the '80 Moscow Olympic team, but the U.S. boycotted those Games (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/18). In Providence, Bill Reynolds writes under the header, "Gavitt Was A Game-Changer At Every Level" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 9/19). The AP's Jim O'Connell wrote, "From a career as a successful coach to changing the face of college sports to introducing the Olympics to a Dream Team, Gavitt's touch was everywhere" (AP, 9/18). In N.Y., Richard Goldstein wrote Gavitt "envisioned a time when major basketball colleges in the East would draw on big-city television and marketing opportunities to create a high-profile league, bringing enhanced revenue and the recruitment of star high school players" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/18). In Boston, Gary Washburn wrote Gavitt's career "was full of landmark achievements," and PC "named its court at the Dunkin' Donuts Center after him as a tribute" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/18).
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