During halftime of the U of L/ West Virginia game Saturday, the school will honor the Cards’ first Final Four team. Truth be told, it wasn’t even called the Final Four in 1959, but it meant no less.
That Cards team, led by Don Goldstein, squeaked into the NCAAs with a not so glossy regular season record of 16-10. They punched out Eastern Ky in the opening round. Then, on consecutive nights in the regional, upset #2 Kentucky and #7 Michigan State to make it to the national semis.
For a fourteen year old in love with the Cards for 7 years already, those were heady times. I remember pretty clearly the whole day before Louisville met West Virginia in the semi-finals in Freedom Hall. My Biddy Basketball Squad won that afternoon. My dad had scored primo seats at mid court in the 5th row from Poachy Marks, a connected guy who owned a haberdashery in town.
Unfortunately the Cards weren’t as lucky that night against Jerry West and the Mountaineers, nor the following evening, losing to Oscar Robertson’s Cincy Bearcats in the consolation game. Those were still mighty heady times. They signaled U of L’s first insinuation as a sleeping college hoops giant.
The story I remember most about that ’59 squad is one I’ve often told. Of Mully Goldberg, a friend of my dad’s and a major Cardinal fan, who was dying at the time of the tournament but went to Evanston for the regional anyway to watch the Cards battle the Cats. With his physician, Harry Gold, also a fan, in attendance.
A few years earlier, Goldberg helped recruit a couple of dirt-poor Jewish ballers from Brooklyn, Alex Mantel and Don Goldstein, the team’s star. Goldberg was suffering what would be his final illness, but he didn’t see how he could miss the game.
The Cards, down by 15 in the first half, blasted UK by 23 in the second, winning, 76-61. After the buzzer, Goldstein recounts, he looked over and saw a couple of ushers carrying Mully Goldberg toward him. “Thank you, Don,” Goldberg gushed. “I felt like you were playing for me. Now I can die in peace.”
Goldberg passed away two weeks later.
So as sappy as it may sound, I know in my heart and to the core of my soul, that Mully and my dad Art Kaplan will be looking down together at the proceedings in the Hall.
– Seedy K