Hank Rosenstein, a member of the New York Knicks team that played what the NBA considers its inaugural game in 1946 and a longtime resident of Hewlett, died Saturday at his Boca Raton, Fla., home. He was 89.
Tall for his era at 6-foot-4, Rosenstein starred at Boys High School in Brooklyn but did not play for his college team at CCNY, opting instead for AAU ball, then began military service immediately after graduation.
When he returned from World War II, he joined the American Basketball League, where he received $50 to $75 per game. When the fledgling NBA offered "full-time" employment - no in-season jobs or per-game pay - Rosenstein signed with the Knicks.
"The NBA paid me $4,500 my first year," he said. "We loved the game. It was a game; it wasn't business."
On Nov. 1, 1946, Rosenstein scored five points as the Knicks defeated the Toronto Huskies in Maple Leaf Gardens, 68-66, in what was then called the Basketball Association of America. The NBA cites that game as its first.
Rosenstein and two of his teammates at the beginning of that season, fellow CCNY grad Sonny Hertzberg and NYU product Ralph Kaplowitz, all were traded by the Knicks by the middle of the next season - Rosenstein to Providence, Hertzberg to Washington and Kaplowitz to Philadelphia. But all three men settled on Long Island after their playing careers and continued to meet regularly for decades.
Hertzberg, who lived in Woodmere, died in 2005. Kaplowitz, from Floral Park, died last year.
Henry Rosenstein was born June 6, 1920, in Brooklyn. His father was a truck driver and Rosenstein grew up during the Depression, but he was able to attend CCNY because there was no tuition. His career in the NBA lasted only the 1946-47 season, but he joined the American Basketball League for five seasons and was the leading scorer for the Scranton Miners, the league champions in 1950 and 1951.
He described his real job, during his playing days, as "working in plastics," and he coached for years in the semi-professional Eastern Pro League.
During the 1999 NBA lockout, when then-Knicks star Patrick Ewing declared that modern players "make a lot of money, but we spend a lot," Rosenstein said of labor negotiations, "I don't give a damn. Who cares? The owners and the players ought to be thankful to commissioner David Stern. He's marketed the league and made them worth a lot of money. I don't mind the big salaries; if they can get it, why not? That's not the same as saying they're worth it, but if they can get it, why not?
"I enjoy the playoffs. Most of the time, I'd rather watch a college game."
Rosenstein is survived by three sons, Glen, Mark and Neil; a brother, Bernard; and a sister, Sara Block.