Last night the YMCA of Greater Bergen County honored my very close friend Dominick Polifrone with the “Richard Poor Service to the Community” award at the 46th YMCA Sports Award Banquet. The annual event pays tribute to outstanding high school, college, amateur and pro athletes along with those who have done exceptional work with young people.
Kansas City Royals pitcher and fellow Hackensack native Vin Mazzaro was named “Professional Athlete of the Year.” Daily News sports columnist Bill Madden was the 2011 YMCA “Person of the Year.” I won this award back in 1992 when I was broadcasting NBA games on NBC, so I was excited to return and be a part of the evening once again now that Dominick was being recognized for his achievements.
Dominick and I played sports together at Hackensack High School. He was a tough kid you definitely wanted to have on your team. Dominick was an All-County, All-State football and baseball player. He went on to compete as a linebacker at the University of Nebraska and also excelled at amateur boxing while attending college in Omaha. After graduation Dominick pursued a career in law enforcement. He worked as an agent for the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for over two decades and often went undercover to bust mobsters. In his most high-profile case, Dominick posed as an arms dealer in the 1986 sting operation that took down the notorious hit man/serial killer Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski. Since retiring from the force Dominick has returned to Hackensack High School to counsel troubled teens.
We had about three tables of Hackensack people there at the YMCA gala to celebrate with Dominick. Glad I was able to make it back and catch up with a lot of old friends whlle supporting the Y’s continued efforts to fund important scholarships and programs for youngsters in need.
When 7’1” rookie Shaquille O’Neal entered the league during the 1992-93 season, the NBA hoops weren’t quite sturdy enough to withstand a 300-pound Shaq attack.
On February 7, 1993 Marv Albert and I were broadcasting the Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns game live on NBC. Less than three minutes into the first quarter, Shaq followed up an offensive rebound with a thunderous dunk and managed to take down the entire basketball hoop with him on his way down.
Marv eloquently summed up the sentiments of the roaring crowd, “That’s one we haven’t seen!” It was like watching a heavyweight boxer deliver a knockout punch to an opponent who teeters for a couple seconds before losing consciousness and hitting the deck. The steel mechanism was no match for Shaq. The pole behind the backboard buckled and collapsed in slow motion upon impact.
Luckily, the arena had a spare. They wound up having to replace the entire apparatus with a brand new one before the game could continue. The spectacle the rookie phenom unwittingly created with his display of colossal strength was indicative of the huge mark the big guy would make during his 19-year pro career.
After the game I asked Shaq if I could have his Reebok high tops. He autographed his size 23’s on the toes and gave them to me. It was one of those nights you never forget. Later that month Shaq was voted into the All-Star starting lineup, and at the end of the season he was named the 1993 NBA Rookie of the Year.