Legendary basketball figure Howard Garfinkel dies at 86


Howard Garfinkel was one of the most influential figures in the history of basketball over the past 50 years. (Getty Images)

The sport of basketball lost one of its most influential, defining characters on Saturday. Hall-of-Famer Howard Garfinkel, a legend at every level of hoops, has died at the age of 86. He succumbed to pneumonia, according to reports.

Garfinkel — or “Garf,” as most who knew the man called him — ran the famous Five-Star Basketball Camp for decades. He mentored, evaluated, uplifted and guided hundreds of men through the game of basketball, coaches and players alike. Legends of the game learned from him. He’s a legend in the greater New York City area, but really, his impact has been felt globally on the game.

“Garf’s imprint on the sport was unmistakable,” Five Star Basketball said in a statement about its co-founder. “From pioneering the basketball-specific specialty camp, a first among traditional sports, to innovating the scouting and evaluation process. He was a visionary. Garf also represents an unmistakable tree in the basketball landscape, one in which every player or coach could trace their roots back to. His eye for talent elevated both prospects and coaches to unprecedented heights, and will never be rivaled.”

Long before the culture of AAU tournaments and grassroots basketball took over, Garfinkel’s Five-Star camp was there. It was through him that so many players became known, went to elite colleges, and from there so many college coaches — and pro coaches — became all the more connected. In the hours since his passing, the outpouring of memories and notions of gratitude and thanks have taken on basketball’s corners on Twitter.

Summer 1967. My dad, a high school coach, took his girlfriend, my mom, to this “special” basketball camp of legend in Honesdale,PA. Garf never forgot a player or a coach and he told us in Houston this April “Basketball people are different, we are all like a family, and we always remember what our family did in their careers and who they played for” – This is so very true. Garf created 5 Star Basketball, which was a wellspring of talented players and coaches from around the country. My dad replaced Hubie Brown at Fairlawn in Jersey after his trip to Honesdale and Garf would always tell me that story. Garf never failed ask about my dad and tell stories about players every time we would visit. He was a true legend and if you look at college football trying to create camps for coaches to see all the players, while working w/the players, Garf accomplished that half a century ago. Charles Barkley said it best, “Garf, I was just a fat kid from Alabama before you helped me get seen and there are a thousand players like me who just want to say thank you.” RIP to Howard Garfinkle – My brother @gregggottlieb went to 5 Star (the only California kid) and he came back raving about Alonzo Mourning “This guy is the best specimen I have ever seen, there is no way he is 17.” My guy Devon Smith is pictured w/the coral sport coat(Assistant Coach at Wichita State/played at Ohio State) has always helped take care of Garf, I’m thinking of you D, I know how much Gard meant to your life and career.

A photo posted by gottliebshow (@gottliebshow) on

I can’t recommend enough these two pieces on Garf: SB Nation’s recent retrospective on the man and his impact, and this story, posted by the terrific Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News. Here, a snippet from Armstrong’s piece. Check out the names.

Garfinkel’s all-time camper list included: Jordan, Moses Malone, Vince Carter, Alonzo Mourning, Reggie Williams, Jeff Ruland, Elton Brand, Ron Artest, Stephon Marbury, James Blackmon, Mike O’Koren and Lloyd Daniels. Isiah Thomas, Grant Hill and Pearl Washington also donned the traditional orange T-shirts that campers received. At each week’s end, the top teens squared off in the Orange-White Classic. If players could not afford the weekly fee, they bussed tables on site. Jordan was one such visitor before committing to the University of North Carolina. He considered the camp in Honesdale, Pa., to be the site of a turning point in his development. In games of shirts and skins, Garfinkel was one of the few with recall of the names.

“What’s your name, kid?” he would ask. “Where are you from?”

Garfinkel’s business blossomed in the grassroots basketball scene, but he operated in a time far different than the current fragmented landscape overrun with AAU coaches and sneaker-sponsored events. When he started The Clinic to End All Clinics, Brown, Pitino, Calipari and Donovan all trekked back to teach.

Calipari, in his personal blog, wrote about Garfinkel last week. He closed his public letter by writing: “Without him, I’m not the coach at Kentucky and I’m not able to pay it forward to the kids who I coach. The things that have happened in my life you can trace back all the way to Five-Star, where I was a camper in 1976. It all started when a bespectacled Garf looked at me and said, ‘What’s your name, kid? Where are you from?’ I love you, Garf.”

It’s a dark day for basketball. Look for the obituaries and tributes. Few men in the sport will inspire this much of a reaction. Garfinkel was an original, and the names coming out and speaking to his legacy prove just how large a figure he was.


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