(JTA) — Dean Meminger sat in owner Irv Bader’s office at Camp Seneca Lake and talked of his girlfriend, her battle with lupus and their plans to marry.
Meminger, known as “The Dream” as a star guard at Marquette University and a key reserve for the New York Knicks’ 1973 championship team, had just finished a four-day stint late last month at a basketball camp at the Pocono Mountains’ Jewish facility. He had taught the players with enthusiasm and his demeanor bespoke an apparent contentment with life.
Before Meminger boarded a bus back to New York, the friends, who had known each other for decades, hugged and pledged to meet soon in the city.
The next day Meminger, 65, was gone, found dead in a hotel room in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood.
For Bader, the phone call informing him of Meminger’s death was “like hitting me in the head.” He had employed Meminger for many summers at Seneca Lake.
Shortly after the call, Bader wondered to another longtime employee, Gus Kennedy, whether his cash payment had prompted a splurge that indirectly led to the ex-ballplayer’s demise, since Meminger reportedly had battled drugs for many years. (The cause of death has not been released.)
Bader had paid Meminger $1,200 in cash — $300 for each of the four days of running clinics and refereeing games — and added $200 because he said the ex-Knick “always needed help” financially.
With the Knicks, Meminger had played for Hall of Fame coach Red Holzman and with a cast of future Hall of Famers — Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley and Jerry Lucas.
After his six-year NBA playing career with the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, Meminger worked in basketball off and on, running clinics and teaching kids at camps like Bader’s. He also had three coaching stints spread over more than two decades, until 2003. Since then, several friends said they didn’t know how Meminger earned a living or whether he could make ends meet.
They said Meminger kept quiet about his life; several weren’t even sure where he lived. The friends were circumspect about his drug addiction, with Bader saying he saw no signs of the problem but that Meminger would’ve been fired if he had.
Meminger had been hospitalized following a 2009 fire that started in his room in the Bronx. Crack pipes were found in the room, but they did not cause the fire, according to newspaper reports.
After the fire, “I was hard on him,” Meminger’s former Knicks teammate and longtime friend Mel Davis told JTA last week. “I told him, ‘Dean, God gave you another chance.’ ” In their semiweekly conversations in recent years, “I always motivated him to take care of himself,” Davis said.