The best basketball player you never heard of
SHERMAN WHITE

The best basketball player you never heard of

Sherman White was an American college basketball player back in the late 1940s and one of the most promising prospects the NBA had ever seen. Unfortunately, we never had the chance to see Sherman play in the NBA, as his career and life took a dark and dramatic turn.

White initially decided to attend Villanova, but it didn’t take long for him to change his choice as Sherman dropped out and transferred to Long Island University. It would be the right decision for his basketball development, as he was granted the right conditions to work on his game. White became a good friend with his teammate Eddie Gard, whose name would prove to be very important in this story.

Sherman started his first season with Long Island slowly, averaging nine points per game but steadily improving throughout the season. Next year he would make a huge jump, averaging over 22 points per game. White was named a Consensus Second Team All-American, the New York Metropolitan Area’s top player, by receiving the coveted Haggerty Award, as he led his team to a berth in the 1950 National Invitation Tournament. 

But something was wrong. Midway through that season, White noticed some of his teammates were having bad games more frequently. Especially Gard, who was feeding him a lot of bad passes. White did not know that Gard was trying to lose those games alongside two teammates, Adolph Bigos and Dick Fuertado. After a particular game against NC State in 1950, White was informed of his teammates’ cheating. He described that moment in an interview with the NY Times from 1998.

“After that NC State game, Eddie Gard befriends me. We sat down and started talking. He brought in Bigos and Fuertado. He gave me the same old story: ‘We control the game. We’re good enough to beat these guys anyway, and we can make some money. They ain’t giving you no money here at L.I.U.‘ The same old story. We can control the game, and nobody will get hurt except the gamblers. Now I’m one of the guys. Peer pressure.”

Sherman White, NY Times

White was in a very ungrateful situation, as he succumbed under pressure. After all, he wanted to fit in with the team and, more importantly, provide for his low-income family. He would be involved in a couple more fixes before it all blew up in his senior season.

Suspicions began to rise, and on February 20th, 1951, Sherman White and his teammates were arrested. At the time, White was averaging 27.7 points per game, being the nation’s top scorer. He was only 77 points away from setting the NCAA scoring record. But because of the scandal, the NCAA stripped him from all the awards he won, while LIU had to shut down its entire athletic program from 1951 to 1957. 

Even though Gard and the other players were the catalysts for this scandal, they got off relatively easy in the eyes of the law, while White got the short end of the stick, having to serve a 12-month sentence in Rikers Island. The central jail in NY, typically used for hardened criminals. In addition, White and his teammates were all banned from ever playing in the NBA.

“To this day, I believe there was some kind of collaboration between my lawyer and the prosecution. Riker’s [sic] Island was supposed to have been built for rehabilitation, but it was the worst place in the world for a kid to try and straighten out his life. I often wonder why I never came out of there a criminal. With all the characters and perverts I met, it certainly would have been the easy way to go.”

Sherman White, NY Times

White was a sure pick in the 1951 Draft. The NY Knicks even were ready to select him as their territorial pick. They were prepared to pay him approximately $12,000 to $13,000, which was a substantial amount in 1951. Unfortunately, the ban stopped him from showing his talent in the NBA. That is why he was proclaimed one of the best college players to never play in the NBA and the best basketball player you never knew.