Les Harrison remembered

Posted at: 05/15/2013 3:51 PM
Updated at: 05/15/2013 7:45 PM
By: Robin DeWind

Long before multi-million dollar contracts, Rochester was home to one of the first NBA teams. Owner and coach Les Harrison was the man behind the Rochester Royals and on Wednesday, a permanent exhibit celebrating that local history was unveiled.

A permanent dedication is now on display at the Rochester War Memorial. The Legacy of Les Harrison, known in basketball circles, will now be a gift for the entire community.

Les Harrison was a star for the old East High basketball team back in the 1920's. He never went to college, instead, he helped with his family's fruit business after his dad died.

But his love of basketball led him to form various semi-pro teams. In 1945, he bought the Rochester Royals and as owner and coach, he won three world championships. In 1951, his team beat the New York Knicks.

Bobby Wanzer, Rochester Royal 1947-57, said, “I don't think Les was appreciated in Rochester. He saw the future. He wanted to hang on until television became the sole sponsor of the NBA, but the city didn't support him in that way.”

It's no surprise Bobby Wanzer, a member of that magical team, wanted to be present some 60 years later to see the city unveil a permanent dedication to a true ambassador of Rochester and the NBA

Wanzer said, “It was a golden age of basketball. Our salaries were so small, $5 for meals for the whole day, today, they get $99.”

On Wednesday, it was about looking back. City leaders joined family and friends in celebation. Harrison won 400 games with the Royals, brought the NBA All-Star game to the War Memorial in 1956 and became of member of the Pro Hall of Fame in the same class as Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and Jerry Lucas.

Harrison also founded the Kodak Classic, bringing Division I College Basketball to Rochester for more than 20 years.

David Dvorkin, Harrison relative, said, “He cared about Rochester. He was a pioneer, one of the people that helped integrate the sport. That shouldn't be lost on people.”
And now it won't, with the dedication, a permanent reminder of the man who was an innovator, coach and teacher.

Wanzer said, “He was a man of his word. You don't need to have a handshake. His word was as good as gold. There aren't many people like that anymore.”