George “Set Shot” Slavish, Only White Harlem Globetrotter, Dies During Unspectacular Open Court Layup
Basketball Icon was Playing in Geriatric League
I Got Lame. George “Set Shot” Slavish launches a shot in this 1948 photo when he played in a semi-pro league in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He led the league in scoring that year with 6.0 average.
SCRANTON, PA (Sportsman’s Daily Wire Service) — At age eighty-five, George Slavish still played pick up basketball three times a week in the Scranton Over Seventy League. Though he long ago lost his respectable dribbling abilities and trick shot making skills, his on court savvy never abandoned him. But Slavish’s days in basketball ended suddenly last Tuesday after he managed to steal a ball from seventy-seven year old Abe Kitzman. While attempting to make an open court layup as several teammates and opponents were gasping for oxygen, Slavish collapsed to the hardwoods, the victim of a massive stroke.
“He made that play with all the alacrity of a sea turtle – it was profoundly mundane – lame, but serviceable. That’s our George,” said teammate Jimmy Ligouri. It took ninety-one year old coach Arnie Kotch forty-four minutes to figure out how to dial 911.
“After I found my phone, I was dialing 411 for quite a while,” said Kotch. “The voice said, ‘what city and state please?’ and I kept telling them ‘Scranton,
Pennsylvania God dammit!’ But I never got much past that as the operator kept calling me a crank and hung up repeatedly. Eventually I realized the difference between the four and the nine, and I got 911, but it was too late. George was already in that big locker room in the sky.”
Though he only played for the final thirty-eight seconds in a game in 1944, George “Set Shot” Slavish is best remembered for the moment he made his only appearance as a Harlem Globetrotter – to this day the only known Caucasian player to wear the uniform in the eighty-two year old franchise’s history. Classified as 4F due to a perforated ear drum, therefore unable to serve his country during World War Two, Slavish had his moment in the sun as many of the top talent Globetrotters were in the armed forces. On a cold and snowy February night in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the Globetrotters were scheduled to play their longtime nemesis, the Washington Generals. But they suddenly found themselves short a player when Luther “Lucky Balls” Wilson broke his foot in the final seconds of the game leaving the already depleted Globetrotters roster with four players available. Enter Slavish.
Slavish was a backup player on the Generals and was quickly recruited to fill Wilson’s spot at the two guard position. He made his only shot, a set shot of course, to the absolute delight of the fans in attendance. His “new” teammates congratulated him as the Globetrotters entered the locker room victorious.
“As I recall the play, it was profoundly mundane – lame, but serviceable,” said eighty-three year old Johnny “Speed Drill” Madison, the Globetrotters’ flashy point guard from those days. “But still, from that moment on he was a bit of a celebrity – even got his own songs.”
The Slavish-Globetrotters moment Madison refers to did spark a national, albeit brief phenomenon which included two popular songs, Slavishing Is Better Than Ravishing, a love ballad sung by Dick Haymes and the hit novelty tune-tongue twister Try Saying Set Shot Slavish Ten Times Fast by Gil St. James and his Raving Loonies. There were George “Set Shot” Slavish trading cards and comic books – as well as wrist watches and candy bars.
But by the summer of 1944, the love affair with Slavish ended and he faded into obscurity. He remained a resident of Scranton playing pickup basketball until the day he died. He earned his living as the owner of a small dry cleaning establishment. Customers described his laundering skills as profoundly mundane – lame, but serviceable. No songs were ever written about his business.
The Authors of The Sportsman’s Daily