On an unremarkable Wednesday evening in the spring of 1948, 15,561 spectators flocked to New York’s Madison Square Garden to watch two teams of World War II veterans play an exhibition basketball game.
The servicemen who took to the hardwood that night were as extraordinarily ordinary as any group of veterans. They could have been the “mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys” from Ernie Pyle’s Pulitzer Prize–winning columns, or “Willie and Joe” from Bill Mauldin’s Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoons. They were your brother, your neighbor, your best friend from high school.
Except, they were different. The home team consisted of paralyzed veterans from Halloran hospital on Staten Island. The visitors were paralyzed veterans from Cushing hospital in Framingham, Massachusetts. All of the players rolled onto the court in shiny wheelchairs.
Behind the sharp-shooting wizardry of Jack Gerhardt, a wiry paratrooper who was wounded at Normandy, Halloran took a 12-9 edge at halftime before