‘For me, Red Holzman was an easier interview dead than alive,” Mort Zachter begins his excellent biography of the most successful coach in the history of the New York Knicks. Holzman, who led the team to its only two championships, was known to be very modest. He disliked being interviewed and rarely shared his strategies with the press, but he did sit down for a series of interviews in 1978 for the oral history project of the American Jewish Committee, and left strict instructions as to how they could be used. In 2018 Zachter found the transcripts, which had been unread. Reading them, he says, made him feel “as if Holzman was alive and well and speaking just to me.”
In “Red Holzman: The Life and Legacy of a Hall of Fame Basketball Coach” (Skyhorse), Zachter tells of Holzman’s childhood as the son of Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, when an uncle would take him to see his first professional basketball games at Arcadia Hall in Bushwick. Holzman began playing in streets and schoolyards in the 1920s, and his parents referred to the game as narishkeit, foolishness, before he got a basketball scholarship to attend college.
As head coach of the Knicks, Holzman led a squad including Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere and Earl Monroe. At Madison Square Garden, the number 613 hangs next to Holzman’s name — the total number of his wins with the Knicks.
In the appendix, Zachter also includes Holzman’s wife Selma’s “Chicken-in-the-Pot” recipe, which he found in the Knicks’ 1998-1999 media guide; Knicks center and captain Willis Reed told Zachter she delivered the soup to him each winter when he got the flu.