The middle-aged white man had held his college playing weight—exactly 180—but he was bearded now, his dark hair thick with gray. The black man, who had played at a bulky 225, had become immense. Brought together by a writer, the two of them stood staring at each other, momentarily frozen, in the lobby of Chicago's Whitehall Hotel. Their minds were racing back in time, trying to strip away 25 years so that the basketball teammate each had last seen on the Seton Hall campus in South Orange, N.J. could emerge again.
"Hey, Al...how've you been, man?"
Al Senavitis, an outstanding 6'2" guard at Seton Hall, and Art Hicks, a 6'5" swingman who might have been a high NBA draft choice back then, embraced. Each remembered precisely the last time he had seen the other. It was Friday morning, March 17, 1961.
March 10, 1986
Senavitis recalled the day: "I got up for breakfast and went past their room like I always did. The three of us usually went everywhere together—me, Arthur and Henry Gunter, the center. The door was open, and two guys with ties and jackets were inside. I figured reporters. I asked Arthur if he wanted to go to breakfast. Arthur said, 'I'll meet you in the caf, man. About 10 minutes.' "
Senavitis ate alone. In his second class that day, a student delivered a note telling him to report to the chapel. Al thought immediately that something had happened to his parents. In a room at the chapel, he found everyone on the basketball team except Hicks and Gunter.
Senavitis recalled, "Father Horgan was trying to tell us something, but his voice cracked and tears came to his eyes, so he just turned on the radio. The 11 o'clock news was on. I still remember the exact station—WABC-77. It was all there. A basketball scandal. Point shaving. Seton Hall players involved. Art Hicks and Hank Gunter picked up by the New York District Attorney's office...."
Because he had been close to Art and Hank, Senavitis was chosen to clean out their room. Any doubts that Hicks and Gunter were involved disappeared when Senavitis, accompanied by a priest, found eight 100-dollar bills behind a baseboard in the room and a man's Persian lamb coat in Art's closet. "I decided that I had to see Arthur, to have him tell me to my face why he did it," Senavitis recalled. "I believed he owed me that. I went to the hotel in New York where Al and Hank were being kept in protective custody, but the detectives wouldn't let me in."
Hicks talked about those two New York City detectives as well. He said that after they came to his room that devastating morning, "they kept showing me pictures of guys and asking, 'Do you know this gentleman?' I kept saying, 'No, I don't.' Then we went over to the college president's office and a guy already there had a picture of me sitting at a table with one of the guys I just said I never saw before. That's when I knew it was all up."
The detectives picked up Hicks and Gunter a quarter of a century ago in connection with a point-shaving scandal that involved, in all, 47 players from some two dozen colleges. The number of fixed games has never been accurately determined. All the players agreed to testify and were granted immunity from prosecution; none went to prison. Among the gamblers who were sentenced to jail at this time were Aaron Wagman, who had fixed more than 100 games in the late 1950s and early '60s (see page 54), and Joseph Hacken, who had been deeply involved in the Seton Hall fixes.
The fact that Hicks was one of those who shaved points is something that Senavitis has never been able to comprehend—or quite overcome. "What Arthur did changed me," he said. "I became more suspicious and less trusting of people." After graduating from Seton Hall in 1962, Senavitis coached high school and small-college basketball and eventually became a teacher of special education at his alma mater, Liberty High in Bethlehem, Pa. He also became a force in Pennsylvania's Special Olympics.
And now he was face to face with Hicks in the Whitehall Hotel. "You know, Arthur, after you left school, I wasn't going back for my senior year," Senavitis said. "I didn't see the team going anywhere. I talked to my father about it. He said I should stay because the school had treated me very well." Senavitis paused, then went on, "You were my friend, my teammate, the guy I liked being around the most. Did it ever occur to you to think about what you were doing to me?"
"Al, you were the only guy me and Gun ever did think about," Hicks replied. "Next year was gonna be our year. The three of us were potential All-Americas."
"But don't you feel you betrayed me?"
"Yeah. But by then we were in over our heads. The next guy they'd have tried to get to was you. I didn't want you involved at all. The pressure on you, Al, even if you just knew about it, would have screwed up your mind."
Senavitis wanted to know how Hicks had been approached and why—why—he went for it.
Hicks said, "When I went up to New York on weekends, I met this guy, a real nice guy, who laid out the deal. I told him, 'No.' Every once in a while he'd get in touch again, but I'd still tell him, 'No.' The money didn't interest me. Back in Chicago I went to Catholic school when I was a kid. I had only one pair of blue pants, a suit jacket and a tie. But my momma washed them and pressed them all the time. And it was fine. See what I mean? I had no need for more. Then one night, my sophomore year, me and Gun came back late to the dorm. We passed this open door and heard one of the guys on the team say, 'Tomorrow we got an easy game, so we won't be giving the ball to the niggers.' "
Senavitis was dumbstruck. He asked, "And that made you fix ball games?"
"It made me lose respect for my teammates," said Hicks. "From high school, I was used to racists in the stands but not from the same guys I showered with every day. Those cats weren't the same anymore after I heard that. The intensity and love for my teammates was gone. A little later the gambler said to me, 'Listen, I'm throwing a party. What kind of women would you like?' Let me tell you, man, that was some party." The next time the offer to fix games came, Hicks accepted.
"One thing you never hear about the gamblers is how good they were at what they did. They were experts at human nature and that's why so few of the kids they approached ever turned them down. They catch you at just the right time, when you're vulnerable. They can look at a kid's game and see there ain't no love there. They can tell when a kid don't respect his coach. They knew that blacks at certain schools had no social life. Whatever the problem, they knew how to exploit it. The gambler becomes the most reliable person in your life. He replaces the coach. And you go for his deal even though you never understand exactly why. You walk around like when you're asleep but can still sort of hear things."
In the years since that March morning in 1961, Senavitis had been looking back, trying to determine which plays had been purposely blown. He said, "It's ironic, but when you're not thinking fix, it never occurs to you. They're just bad games. Then, when you think fix, you see it everywhere." Senavitis asked Hicks, "Do you remember the first game you did and what it felt like doing it?"
Hicks answered, "I agreed to do the Western Kentucky game for a grand. It was at the old Madison Square Garden. I screwed up the deal, though. We didn't lose by as much as we were supposed to. The gamblers paid me for it, anyway. Yeah, I can even remember the first bad play I ever made as a fixer. It was a three-on-one. I was in the middle on a fast break"—Senavitis was listening intently, desperately trying to dig the play out of his memory—"guy on my left, guy on my right. I palmed the ball across me to the right"—Hicks's huge hand palmed a great volume of air—"and I brought it back and whipped it to the left. A little too hard. Out of bounds. I knew he wouldn't be able to handle it. From that moment on, I knew I could never love basketball the same way again."
Hicks recalled that he got himself into serious trouble with the gamblers the following season in a game against heavily favored Cincinnati. He had agreed to fix it so Cincinnati would win by 12 or more points. He recalled, "The locker rooms were right next to each other and when we came out to warm up, I could hear these Cincinnati guys bragging about how we're nothing and they're going to kill us. Suddenly I wanted to beat them real bad. I couldn't help myself." Seton Hall won by eight: Hicks scored 22, Gunter 18, Senavitis 17.
"After the game they came to get me and they brought me to some guy I'd never seen before. He said to me, 'You black sons of bitches lost a lot of money for us tonight—$100,000. If I don't see that money by Friday, you won't see Saturday.' " Hicks bought himself a pair of snub-nosed .38s—and he never crossed the gamblers again.
Seton Hall was 15-9 in the 1960-61 season. Losses to Duke and Dayton by scores of 112-78 and 112-77, respectively, were both tank jobs and Hicks said he recalled that at least five more were fixes, too.
Senavitis knew the answer, but he asked anyway: "When you missed the bus after the Dayton game, where did you go?"
Hicks chuckled sadly. "The gambler didn't show with our money, so I went looking for him. I remembered the way he'd made me sweat after the Cincinnati game. Early in the morning I found him in a bar where he hung out. He started putting me on like I'm a square. I pulled out the .38 and put it to his head. I got his respect and I got my money."
Hicks was one of the bigger moneymakers among players on the take in 1961. Most of the time he doubled his bribe money—as much as $1,500—by letting it ride as his bet on the game. When he saw a stack of $100 bills on his palm afterward, it seemed like "all the money in the world."
Hicks had graduated from Chicago's St. Elizabeth High School in 1957, a much ballyhooed schoolboy star. After his freshman year at Northwestern, he transferred to Seton Hall, where he was expected to lead the basketball program back to greatness.
"The truth of the matter is that even after all this time the program has never really recovered from the '61 fixes," said Senavitis regretfully. "The year after the scandal broke, they used to call us 'Cheatin' Hall' everywhere we went."
Hicks returned to Chicago afterward, not so much in disgrace as in obscurity. For a few years he toured the country with a Globetrotter-like basketball team that included at one time or another Goose Tatum, Marques Haynes, Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton, Satchel Paige and Hicks's Seton Hall teammate and fellow fixer, Gunter. Hicks picked up $300 a game. Later he put his life together in Chicago. He worked at the Atomic Energy Commission as an equal opportunity officer, then went to the YMCA and ran a program that attempted to keep peace among Chicago's volatile street gangs.
Eventually Hicks met an optometrist who had a want and a need. "He wanted to get his practice into the projects like the ones I had grown up in," said Hicks. "But he needed someone who could guarantee he would be safe doing it. That was me." The optometrist, in turn, helped train Hicks to become an optician. Now Hicks owns two eyeglass centers and is a partner in two others.
Hicks pulled himself quite a few notches above rock bottom by a combination of wit and grit. He said he believes that he has something special to say to young ballplayers, especially young black ballplayers: "I'd like nothing better than to go around and tell them what to watch out for. From the alumni—don't be taking anything under the table. From the schools—don't let them be giving you no nickel-and-dime courses. Don't let none of them be making fools of you. Hell, we got ballplayers coming out of school after four years who can't read."
"And what would you tell them about the gamblers?" Senavitis asked, feeding Hicks the pass where he could take it to the rim.
"Handling gamblers would be easy if kids would remember how it was before they became so good, before they got such big heads. How they used to shovel the snow off the court in the winter because they loved the game so much. How they could make 10 in a row in the dark all alone." He looked wistful as he said to an imaginary crowd of kids, "Listen, all you guys out there, you got to know what it's like when playing ball stops feeling good!"
Hicks stopped talking and looked at his watch. "Damn. It's my birthday. I'm 47."
"Happy birthday, Arthur."
"Thanks, man. You know something, Al? I honestly believe if I didn't get caught, I would have been able to get out of it. That senior year was going to be our year."
His watch said it was almost 3:30 a.m., and Art Hicks rose to depart. The men exchanged addresses and phone numbers. They hugged warmly. "Can you imagine what we could have been, Al?"
Senavitis, who has imagined little else over the years, nodded. Then he said, "Arthur, Arthur, what the hell did you do? It was all there."
Art Hicks was crying as he walked out of the hotel.
"One thing you never hear about the gamblers is how good they were at what they did. They were experts at human nature. That's why so few kids turned them down."