For most of us, the good times seem fleeting, the bad times endless. The actual time is irrelevant. What matter the minutes or seconds, when they feel like hours? Such musings are anathema for Feets Broudy. To him, a second is a second, a minute is a minute, no ambiguity about it. No wonder. For 28 years, he has been a timekeeper at Madison Square Garden, carefully maintaining the sanctity of the clock, that inflexible arbiter of basketball's limits.
Over the years, Feets, 71, has witnessed many feats. In 1970, when Willis Reed hobbled onto the court and hit a jumper that inspired the Knicks in the decisive seventh game of their tumultuous championship series against the Lakers, it was Broudy's finger on the 24-second clock that forced Reed to take the shot. In 1973, when Dave DeBusschere's three-point play sealed the Knick victory over the Lakers with 48 seconds remaining in the pivotal fourth game, it was Feets who manned the game clock. Since 1958, with the exception of 10 contests, Broudy has worked either the game clock or 24-second clock at every basketball game held in Madison Square Garden—pro, college and high school. And those 10 games were missed for very good reasons: Two years ago he skipped an entire Big East tournament (eight games) when one of his sisters died; he missed another game when another died; and the final miss came when he took a trip to Atlanta for the bar mitzvah of one of his nephews.
Broudy's fascination with basketball began when he was a child in Brooklyn, back when he was known by his given name, Nathan, or his Yiddish nickname, Nisel. The neighborhood kids converted Nisel to fisel, which is Yiddish for feet, and that quickly became Feets in English. "My mother hated that name, detested it," Broudy says, "but now most people don't even know my real name. They just know me as Feets."
Some of his fondest early basketball memories are of taking the subway from Brooklyn to the old Garden to see college games. "You could get in for 50¢ with a high school ID card," Broudy says. "I think the last time I had to pay for a game was '36 or '37. It must have been the Brooklyn Jewels. They were the old St. John's Wonder Five, one of the best college teams in the East. After college, they started their own pro team, using Acadia Hall in Brooklyn as their home court; it was like a dance floor. They played three 15-minute periods. Oh, they were good. It was on account of Max Kinsbrunner that they had to start the 10-second rule, he used to dribble the ball so well."
May 18, 1986
Broudy's initiation into the mysteries of pro basketball came at the hands of Eddie Gottlieb, "my godfather" as Broudy refers to him. Long before the NBA was formed in 1946, Gottlieb was a pioneer in pro sports. One of his greatest successes was a basketball team called the SPHAs, an all-Jewish team named for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association. Broudy performed a variety of duties for Gottlieb's SPHAs: scouting, record keeping, bench assistance, clerical tasks. In 1947, Gottlieb founded the Philadelphia Warriors and helped formulate the fledgling NBA's playing schedule. Broudy remembers Gottlieb inadvertently tossing away slips of paper on which he had kept the schedule, and then helping him search through trash cans for them. "He taught me everything I know," Feets says.
Feets worked in at least a part-time capacity for all four NBA commissioners—keeping stats, clipping stories, answering fan mail and handing out checks at the All-Star games. It was Maurice Podoloff, the first commissioner, who selected Broudy to operate the 24-second clock when it was introduced in a 1954 exhibition game between Philadelphia and Baltimore. The clock became an official part of the NBA that year, thus saving the league from the boredom of low-scoring contests. About 20 years later, commissioner Larry O'Brien gave Broudy a full-time job. (Feets received his due last year when he officially retired from his NBA duties: a gilded basketball, a VCR and two trips to Florida.)
Broudy has spent many hours traveling around the New York area talking to school kids about basketball, giving them his observations on the game he cherishes. Basketball clinics, exhibitions, charity games—for years he helped choose the rosters for the annual Maurice Stokes game held to benefit disabled former NBA players—all have made claims on Broudy's time and energy. Simply put, Feets has become a fixture.
Broudy remembers the days when there were no official TV timeouts, and it was his responsibility to tell coaches when one was needed. "It was in a Celtics-Warriors game," he says. "Podoloff told me to tell the coaches to take a timeout. Red Auerbach started yelling at me. Podoloff came over and told him, 'When Feets tells you to take a timeout, you take a timeout.' That must have been in '51 or '52." Then there was the Iona-Canisius game in the old Garden when the horn went off by mistake with three seconds left and Canisius leading by two points. They gave Iona three seconds, and the Gaels hit a shot to tie the game. "I don't care which Catholic team wins," Broudy protested to the unhappy Canisius coach. "I'm just a little Jewish boy."
Broudy's frenetic pace has slackened of late, but he still works all of the basketball games for the Garden. In the Big East tournament this year, when Georgetown coach John Thompson came storming over to Broudy with one second left and his team behind, everyone expected an explosion. But when he reached the timekeeper, Thompson's face broke into a smile. "C'mon, Feets," Thompson said laughing, "I worked for you all those years up at Kutsher's for the Stokes game. Can't you give me a couple more seconds?"
Active or not, Feets always has his momentos, one of his favorites being a framed, autographed towel from Bill Bradley in honor of a peculiar pregame ritual: For good luck, Bradley would toss a towel to Broudy at the scorers' table before each game.
Broudy's obsession for 28 years has been the inflexible division of time, the careful parceling out of minutes and seconds, but when he speaks about the game and its history, the past flows into the present with a conversational ease that makes the SPHAs and the Jewels all part of a seamless unity.
A stopwatch Broudy used for 1,700 games from 1958 to 1980 rests in the Basketball Hall of Fame, commemorating his long stewardship. It no longer ticks, but the game goes on.