Friday, October 30, 2009


I had lunch with baseball writer Jim Kaplan a while ago, who is working on a book about Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal. I mentioned in passing that it must be tough to make sure when working on a book that people's memories are accurate years and years after the fact.

Let me present an excellent example of that.

Mike Harrington and I were talking about the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductions earlier this week. He said he had read a story about Phil Housley's wife, who was delivering a baby in Buffalo during a famous Duke basketball game in the NCAA basketball tournament. Then Mike sent me a link to Karin's story, which you can find here.

If you don't want to read the whole thing, Karin Housley was dropped off by Phil while he was on his way to playing Pittsburgh at the Aud for a key afternoon game. Karin was waiting to have the baby and was in enough pain to wish bad things for Christian Laettner, whose game was on television in the hospital. She suffered to the point where the baby was nicknamed "Duke," even though it was a girl. And the Housleys ran into Laettner on the way to the Hall of Fame dinner in Buffalo years later.

We all know about the 1992 NCAA game between Duke and Kentucky, in which Laettner hit a shot at the buzzer after a long pass from Grant Hill to win one of the greatest games in history. I read Karin's story, which is connected in folklore by some to the Duke-Kentucky game. I thought, something doesn't add up here.

For starters, Housley was traded by the Sabres to Winnipeg in the summer of 1990. So Karin couldn't have been giving birth in Buffalo in 1992 -- at least with Phil as a Sabre.

And, just to add to the confusion, Pittsburgh never played in Buffalo in March during Laettner's career at Duke.

Hmmm. Well, Laettner had one other very famous moment in the NCAAs at Duke. He hit a shot off an out-of-bounds play against UConn to move the Blue Devils into the final four. That was an overtime game too. It was on March 24, 1990.

Except, the Sabres were off that day. Duke did play the first two games of the tournament on days when the Sabres were home -- including a Sunday game on March 18 against Winnipeg. That could have been an afternoon game, although I can't prove it right now. Duke beat St. John's by four points.

Duke also made it to the Final Four in 1989, albeit in less exciting circumstances. There is a match for one tournament game by Duke with a Sabre home games, but it was a Friday night -- no chance of an afternoon game there.

I'd guess that the Winnipeg game was the one in question -- even if it wasn't a crucial game in determining a playoff spot (the Sabres had wrapped up a berth early that year). There's an obviously a way to figure this out for sure -- ask Housley's daughter for her birthdate.

But this is why we have fact-checkers ... and why books can take years to write.

1 comment:

Glenn Locke, The Tall Thin Guy said...

Didn't they teach you anything at Syracuse journalism school? NEVER LET THE FACTS GET IN THE WAY OF A GOOD STORY!!!!