…he couldn’t possibly have been any worse. The late Grandpa Al’s alleged hoops acumen was mentioned in passing in this space, both at the time of his 2006 passing and in a subsequent item about his reported tendency to pad his resume. In May of 2010, WFMU’s Beware Of The Blog and writer Klipf Nesteroff tackled Lewis’ varied, in some cases fanciful claims (“The Myths & Politics Of Granda Munster” , and provided more detail on the thespian powerhouse’s basketball credentials.
“I don’t recruit. I bird-dog. You can call Marty Blake, the chief scout for the NBA, he lives outside Atlanta, and ask him who is the most knowledgeable man of roundball you have ever met. Without hesitation he will tell you Al Lewis.” WFMU called Marty Blake. The eighty-three year old is credited with discovering Karl Malone, Scottie Pippin and a gaggle of other basketball notables. Asked about Al Lewis, Blake remarks (without hesitation), “Al Lewis? The self-proclaimed best scout in basketball!” Blake started as a coach at the famous Tamiment Catskill resort in the early forties. That’s where he would rub shoulders with aspiring showbiz names like Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Surrounded by tummlers and kibitzers, it’s no wonder Marty eventually found an affinity for a ham like Lewis. “I met him a couple of times. I didn’t have much of a chance to say much. It’s funny. He knew everything there was to know about basketball from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. I don’t know if he did it for a living at one time, but I certainly would have hired him … One time I heard him say, ‘Marty says I’m the best darn judge of talent in basketball.’ We had never met!” Blake met Lewis years later in East Rutherford, New Jersey at the 1996 NCAA tournament. By that point Lewis had been observing basketball for decades. “I have bird-dogged high-school basketball since 1934,” said Grandpa. “I have seen more high-school games than [basketball coaches] Dean Smith and Lou Carnesecca combined … I first started for Honey Russell, one of the original Celtics, then coach of Seton Hall. Today I have fifty to sixty ‘division one’ coaches call me. I know what they need. I tell them I don’t recruit.” He told the Chicago Sun Times that he’d been scouting since the mid-thirties, which means he started around the age of eleven. “I love the challenge of trying to predict what a kid can be three years down the road. I’m a genius at that … When I go to a game, I rarely sit … high school [basketball] they allow you to stand underneath the basket. And then I look at the guy in the eye. I can tell you about his desire … That’s what I look for – the guy who plays hungry, with passion and pride … Professional basketball is not basketball. It’s entertainment. They break every rule in [NBA] basketball. They travel on 70 percent of the shots.” He preferred to watch amateur ball, but he didn’t hold the NBA in contempt. He could often be seen enjoying the New York Knicks. “He called me up and he said, ‘Listen, I’m going to the Knicks game tonight … got courtside tickets,” remembers Green Party activist John McDonagh. “So we go there … and we’re walking through [Madison Square] Garden and you [forget] what a pop icon he is. The whole Garden starts cheering, ‘Grandpa! Grandpa!’ I’m sitting there, you got Spike Lee, you got all these people sitting around [us] … everyone’s running to [Lewis]. Grandpa gets up and he says, ‘I’m gonna go over and talk to The Knicks.’ I said, ‘Grandpa, [they’ve] got all this security here.’ He said, ‘Fuck the security!’ So he walks across the thing, nobody stops him and normally guys are being tackled. He’s shaking their hands and some of the Knicks are saying, ‘Yeah, I listened to [your WBAI radio show] on Saturday.’ It was mind boggling.”