Teams rarely scored more than 45 points in a game then, and 20 points was considered extraordinary for an individual. It was an era when the clock was rarely stopped, when free throws were awarded sparingly and when a center jump following every basket was required in most sections of the country. A player who seemed able to score at will was the stuff of legend.
Still, the East had to be shown. Pacific Coast basketball was regarded in New York with mild contempt. On a similar holiday tour the year before, a University of California team was trounced 41-26 by NYU. That Cal team went on to split four games with Stanford during the conference season. Long Island University of Brooklyn, led by 6'8" Center Art Hillhouse and two-handed set shot artists Julie Bender and Ben Kramer, was the class of the East in the 1936-37 season, and the East was the class of the nation.
The Eastern teams played ball-control offense and man-to-man defense. They shot the ball in the traditional manner, and they rarely shot at all until the ball had been worked in with half a dozen passes or more.
Stanford's team was an enigma to Easterners. In their workouts Luisetti and his teammates seemed to be approaching the epochal conflict between Eastern orthodoxy and Western iconoclasm with an attitude bordering on the frivolous. At the West Philadelphia railroad station after the Temple win, they were observed rolling oranges into a cocked hat. They joked with New York reporters, laughing off suggestions that they would soon be sobered by their meeting with the Blackbirds. Their resolute amiability earned them the sobriquet "Laughing Boys." And those who watched them shooting one-handed during practice were moved to laughter—or derision. "I'll quit coaching if I have to teach one-handed shots to win," snapped Nat Holman, the City College of New York coach and the ranking savant of Eastern basketball. "They will have to show me plenty to convince me that a shot predicated on a prayer is smart basketball. There's only one way to shoot, the way we do it in the East—with two hands."
Stanford Coach John Bunn squirmed at intimations that he was some kind of radical. As a player at Kansas under Phog Allen and a former student of basketball's inventor, Dr. James Naismith, he protested that his credentials as a traditionalist were in order. But one look at young Luisetti swishing one-handers from 20 feet away had convinced him there was room for innovation.
Bunn was God-fearing, high-minded and sobersided, but he also believed athletics should be fun, so he gave his spirited charges the freedom to develop their individual skills. On offense, the Stanford players roamed like prairie dogs, switching positions to meet changing situations. Luisetti, the most liberated free-lancer of them all, might play the post, bring the ball downcourt or switch from the left to the right side at will. On defense the Indians played a combination zone and man-to-man that Bunn called a "team defense." Here again, switching positions was perfectly acceptable. To Eastern audiences, it all smacked of anarchy.
It was hardly that. For all of their freewheeling, the Stanford players were highly disciplined and specialized. Left Forward Howell (Handsome Howie) Turner was Luisetti's height (6'2�") and a fine all-round player. The guards were 6'1" Bryan (Dinty) Moore, an inspirational player and a defensive demon, and 6'4" Jack Calderwood, an exceptional re-bounder who was nicknamed "Frankenstein" or "Spook" because of his lumbering gait and ominous mien. Art Stoefen, at 6'4�" the tallest man in the lineup, was the center.
Principally because of its East-West flavor, the LIU-Stanford game received surprisingly good advance publicity during a typically busy news week in the newspaper-rich New York of the 1930s. The Spanish Civil War was Page One material, as were the travails of the recently abdicated King Edward VIII. Business, as usual, was ready for a big comeback, and President Roosevelt was urging Congress to restore NRA reforms. You Can't Take It with You and Clare Boothe's The Women had just opened on Broadway, as had motion pictures starring Shirley Temple and the newest challenger to her supremacy as the cutest little thing around, Bobby Breen. The Daily News" crackerjack headline writers were in top form: BOY STOLEN BY MADMAN, AX MURDER IS CLIMAX OF YULE REVELRY, DAD DIES AS GIRL LOSES SPELLING BEE, NEEDY MOTHER ABANDONS BABY AT WRONG POORHOUSE.
As Dr. Northway finished the taping, Luisetti good-naturedly ruffled the doctor's hair and pulled the necktie from beneath his vest for good luck. Then he and his teammates trotted into the magical arena. The Stanford players were hardly bumpkins. Luisetti and Calderwood were from San Francisco, Turner was from the Bay Area community of Piedmont, and Moore and Stoefen were from Los Angeles. But the sight of the packed Garden flabbergasted them.
"The first thing I saw was a giant neon sign," recalls Stoefen. "Then I looked up and saw what seemed to be thousands of fireflies. They were cigarettes glowing in the darkness. And through the haze of smoke, I finally saw people, people as far and as high as I could see."