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After the Fall
Geoffrey Norman
May 20, 1991
CHET FORTE, ONCE TV's TOP SPORTS DIRECTOR, IS PICKING UP THE PIECES OF A LIFE RUINED BY COMPULSIVE GAMBLING
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May 20, 1991

After The Fall

CHET FORTE, ONCE TV's TOP SPORTS DIRECTOR, IS PICKING UP THE PIECES OF A LIFE RUINED BY COMPULSIVE GAMBLING

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"Thirty seconds," an assistant director says. Forte has not taken his eyes off the monitors.

"Stand by, four," Forte says. "Three...two...one...take four.

"O.K., give me the faces," he says urgently into the mike. "I want to see their faces. Close-up on the faces."

Forte's career in television sports ended at the old ABC building, a dozen blocks south of the WPIX van, in 1986. It can be said to have begun more than 30 years earlier at Columbia University, a couple of miles to the northwest, where Forte played basketball.

The 1950s were golden years for New York sports. Mickey Mantle was in his prime, and the Yankees dominated baseball with ease and arrogance. The football Giants had Gifford and Charley Conerly. College basketball was hugely popular, and it was assumed that all really good basketball players came from New York, even if they wound up in North Carolina. Columbia routinely contended for the Ivy League championship.

"You could buy the New York Post and see your picture on the back page," recalls Forte's backcourt mate, Dr. Edward Dwyer, who is now head of cardiology at St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. "We had good teams and lots of fans."

Forte was Columbia's star, a 5'9" guard who could score from outside with a two-handed set shot or, if someone came out to cover him, drive and make the basket with an early version of the jump shot, in which he took off on the wrong foot. If Forte got the ball, he shot, and there was something in his determination that appealed to New York fans.

"Chet was tough and feisty," Dwyer says. "Because he was small and was up in the air a lot, he took a beating. He got fingers in his eyes and he was on the floor a lot. But he didn't let it stop him."

In the 1956-57 season, his senior year, Forte nearly led the nation in scoring. At the end of the year his average was 28.9 points per game, putting him behind only Seattle's Elgin Baylor (29.7) and Kansas's Wilt Chamberlain (29.6). Forte was a consensus All-America and UPI's player of the year.

In spite of his size he was drafted by the NBA's Cincinnati Royals, but at the end of training camp he did not make the team. By then it was too late to find a place with another NBA club for the '57-58 season, so Forte played on weekends in the professional Eastern League while he tried to decide what to do after basketball.

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