He joined the Williamsport (Pa.) Billies, whose player-coach was Jack Molinas, one of the most troubling figures in basketball history. If Forte and his Columbia teammates represented the dazzling potential of New York athletes—Dwyer became a surgeon; the Columbia center, Frank Thomas, is head of the Ford Foundation; one starting forward is practicing law in Florida and the other is working on Wall Street; Forte reaped glory in broadcasting—then Jack Molinas represented the dark side. An All-America and the top scorer on Columbia's 1952-53 Ivy League-champion team, Molinas was drafted by the Fort Wayne Pistons, but in 1954 he was banned from the NBA for life for betting on games.
One weekend when the Billies were being driven to a game, Molinas heard the tip-off of a college game on the car radio. After listening intently for a few miles, Molinas suddenly said, "Stop the car. I got to make a call."
"We're almost at the arena, Jack," the driver said.
"Goddammit, stop the car!" Molinas shouted. "The bookies think they're starting this thing a half hour from now! I got to make a call!"
Forte had never known anyone who bet on games, and he was struck by Molinas's desperation. "One minute he was riding along, laughing and joking with the rest of the guys, and the next he's going crazy," Forte says. "It was like he would have jumped out of the car while it was still moving just to call in that bet."
In 1963 Molinas was convicted and jailed as a co-conspirator in one of the biggest sports scandals of all time, the point shaving by 50 players at some 27 colleges from '59 to '61. He served five years of a 10-to-15-year sentence. In 1975 Molinas was killed, gangland fashion, in the backyard of his home in Los Angeles. At the time, he was under indictment for interstate shipment of pornographic films.
Forte, meanwhile, found his calling in broadcasting. In 1958 he was hired as a production assistant by Bill MacPhail, sports chief of CBS, then the dominant sports network. If the '50s were a good decade to be a basketball All-America at Columbia, they were even better times to be at CBS. The first scent of the astonishing money building in television sports was in the air. And New York was available in all its glory. Sports people had their haunts, and they did a lot of boisterous hanging out at Toots Shor's, Manuche's, "21" and P.J. Clarke's, closing those places many nights and, now and then, leaving one of the crew passed out in a sidewalk trash can.
"Chet was a hard worker, and great fun to be around," MacPhail recalls. "Everyone still knew who he was and wanted to be his friend. And Chet was always willing." Even though he was making only $35 a week, Forte played cards with MacPhail and his No. 2 man, Jack Dolph, and MacPhail's good friend Pete Rozelle, at the time general manager of the L.A. Rams.
"We played hearts," Forte recalls. For money, of course, even if it didn't seem like serious money.
While he learned the TV business, Forte played cards and rolled dice for drinks and dinner. Lived the life and loved it, threw himself into it the way he had thrown himself into basketball. There was no dividing line between Forte's work and the rest of his life; it was all the same.