Himmelman photo

Alumni Profile

Sports Historian Relishes Distant Replays

You might be a sports journalist researching the batting average of Shoeless Joe Jackson during the 1919 World Series; or perhaps you’re an author compiling stories about outstanding dual professional athletes in the 1920s; or maybe you’re just a fan wondering what happened to classic basketball teams like the Brooklyn Visitations or Buffalo Germans. Whatever the sports history question, the man to call is Bill Himmelman, BS’60 (T-H).

Himmelman has combined a lifelong passion for sports nostalgia with an uncanny knack for researching and digging out long-buried morsels of information. This combination has enabled him to build his own research firm, Sports Nostalgia Research; to open Baseball Nostalgia, a retail store just up the street from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.; and to become the official historian of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

“I started collecting and accumulating statistics as a hobby,” he says, “and people started to call me to check information for sports shows, books, encyclopedias and nearly everything imaginable.”

While Himmelman has done extensive research in several major sports, it is in basketball that he has truly earned a national reputation. Regarded as one of the country’s premier hoops historians, he has done research for the NBA for 15 years, tracking down more than 3,500 of the sport’s pioneer players, coaches and referees. Hired initially as a consultant by NBA commissioner and fellow Teaneck High School graduate David Stern after a chance meeting at a reunion, Himmelman played a major role in the production of the league’s encyclopedia. “One of my big tasks,” says Himmelman, “was to research the players section, making sure all players were listed with their first and last names, their teams, birth and death dates and game statistics.”

Regarded as one of the country’s premier hoops historians, Himmelman has done research for the NBA for 15 years, tracking down more than 3,500 of the sport’s pioneer players, coaches and referees.

Himmelman’s work for the NBA has taken him through many library archives, searching through newspapers from the 1940s and 1950s. “I actually had to — and still do — visit key libraries in New Jersey, New York and New England, which have copies or microfilm of local and regional newspapers.

“The research means finding box scores of games — when box scores were printed — or trying to recreate them from the game stories,” he says. “Remember, early in the 20th century, professional sports didn’t get the in-depth coverage it does now.”

“He’s here every couple of months sticking his head for days in old books and media guides,” said Douglas Stark, librarian and archivist at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., who was quoted in a recent story about Himmelman in The Recordnewspaper. “He always finds something, some small fact he may not even have been looking for, and then he’s as happy as a little kid.”

Himmelman also was active in events surrounding the 100th anniversary of professional basketball, celebrated last season, and he is co-writing three books on professional basketball’s first 50 years. The initial book, due out later this year, will focus on stars of the early days of professional basketball.

Himmelman’s research skills have caught the eye of other leagues, and he has been involved in the Total Baseballand Total Footballencyclopedias sponsored by Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

His other research projects include player statistics for publishers of sports cards as well as individual sport, team and player research for authors.

Himmelman’s research is a perfect complement to his retail baseball card and memorabilia business, Baseball Nostalgia. “We were the first full-time baseball card shop in the country when we opened up in Upper Saddle River (N.J.) in 1972,” he recalls. The shop moved to Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1974, where he reports it is enjoying great success.

Himmelman’s love of sports was nurtured while growing up in Teaneck, N.J., where he played baseball and basketball. At FDU, Himmelman played basketball (he describes himself as a skinny forward) and baseball (a first baseman), and fondly remembers coaches Dick Holub (head basketball coach 1949–1966), George Glasgow (basketball and men’s soccer coach 1956–1969, 1974–1976) and the late Harvey Woods (athletics director 1950–1977 and head baseball coach 1951–1966, 1978–1979).

After graduation, Himmelman remained active in athletics. He helped organize basketball and baseball leagues, finding time to play and coach right up to the early 1990s, when he ended his career as a player and manager in the semipro Stan Musial Baseball League in Bergen County. In 1993, he was inducted into the Bergen County Semi-Pro Hall of Fame.

Himmelman today works out of his Norwood, N.J., home, and enjoys being able to take a break and shoot hoops in his backyard. But he also has found that in his business, he is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, fielding questions from authors, reporters, coaches, players and sports enthusiasts. “This isn’t a profession you train for,” he smiles. “It is a labor of love.”


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