Lennie Rosenbluth 2012
Watershed events often are recognized only in hindsight when the passage of time reveals that something really special happened way back when. Today sports fans know that “something really special” occurred in the spring of 1957 when the North Carolina Tar Heels capped a perfect 32-0 season by defeating the Kansas Jayhawks to win the NCAA basketball championship.
That magical season catapulted college basketball ahead of football as the No. 1 sport in the state in the minds of many North Carolinians. It raised the credibility of the Atlantic Coast Conference throughout the nation. It spawned an immediate avalanche of TV coverage of games throughout the conference. Before 1957 the ACC and Dixie Classic tournaments were the highlights of the season; afterward the NCAA Tournament took precedence.
Although others played important roles, the principal figure in this upheaval was a Jewish kid from New York named Leonard Robert “Lennie” Rosenbluth.
The 6-foot-5 forward, a consensus first-team All-American in 1957, scored 20 points in the triple overtime 54-53 championship game victory over the Wilt Chamberlain-led Jayhawks. He was the tournament’s overall top scorer, averaging 28 points per game.
Rosenbluth averaged 27.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game during the regular season and the Helms Hall of Fame named him Collegiate Player of the Year over Chamberlain. In addition he was honored as the ACC Player of the Year and its Athlete of the Year. In fact, he was named to the All-ACC team in all three years of his college varsity playing eligibility, having averaged 25.5 points (and 11.7 rebounds) per game as a sophomore and 26.7 points per game as a junior.
In 2002, the ACC selected Rosenbluth to its 50th anniversary basketball team and named him one of the 50 greatest athletes in the history of the conference. He was selected to the All-Decade Final Four team for the 1950s. He is in the Helms College Basketball Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.
He holds a number of UNC records, including most points in a single season (895) and highest single season average (28.0) in a career that preceded the 3-point shot. Following his college career he had a brief stint with the professional Philadelphia Warriors after being drafted in the first round.
Rosenbluth then completed courses at UNC for a teaching degree. He taught and coached in Wilson before moving to Florida for 35 years where he coached high school basketball and taught American history.
When his wife, Pat, with whom he had a son and a daughter during a 53-year marriage, was stricken with cancer the Rosenbluths moved back to North Carolina so she could be treated at the Lineberger Cancer Center at UNC Hospitals. She died in 2010. Rosenbluth remarried and now lives in Chapel Hill with his present wife, the former Dianne Stabler.