Remembering Spin Salario

Remembering Spin Salario
January 31, 2012, 6:43 pm
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Isadore "Spin" Salario will forever be remembered as the little Italian who bridged the gaps between black and white and coached Marshall High School on Chicago's West Side to state basketball championships in 1958 and 1960.

The 1958 team, led by 6-foot-8 sophomore George Wilson, 6-foot-5 M.C. Thompson, Steve Thomas, Tyrone Johnson and Bobby Jones, went 31-0 and became the first Chicago Public League team and the first all-black team to win a state title. It is recognized as one of the best teams in state history.

After losing a heartbreaking 63-62 decision to Waukegan in the 1959 supersectional at Northwestern's McGaw Hall in Evanston, the 1960 squad, led by Wilson, 6-foot-8 Ed Franklin, Eddie Jakes, Charlie Jones and Ken Moses, went 31-2 to win another state title.

Salario later coached at Chicago Teachers' College and Northeastern Illinois University. A resident of Wheeling, he died recently at age 90. In six years at Marshall, Salario's teams won four city championships with a coaching style and discipline that changed the way the game was played.

"I felt like I owed it to the fans to play an exciting brand of basketball," he said in an interview on the 40th anniversary of his 1958 championship. "I never, ever had a team stall. We took shots from all over the floor if they were there. That time was great because we broke a psychological barrier."

"He was such a great person," Wilson said. "He kept us focused on one game at a time. He never mentioned state championship or what happened to Marshall versus Quincy (1955) or Du Sable versus Mount Vernon (1954). He didn't want to put negative stuff on you, just positive.

"He told us what goals he had set and what he had expected us to do. He said we will get in tip-top shape. He never, ever cut a guy who tried out for the team. They didn't make it because they couldn't run the laps. They left on their own.

"He taught us to persevere at all times. You could talk to him at all times. 'I will never, ever go to a teacher and ask them to change a grade to let you pass,' he told us. He was white, coaching an all-black team. But being white never was a factor.

"He taught us that we had to learn to outthink the other team. 'Use your mind," he said. His philosophy was to score at one end, stop them at the other end and finish the game ahead by at least two points. It was very simple. He didn't have too many plays, just options off of plays."

Wilson, who went on to play on Cincinnati's 1962 NCAA championship team and the 1964 U.S. Olympic team and played for seven years in the NBA, said Salario was a very intelligent man (he had a doctorate) who cared about his players and always had a smile on his face. But when he had to get tough, he was.

"He threw me off the team one for talking back to him in the huddle,"
Wilson recalled. "I was off the team for three days. I never dared tell my parents. They taught me to be respectful of someone in authority, not to let my mouth get me in trouble."

When Wilson was ready to go to college, Salario gave him good advice. "Pick five schools you want to visit and you will find the one. All of them will have academics, a good coach and a good basketball program. But where do you want to be for four years?" Salario told him.

Wilson signed with Illinois and Cincinnati, then went to Cincinnati because he was influenced by Cincinnati star Oscar Robertson.

Don Jackson, who played on the 1960 Marshall team, said Salario "came across as a seasoned coach, experienced, proven. He was not intimidated. He had a rule that if you didn't make your grades, you wouldn't play. Everybody wanted to play for Marshall and he held that up. The fear of not being able to play was deadly," he said.

"People never gave Spin the credit they should have. He was smart enough to say if we can get in condition, we can play defense. We didn't play zone. We were in such good shape. We pressed all the time. Spin was a players' coach but he also was a disciplinarian. To hold those guys in check was a tough job. We had a feeling that this was something special. The whole feeling of being a Commando was special."

Salario was almost fanatical about conditioning. He had his players running in the halls with iron bars over their shoulders. "Even Northwestern (where Jackson played after high school) didn't have a conditioning program to equal Marshall. People said it wasn't organized basketball but all we needed was a pick-and-roll," Jackson said.

M.C. Thompson said Salario "was absolutely in control of the team. Race wasn't a problem. He had bridged whatever gaps he had to before I got there. He was a great disciplinarian, strong on conditioning. He made us believe we were in better condition than anyone else, especially in the fourth quarter."

Thompson was the 13th man on the squad for two years but Salario had confidence in him, teaching him the fundamentals of rebounding, Thompson's specialty. He went on to play at DePaul.

"He was honest. When I finished playing at Marshall, he sat me down and said I could go far in basketball," Thompson said. "He said he didn't think I was as good as I was, that I was as good as (Crane's) Tim Robinson and (Dunbar's) Bernie Mills. He said he didn't realize it until the end of the season. I had a lot of respect for that kind of honesty."

Charlie Jones said he never had a father (he died a month before he was born) but Salario was like a father to him. All of the players called him Spin, not coach.

"Spin had to be one of the greatest high school coaches of all. He gave all the players quality time, not garbage time. He prepared us for every circumstance that could happen in a game before it happened," he said.

"The secret to Marshall teams wasn't that we were better than other teams but it was because of our conditioning and discipline. We never touched a ball for the first month of practice. We were lifting weights and running stairs. We had players in school who were better but they couldn't make the team because of grades. That's the way Spin was."

A service will be celebrated at Woodlawn Funeral Home at Cermak and Des Plaines in Forest Park at 10:30 a.m. Friday. A procession will follow to Menorah Gardens Cemetery in Broadview for a graveside service. Family and friends will gather at the Carleton of Oak Park Hotel, 1110 Pleasant Street, in Oak Park at 1 p.m. Friday.