LEWISTON — No less effervescent than he was when he arrived on campus as a freshman 45 years ago, Calvin Murphy came back to Niagara University on Friday night to further his legend.
In case you wondered why the weather was so pleasant earlier in the day.
“The sun always shines a little brighter,” Niagara athletics director Ed McLaughlin said, “when Calvin is on campus.”
Murphy made coaches fear No. 23 before Michael Jordan could tie his hightops, made 25-footers before the 3-point line was painted, and made such an impact as the shortest man on the floor that Sports Illustrated proclaimed him to be the greatest 5-foot-9 player in the history of basketball.
His Hall of Fame career brought him to every NBA city in the United States, and made him wealthy enough to travel around the world. Everywhere he flew, the Purple Eagle proudly spread his wings.
“Even in Europe, even in the Bahamas” said San Jose Brown, a retired schoolteacher from Houston who has known Murphy for 32 years, “people know him from Niagara.”
Wearing a gunmetal gray, four-piece, four-button suit with a jacket cut long enough for the greatest 6-foot-9 basketball player of all time, Murphy sat courtside for the Purple Eagles’ nationally-televised game against Rider, shaking hands, signing autographs, sharing stories.
He was honored at halftime as a “Niagara legend,” and received a standing ovation. When the game ended around 11 p.m., Murphy slid onto the floor in his patent leather wing tips to play the shooting game “knockout” with a group of children staying overnight at the Gallagher Center. Without letting his shirttail come untucked, he hoisted a shot from the top of the key that fell through the basket straighter than the silver tie dangled from his neck. A dozen or so kids remained in the game, but Murphy had already declared himself the winner.