A basketball pioneer during the Great Depression, Lou Bender was a scoring machine during a time when scoring was at a premium. The master of the two-handed set shot, Bender led the 1930 and 1931 Columbia teams to consecutive Eastern Intercollegiate League titles and helped popularize basketball in New York City during the Great Depression.
A New York City native, Bender attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx before coming to Columbia.
In January 1931, former mayor Jimmy Walker organized a college basketball tripleheader to raise money for unemployment relief. In one game of the tripleheader at the old Madison Square Garden, Bender led all scorers with eight points as Columbia defeated Fordham, 26-18. The event, which also featured Manhattan, NYU, St. John’s and City College, raised $22,000.
A three-time All-Eastern League honoree, Bender was also a two-time All-American for the Lions. He was the league’s leading scorer in both of Columbia’s championship seasons in 1930 and 1931, averaging just shy of 10 points a game.
“I give Lou a lot of credit, because those were the days before the shot clock was invented, so 10 points a game was quite a feat,” former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca said in an interview with The New York Times. “In those days, if you missed a shot, you might not see the ball again for a month.”
Bender earned his law degree from Columbia Law School in 1935 and went on to play professional basketball for the original Celtics, the Union City Reds and Boston Trojans of the American Basketball League, the precursor to today’s National Basketball Association. Bender finished his basketball career with the independent New York Whirlwinds in 1941 and later became a defense attorney.
He passed away in 2009 at the age of 99 at his home in Florida, survived by his wife Jean, a Barnard graduate, his four children and 11 grandchildren.