Someone has chosen this afternoon to darken the doorway of Dick Baldwin's tiny, cramped office with a problem. A characteristic late-20th-century college basketball problem. A shoe problem.
But in a quaint, peculiarly small-college twist, the problem isn't borne by some beady-eyed compliance officer, come to inform Baldwin that he stands accused of funneling sneakers to his players at the State University of New York at Binghamton so they might resell the shoes for pocket money. Nor is the problem represented by a Maserati-driving shoe executive, calling to convey regrets that he can offer only a million a year and not that promised seat on the company board.
The problem, rather, is this: The Binghamton players have been trying on shoes of a certain style. They will buy the shoes with their own money, except for a $50 subsidy from the school for each pair. But the team's ambivalent. "We like the fit and the feel," says one of the tricaptains, a senior guard with the decidedly Division III name of Jeremy Greenberg. "But what would you think about...black shoes?"
Now, Baldwin is the winningest college basketball coach ever. He's also, at 72, the oldest coach still wielding a clipboard. What is such a man to do? Be a fuddy-duddy and say no? Or go back on his pronouncement not an hour earlier that this year the Colonials would be shod in white, as they were last season?
"Fine with me," Baldwin says. "We want happy feet."
As his assuaged tricaptain pads down the hall, Baldwin smiles. "Some pro team must be wearing black," he says.
You have just witnessed the quintessential Dick Baldwin moment. Bending is how a coach prospers in the bushes, where Baldwin has won 933 games. The first 879 victories came at Broome Community College in Binghamton, where Baldwin coached from 1947 to '87. The other 54 occurred across town at SUNY-Binghamton, a.k.a. Binghamton University, where Baldwin has coached since ending a four-year retirement in '91.
When Baldwin took over at Binghamton, the Colonials had failed to win 10 games in any of their previous four seasons. They were lucky to draw a few hundred spectators per game—despite not charging admission. Even with Baldwin on the bench, the team lost five of its first six games in '91. But it went on to win 19, more than any SUNY-B team ever. Last season the Colonials went 19-9 and won their second division title in a row. As of Sunday they were 16-4 for '93-94, and late this season or early next they should give Baldwin his 939th victory, breaking Red Auerbach's mark of 938, which leads all basketball coaches, college or pro.
When players hear instructions from this man who rarely raises his voice, who played the game when you still jumped center after every basket, who is mantled in all those victories, they can't help but take the floor with a spring of confidence in their step. Baldwin has done the chalk; surely they can walk the walk. "My sophomore year we were in a lot of games tied or down at the half, and then in the first few minutes of the second half we'd just overrun them," says Greenberg. "It was always just one or two things he'd tell us."
In one of those halftime talks, Baldwin found occasion to quote another Colonial—Ben Franklin, who at the signing of the Declaration of Independence said, "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."