Basketball legend Ed Wiener has died

Marvin Westwestwords

Dr. Ed Wiener, Tennessee basketball all-American in the 1950s, has died at age 87. He was a dentist in Memphis for 55 years.


Wiener was a 6-3 forward for the Volunteers in 1952-55. He was coach Emmett Lowery’s first “unique” find, recruited from a YMCA gym in Brooklyn, New York. Wiener long ago explained there was no high school basketball in his borough because of a coaches’ strike.

Ed Wiener, DDS

Wiener was on Tennessee teams with Carl Widseth, Hank Bertelkamp, Bill Hall, Bill Lovelace, Herman Thompson, Buddy Cruze and Lewis Neyland. As a sophomore, Ed led the Vols in scoring (17.2 points per game) and was a prominent rebounder.

In the middle of his collegiate career, he helped the United States to a gold medal at the 1953 Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Wiener was a Converse all-American as a junior and senior. He was team captain in 1954-55. That was a good season, 15-7. The Vols won five in a row in February and, for only the second time in school history, were ranked in the AP poll.

Tennessee did not forget. In 2014, Wiener represented the university as a Southeastern Conference legend at the league tournament.

“Ed was an outstanding athlete, a really good basketball player with a great personality,” said Bertelkamp, Vol captain when Wiener was a sophomore.

“He could shoot from the perimeter or take it to the hoop,” said Thompson, a guard on Tennessee’s all-century team.

Thompson recalled Wiener’s fun with campus fame.

“He had some match booklets with ‘Ed Wiener, All-American’ printed on them. We didn’t smoke but we had plenty of matches.”

Because Coach Lowery didn’t like to fly, Tennessee took the train to Gainesville to play Florida in the winter of ’54. At a stop in Atlanta, scheduled for one hour, Wiener and Widseth went quietly in search of refreshments.

“It was near midnight so we pooled our money, got a cab and made a quick trip,” said Wiener. “We came back with two bags of goodies but there was no train.”

The players went where it had been but the area was dark and desolate.

Crisis conversation: Oh my goodness, the train has gone to Florida and we’re stuck here with nothing but cookies and cakes. What will the coach think? They won’t even know what happened to us? What shall we do?

“A brakeman came along with a lantern, probably thought we were hobos, and asked what we were doing out in the train yard. We told him our plight and he laughed. He said they had unhitched some cars and hooked them to another train. I think he pointed but we were already on our way.”

Wiener remembered the pastries fell a little short of expectations. He thought he and Carl might have lost their appetites.

Wiener played for the College All-Stars in a surprise victory over the Harlem Globetrotters in Madison Square Garden.

As Wiener’s son Craig recalls the story, Abe Saperstein, founder, owner and coach of the basketball showmen, explained the facts of life before the rematch.

According to the younger Wiener, Saperstein said “All those people didn’t come out to see you, they came to see the Globetrotters. Give that some thought.”

Craig says the Globetrotters won Game 2.

The senior Wiener had a close relationship with several Tennessee football players. Doug Atkins once chose Wiener for dental repairs.

As Dr. Wiener recalled, a filling fell out 30 years later. Doug called for an appointment. Wiener explained the original work was free and, unfortunately, did not include a lifetime warranty.

“Doug seemed disappointed. I told him to come on over, I’d fix whatever was broken and there would be no charge. He said he’d have to see if he could get the tooth fixed in Knoxville for less than the cost of an airline ticket.”

Atkins had a slightly different version of the same story. He said he had always thought he had helped make Dr. Wiener famous.

Dr. Wiener is survived by his wife of 61 years, Rochelle Goldstein Wiener, son Craig and daughter Tracy Asher Rapp.  A graveside service for immediate family will be held on July 15.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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