Sports

Remembering St. John’s Basketball Great Lloyd ‘Sonny’ Dove

Lloyd “Sonny” Dove (Photo courtesy of St. John’s University Athletic Communications)

A St. John’s Hoops Great Who Was Gone Way Too Soon

 

When a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others crashed near Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26, the sports world stood in complete shock.

Tributes are still pouring in for the five-time NBA champion. The “Black Mamba” is no longer with us, and yet we will always remember his tenacity and leadership on the court.

The tragedy made me think of another basketball star gone too soon: Lloyd “Sonny” Dove. We are now 37 years removed from the local hoops standout’s untimely death.

Dove was born in Brooklyn in 1945 and attended St. Francis Prep, Williamsburg. He was teammates with the late Tim Leary, who coached 43 years of varsity boys’ basketball at the school. He was also teammates with Don Kent, another CHSAA coaching great who spent 10 years at Christ the King H.S., Middle Village, before 31 and a half seasons at Msgr. McClancy Memorial H.S., East Elmhurst.

“He (Dove) had a great jump shot from the foul line facing the basket,” Kent said. “He was always laughing and full of life.”

The 6-foot, 8-inch forward graduated from St. Francis Prep in 1963 and earned a full basketball scholarship to St. John’s University, Jamaica. As a sophomore in 1965, he was a member of the Redmen team led by head coach Joe Lapchick that won the National Invitation Tournament.

He played his final two seasons at St. John’s for Lou Carnesecca, who had initially recruited Dove from the Prep while he was Lapchick’s assistant. “He (Dove) was wonderful for St. Francis Prep and of course for us,” Carnesecca said. “He had a way of getting to the basket that was very good. He was an excellent rebounder.”

The Redmen made the NIT again during Dove’s junior year and then earned an NCAA Tournament berth his senior year after going 23-5. As a senior team captain, Dove averaged a career-best 22.4 points per game, was named a consensus Second-Team All-American and won the Haggerty Award, given to the All-New York Metropolitan NCAA Division I men’s college basketball player of the year.

In three seasons for St. John’s, he averaged 19 points per game, which is eighth-best among career scoring averages in program history. With 1,036 rebounds, he’s second all-time, trailing only George Johnson.

The Detroit Pistons selected Dove with the fourth overall pick in the 1967 NBA draft. He spent two seasons in Detroit before joining the New York Nets of the American Basketball Association. His coach for the 1970-1971 season was none other than Carnesecca.

After brief stints in the Eastern Professional Basketball Association, Dove suffered a leg injury in a bicycle accident that ended his playing career. He then returned to St. John’s to finish his degree to pursue a career in radio sports broadcasting.

He got a job as a color commentator for St. John’s basketball games on WNYE. Kent said that Dove always gave him a big hug every time he and Leary would go over to say hello before a game. In addition to his radio career, Dove worked part-time driving a cab.

On a snowy Valentine’s Day night in 1983, tragedy struck the 37-year-old. Dove was driving his cab onto the Hamilton Avenue Bridge in Brooklyn when the car skidded off the partially open bridge and fell 25 feet into the Gowanus Canal. Dove died from the injuries he sustained in the fall.

According to the NYC Department of Transportation, the safety gate was inoperative because of a power failure. Police said the bridge attendant was out with a lantern to alert motorists that the span was open, but Dove apparently didn’t see him.

Now 95 years old, Carnesecca said he can still recall the moment when he heard the news on the radio that Dove had died.

“It was terrible,” Carnesseca said. “He (Dove) was a New York hero. He came up all the way … St. Francis Prep, St. John’s and then played with the Nets. He was a local guy. He was one of my favorite players.”

“It was a shame,” Kent said. “He was a likable person — always smiling, always laughing. A good teammate, a good friend and a good person.”

Just like honors will pile up for Bryant, Dove received many accolades following his death. He was inducted into the St. John’s Athletics Hall of Fame, NYC Basketball Hall of Fame and St. Francis Prep Ring of Honor.

He was also selected for the St. John’s All-Century Team, named to the university’s Basketball Legacy Honors team and had his No. 55 jersey retired at Carnesecca Arena.

Dove has now been gone for as many years as he lived: 37. While the circumstances surrounding his death were tragic, we remember the great basketball legacy he carved out during his time in the Big Apple.


Contact Jim Mancari via email at jmmanc@gmail.com.

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