Ernie Vandeweghe was one of the most popular Knicks of the early 1950's and can be considered basketball's 1st important 6th man. His story is one of the more amazing NBA stories and it's a shame that it's mostly forgotten. Apart from being a basketball player Ernie was also a doctor and actually stepped away from the game to focus on being a doctor before returning to the Knicks. Ernie would literally come to games from his medical classes and the fans in MSG would say Doctor Vandeweghe to the rescue. Ernie was also a member of the Air Force and his love of basketball would be passed down to his son Kiki Vandeweghe. This is an article from January 11, 1956 about Dr. Vandeweghe who recently returned to the Knicks.
Emergency Call by Arthur Daley January 11, 1956 New York Times
Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe received word a week ago that the patient was ailing and in need of a doctor. It couldn't be any doctor however. It had to be a specific one, a certain resident pediatrician at Babies' Hospital in the Medical Center. So Dr. Vandeweghe packed his little black bag and rushed out to help effect a cure. He brought no stethoscope nor other medical equipment with him. His bag contained, instead, his basketball togs.
After two years of reluctant retirement from the dribble diversion, the doc rejoined the New York Knickerbockers and the patient perked up immediately, winning two games from the hottest team in the pro league, the Celtics. Then came a slight relapse. It isn't entirely clear yet how long Dr. Vandeweghe will contine to minister to the Knicks. His medicine isn't quite as powerful as it once was.
Unusual, indeed, is the story of the doctor. It may even be unique because no similar parallel comes to mind. Coach Joe Lapchick of the Knicks calls him the true "professional-amateur." Vandeweghe, a varsity star at Colgate when he was only a 19 year old freshman, signed up for the Knicks and medical school in 1949.
Fortunately for him he was brilliant on the court and in the classroom so that the double burden on him wasn't too unbearable. And the Knicks wanted him so badly they were willing to accept him on a part-time basis. He played all home games and a few more on the shortest road trips. In his first year at Physicians and Surgeons, he sneaked away for forty-two games of the sixty-eight scheduled. Each season, he added a few more appearances, but never did reach full-time status. Then a twisted knee two years ago sidelined him, apparently for keeps.
However Ernie's love for basketball has been so deep and intense that he's haunted the Garden ever since, shooting baskets and keeping in condition any time he learned the court was free. Then, injuries to Dick McGuire and Bob Peterson left the Knicks grievously shorthanded, the doc responded to the emergency call with sirens screaming.
The most startling demonstration he gave in this category was a few years back against Rochester. Delayed by classes from making the trip with the rest of the squad, Vandeweghe flew up late, arriving at half-time. The Knicks were demoralized by their miserable performance as they trailed by twenty points.
"As long as you're here you might as well get a sweat up too," said Lapchick despairingly. He sent Ernie into action. Deft was the doctor's operation. He popped in three baskets in a row and the Knicks caught fire. It would be to say that the New Yorkers won, but there's no sense in stretching the truth that much. They lost but Rochester had to go into overtime to do it.
An obliging pilot on a Boston-bound plane fed Ernie the first quarter of an impending rout of the Knicks on the intercom, piping in the radio account of the action. However, Vandeweghe arrived soon enough to lead a rally for a victory. Once the doctor had to reverse the procedure, catching a plane for his New York classes after a play-off game in Minneapolis. It was a close call. It was so close that the plane take-off was delayed for him and Ernie, an overcoat atop his basketball uniform, climbed aboard through the baggage hatch. Immediately he went to the dressing room.
Ernie took a shower by "sponging" himself with towels. Just then the plane lurched and bounced. There was a frantic pounding on the door. "Come out immediately," screamed the stewardess. "We're making an emergency landing."
"Lady I just can't," said Vandeweghe laughing at the incongruity of the situation. It wasn't anything serious and decency prevailed.
The doctor took part in a two-hour at Madison Square Garden yesterday morning and no one seemed to get more enjoyment out of it than he. At the age of 27 he should be in his prime , but the handicap of two years without fierce contact work is a heavy impost.
"I've always regarded Ernie as a solid, rounded ballplayer," is Lapchick's appraisal. "He's showed himself to be a good ballhandler, rebounder and point-getter. He did everything well and would have made the All-Star team every year if he played enough games. He had the ability for such a distinction."
The bare fact that the Knicks turned to him for help in the time of stress is the mute testimony of the regard they have for his skills. Lapchick didn't bother calling for Dr. Kildare. When the emergency arose it was: "Calling Dr. Vandeweghe."