Barney Ross: Gangster, Boxer, Hero
Street gangster, prize fighter and war hero, Barney Ross’ greater than life story was unmatched inside and outside the ring.
Born Dov-Ber Rosofsky in 1909, his dreams of becoming a Talmudic scholar were shattered when his father, a rabbi and shopkeeper, was killed in a robbery. The family split up, home life fell to ruin, and the bitter and resentful fourteen-year old Dov took to the streets.
He soon cavorted with Chicago’s underworld, becoming a brawler and picking up boxing with the hopes of earning enough to buy a place and reunite with his mother and siblings.
One of his running buddies in the local mob was Jack Ruby, the future killer of JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Al Capone briefly employed the young pugilist and was even said to help out financially by buying up his fight tickets in the early years.
Changing his name to Barney Ross, the hard luck kid fought his way up the amateur ranks to become the Intercity and Chicago Golden Gloves champion at age nineteen.
Not known for knockout power, his fighting style would nevertheless be marked by great intensity, stamina and a solid chin.
At his first shot for a title in 1933, Ross came away with two categories by defeating Lightweight and Light Welterweight belt holder, Toni Canzoneri. A year later he earned a rare third Welterweight division title against fellow future Hall of Famer, Jimmy McLarnin.
In 81 career fights, Ross won 72 including 22 knockouts. He was never TKO'ed himself.
The final bout came in 1938 against world champion and all-time great, Henry Armstrong. Relentlessly pounded for most of 15 rounds, Ross refused to go down despite pleas from his trainers and lost on decision.
One explanation is that the Chicago tough saw himself as the embodiment of Jewish resistance in the face of adversity and was also a national hero to his people during Hitler’s rise to power. Years later he would tap mob contacts to supply arms for the new state of Israel.
Though already in his 30's, the renowned boxer enlisted in the Marines following Pearl Harbor and was later awarded the Silver Star for extreme bravery at the battle of Guadalcanal.
But Life back home did not come easy for the celebrity slugger. He fell to heroin addiction due to morphine treatments administered for his war wounds, though he eventually kicked the habit.
Regarded by many as a national treasure, Ross died on January 17, 1967.
BASKETBALL February 20, 2010 Kirk Hinrich of the Chicago Bulls breaks a franchise record, scoring his 771st three-point field goal and clearing the 770 mark set by Ben Gordon. Coming out of the University of Kansas, Hinrich put in stints with the Bulls, Wizards and Hawks during his NBA career from 2003-2016. He was a member of Team USA when they won bronze at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.
HOCKEY February 15, 2000 NJ Devils’ Martin Brodeur becomes the first ever NHL goalie to receive credit for a game-winning goal. Facing the Flyers, he was the last Devil to touch the puck before it went into the opponent’s net when one of the Flyers’ own players accidentally scored his own goal. Considered one of the best goalies of all time, Brodeur won 3 Stanley Cups and 2 Olympic gold medals representing Canada.
MOTOR RACING February 18, 1990 Derrike Cope wins the 32nd edition of the Daytona 500 stock car race. Driving a Chevrolet for the Whitcomb Racing team and winning his first NASCAR chase, Cope beat out runner-up Terry Labonte and third place finisher Bill Elliott. Dale Earnhardt led the pack for 155 laps, or ¾ of the race and came short towards the end when his car ran over a piece of metal on the track, shredding his right rear tire.
OLYMPICS February 15, 1980 American Eric Heiden wins the 500 meter speed skating race at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The Wisconsin native wrapped up the tournament with a total of 5 gold medals, including the 500, 1000, 1500, 5000, and 10000 meter chases. Heiden broke 4 Olympic records and 1 world record in the competitions and is considered the best overall athlete- sprint and long- in the sport’s history.