One of the cases in the onsite exhibit focuses on Les Harrison. Numerous photographs, clippings, and documentation included in the display pay testimony Les’s connection to the game and to Rochester’s sports and philanthropy.
LES HARRISON, THE PLAYER
The history of basketball is intertwined with the life of Lester “Lucky Les” Harrison (1904-1997). Harrison was consumed by basketball since the early 1920s when he was a star basketball player at East High School here in Rochester. In 1922, Harrison scored the game-winning points, defeating West High School for the inaugural Section V Basketball Tournament title. With Harrison’s excellence on the court, the team was record-scoring in New York State.
Basketball was Harrison’s life-long passion. Immediately following his high school graduation in 1923, Harrison began playing for two semi-professional local teams, sponsored by liquor companies, the Seagrams liquor company and Eber Bothers, which was a local fruit, vegetable, and liquor company. Photographs of each team are located nearby.
By 1930, Harrison was competing on the court and managing both teams.
LES HARRISON, THE MANAGER
Harrison sought excellence in the sport amid its shifting terrain of multiple leagues described elsewhere in this exhibition. When Seagrams and Eber Brothers did not support his desire to pursue a higher level of competition at the NBL level, Harrison assumed significant financial risks and invested in the team independently. Unlike other NBL teams, the resulting Rochester Pros, were owned and managed by one person: Les Harrison. While the City of Rochester was now home to a greater level of athletics, all of Harrison’s financial investments now depended upon the team’s success.
Harrison played an essential role in integrating professional basketball, often attracting and signing players who were ethnically diverse at a time when the sport was anything but. In 1946, Harrison broke through the color barrier by signing African-American professional basketball player, Dolly King. Further discussion of race is included in the case identified as “race.”
Harrison served a unique role with the Royals as owner, coach and manager. To commemorate his contributions to the sport, Les Harrison was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980.
LES HARRISON, COMMUNITY BOOSTER
Born and raised in Rochester, Harrison was passionate about bringing successful athletic competition to his hometown. To bring high-level sports to a small city with limited resources, Harrison dedicated all of his personal finances and work towards the Royals. Harrison also promoted basketball for the community by establishing in 1963 the Kodak Classic, an intercollegiate basketball competition. Played in the winter at the Community War Memorial for three decades the competition was directed and organized by Harrison. With a love for the city and its culture, Harrison approached the team civic-mindedly, supporting collaborations with local businesses and organizations.
Although the Royals played their last games at the Rochester Community War Memorial (now Blue Cross Arena) in 1957, their presence is an important part of this region’s rich sports history. The contributions of Les Harrison and the Royals deserve to be remembered and celebrated as an important part of the historical cultural life of Rochester.