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A Memphis Legend

Herb Kosten is a giant in the history of Memphis sports.

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From his days at Central High School in the 1950s, through his years with the University of Alabama baseball team, through the period in which he was a respected umpire on the pro tennis circuit, Herb Kosten has been someone that Memphians could look to with pride.

I know all of that. But somehow in a story about Kosten's involvement with the ABA Memphis Pros last week in the Flyer, I got his name mixed up (see correction on page 3). To say that I misspelled it would be giving me the benefit of the doubt. I screwed up. Royally.

People often talk about something or other being the First Rule of Journalism. Well, if there is such a thing as the First Rule of Journalism it should be this: Spell the names right.

There is something permanent about the printed word, even in a free alternative weekly. If you make a mistake on radio or TV, you correct it and go on. Or it is forgotten in time. In the weekly-newspaper biz we have to live with our mistakes for at least a week.

I called Kosten to apologize as soon as I realized my mistake. He was gracious and kind. I think it might have been easier for me if he had been angry, but that would not have been Herb Kosten's style.

Kosten was a multi-sport star at Central High School. A hard- hitting shortstop and second baseman, he made the all-city team three times and twice led Memphis high schools in batting. He was also all-city in basketball two years, leading the Warriors to a runner-up spot in the state tournament. He won a baseball scholarship to Alabama, where he was twice voted to the all-SEC team as a third baseman. Later he was selected to the All- Century Alabama baseball team. He calls it his "greatest honor in athletics."

Kosten has also been among the top amateur tennis players in the region. His daughters, Julie and Lori, were both ranked junior players. And today Kosten owns Little Miss Tennis, one of the top makers of children's tennis wear in the country.

Those accomplishments alone would be enough to enshrine Kosten in the Memphis sports hall of fame, but it was his involvement with the Memphis ABA team in the early '70s that drew my interest last week. As one of several businessmen who kept the Pros (later the TAMs and Sounds) in Memphis for five years, Kosten played a major role in the development of pro sports in this city. With all the talk of the NBA in the past month, I thought it would be good to hear from a Memphian who had actually had a hand in operating a professional basketball team.

Kosten is a hoop fan as well. A long-time University of Memphis basketball supporter, he has owned season tickets for 39 consecutive years -- dating back to the days at the Fieldhouse. Kosten wonders how Memphis basketball fans will handle the adjustment to the pro game.

"In the college game, you come out to root for your team every game," says Kosten, who frequently attends NBA games out of town. "With the pros, you come out to watch the best players in the world and root for the home team. There is a difference."

And he still laments the fact that he and his partners were unable to come up with a local owner for the ABA team. If they had, Kosten believes, Memphis might have made it into the NBA when the two leagues merged in 1977.

But they didn't and now Memphis stands at the threshold of the big leagues. Kosten thinks we have already been there. "I contend that the ABA franchise was the only major-league team we have had here because that league merged with the NBA," he says, pointing out that 11 of the 20 players who participated in the first NBA all-star game after the merger came from the ABA.

Who will argue the point? Certainly not me. I'm not feeling very argumentative after the big mistake I made last week.

You can e-mail Dennis Freeland at freeland@memphisflyer.com.

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