The Man Behind the Bench

After Athletic Director Bob Byrnes invited Ronnie Weintraub to a Manhattan basketball game, Ronnie fell in love.  Nearly 25 years later, Ronnie still attends nearly every basketball game. Photo taken by James O'Connor.
After Athletic Director Bob Byrnes invited Ronnie Weintraub to a Manhattan basketball game, Ronnie fell in love. Nearly 25 years later, Ronnie still attends nearly every basketball game. Photo taken by James O’Connor.

Like a politician schmoozing supporters on his re-election campaign, Ronnie Weintraub strode down the side of the court toward press row, shaking hands left and right and shouting greetings as he went.

With the Jaspers easily up 32-20 at halftime against St. Peter’s, the members of the media were relatively subdued. Some were stretching or just returning from the bathroom before the game resumed, others continuing to tap away at their laptops. Yet as soon as Ronnie began setting up his notebook at his customary post at the end of the bench, he brought about a new energy and several knowing smiles from his colleagues on press row.

While Manhattan College does not have a mascot, it may be because Ronnie already unofficially fills the role. Part statistician, part color-commentator, Ronnie is Manhattan College basketball’s biggest fan.

“He is an institution really,” Pete McHugh, assistant athletic director for athletics communications, said. “He met our athletic director Bob Byrnes 25 years ago or so and Bob invited him to a Manhattan game. He gave him tickets and also a sweatshirt.”

“Ronnie took him up on the offer and never left.”

Ronnie has worn that same green Manhattan College sweatshirt to nearly every game since then and even added a Jaspers hat to show the level of his support. His game day uniform also consists of the official press pass given to all media members and the Special Olympics medals that hang around his neck.

Before even taking off his jacket, Ronnie already began addressing the press bench. “We’re winning it, that’s all that matters!” He then immediately started talking a mile a minute about the upcoming snowstorm as he set up his stat-book for the second half.

“He’s the self-proclaimed stat-man. He does his own stats. I don’t know what system he uses, but when he does, they look like the ones we have on our site,” McHugh said. “He has a passion for the numbers side of thing.”

His zeal for the numbers and everything Jaspers basketball can be heard in the commentary he offers throughout the game. Speaking both to himself and the entire crowd, Ronnie shouts with enthusiasm at virtually every play.

“Alright, here we go!” he yelled as the second half kicked off. After the Jaspers quickly forced a turnover, Ronnie began a never-ending string of praise for all the players dressed in home white on the court.

“Good defense, yeah! This is a different team,” Ronnie said with a wide grin and eyes lit up behind his thick glasses.

However, his cheers are not limited to blind tributes to Manhattan’s players. In between his interjections at successful 3-pointers and steals, Ronnie offers predictions on the final score, observations on what players will be all-stars in the MAAC and judgments of other teams and their respective coaches.

As Rhamel Brown went up to the hoop for an emphatic dunk, he even quipped that the Dunkin’ Donuts on Broadway should do a promotional deal each time Brown slams the ball home.

While the folding chair at the end of press row is reserved for Ronnie at every game held at Draddy Gymnasium, he is not afraid to travel far from Riverdale to support his beloved Jaspers.

Ronnie frequently has a spot available for him on the Manhattan team bus. If all else fails, he is willing to take several forms of public transportation to get to the game, no matter where it is located.

“It’s a labor of love, and he’ll show up anywhere. He’ll show up at Manhattan, the Big East tournament, at the Barclay’s Center for college games,” McHugh said.

“I even once saw him on TV at a party for Hilary Clinton. He’s also kind of involved in politics.”

During a few slow moments during the game’s action, he turned to the media members around him to find out who else was traveling to the upcoming MAAC championships in Massachusetts. When one declined, Ronnie urged him to rethink his plans and join him in his hotel room.

If the Jaspers make it through the MAAC championships and qualify for the NCAA tournament this year, you can be sure that Ronnie will make every effort to make it to the Big Dance. His optimistic prediction after the Jaspers finished off St. Peters with a final score of 64-49?

“We’re going to be in the Final Four! I said it from day one, defense wins championships.”

Even though the game was over and Ronnie could happily head on the train home after a Jasper victory, his work was not yet done. Like the other members of the media, he gathered his belongings and headed upstairs for the post-game press conference.

“He’s just like any other part of the media,” Ray Curren, sportswriter for said. “He asks the right questions and he’s at every game. I think when people try to treat him differently that’s where they go wrong.”

Ronnie never shies from asking questions at the conference, whether addressing Head Coach Steve Masiello or star guard George Beamon, someone Ronnie has personally nicknamed “Mr. B.”

“It’s fun having Ronnie around it and helps keeps the players and coaches to have everything in perspective,” McHugh said.

“He makes you step back and realize that it’s just college basketball at the end of the day,” Curren said.A few weeks after the Jaspers win against St. Peters, Ronnie was once again upstairs for a press conference after Manhattan beat Niagara 90-72.

“You said in the first game against St. Peter’s that you went back to the defense, is that why you think Manhattan is playing better now, because we went back to the defense?” Ronnie said.

“You trying to say I screwed us up?” Masiello said without even cracking a smile.

“No, no, I’m saying-”

“Let’s talk about you,” Masiello said, cutting him off. “Let’s talk about you not coming on the Buffalo trip and staying home. Let’s talk about you picking Iona to win the league.”

Smiling and laughing, Ronnie had no response. For a rare moment, the man was without words.