Larry Lembo has enjoyed a great deal of success in the sports arena during his lifetime, but even he was surprised when his name came up for induction into a sports hall of fame — and then came up again, and yet again.
“I found out recently that I would be going into the MAAC Honor Roll, and I thought that was pretty neat and very much a surprise,” Lembo said. “But then a couple of days after that happened, a representative from the New York City Sports Hall of Fame told me I’m being inducted there on Sept. 27 along with (former Manhattan and Villanova basketball coach) Steve Lappas and (former NBA star) Lamar Odom and a few others.”
But wait, there’s more.
“Then I went to a golf outing a couple of days after that, and I was playing with the president of the Brooklyn Hall of Fame, and he said, ‘I have something to tell you. You’re going into the Brooklyn Hall of Fame next May.’ And I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?’
“But it’s a nice feeling. Anything is a nice feeling at this age. I’m 73 now, so if you get up in the morning and nothing hurts, then you’re happy.”
Lembo and former Manhattan women’s basketball star Donna Seybold will be inducted in the MAAC Honor Roll — celebrating the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference — in which honorees will be enshrined in the “MAAC Experience” exhibit at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Sept. 16.
When Lembo graduated from Manhattan College in 1965, he left the school as the all-time leading scorer with 1,443 career points — a total that is still ninth all-time in Jaspers history. Upon graduation, he was drafted in the fourth round by the NBA’s New York Knicks, and played during the exhibition season with Knicks’ great Wills Reed before turning to baseball.
There he played three seasons in the minor leagues in the Chicago White Sox system.
And Lembo still owns the single-season scoring record at Manhattan of 25.7 points per game, which he set in the 1963-64 season. He discovered that little factoid when he was contacted by Manhattan about his upcoming MAAC induction.
“I still have that record at Manhattan even though it was over 50 years ago,” Lembo said. “I was like, ‘Holy mackerel, I can’t believe that.’ I never realized that. That was pretty cool.”
Lembo, however, was best known in basketball circles as one of the top college referees for nearly four decades before retiring in 2002. During his career, he officiated in numerous NCAA tournaments along with four Final Fours. That remains the highlight of his career.
“Those were special events,” Lembo said. “There’s nothing like it. From a referee’s perspective, from a coach’s perspective, or from a player’s perspective. It is really something special. It’s really something great to be a part of. It’s the epitome of your profession.
“To be one of just nine guys working in the Final Four, it’s special.”
Lembo’s rich sports history — from his playing days at Manhattan to his last NCAA tournament game in 2002 — all have been chronicled in a scrapbook kept by his wife, Joanne. The two celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary Oct. 2.
“My grandkids get more of a kick out of it than anything else,” Lembo said, laughing.
As for Seybold, a Manhattan Class of 1990 member who couldn’t be reached for this story, she remains one of just three players in school history to play on two MAAC championship teams, and is the only player to score in two NCAA tournament games. Her 1,217 points currently rank ninth in program history.
One of Lembo’s prized possessions from his referee career is a photo taken of him during a college game between two NCAA blueblood programs, with one having several members of basketball royalty in uniform.
“I was doing a Kentucky-North Carolina game and Carolina had Michael Jordan along with (former NBA stars) Kenny Smith, James Worthy and (Sam) Perkins, and a guy who I knew took a photo of me running up the court with them,” Lembo said. “It’s a great shot, and my grandkids just go absolutely nuts over that.”
Now Lembo’s family will have other opportunities to go nuts again this fall and again next spring as he experiences a rare hall of fame trifecta.
“The first one will be Sept. 16 up in Springfield, but my whole family wants to go to both the Naismith and the New York Hall of Fame” inductions, Lembo said. “I’m looking forward to it. It should be a lot of fun, especially that you can share it with your family.”