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NIU

Korcek: Former NIU hoops player Booker dies

Abe Booker was a colossus in stature, deed and reputation.

What would one expect for someone nicknamed “The Book”?

Sixty years ago, the 6-foot-6, 231-pound Chicagoan towered over prep and college opposition as a prolific post player in basketball and an imposing end in football.  

His unique talents and size led Booker to All-Century Team status for Northern Illinois University hoops, two basketball halls of fame, a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters and a free-agent stint with the NFL Baltimore Colts.

The NIU two-sport letterman and Wells High School stats-stuffing phenom died Feb. 3 at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago. The funeral was Feb. 11.

Time has not erased the impact of his boardwork.  

Booker’s amazing single-game NIU rebound record (32, vs. Eastern Michigan on Dec. 17, 1959) stands today. His career rebound numbers (13.9 a game in 45 appearances from 1958-61) tie for third on the all-time Huskies list with W. L. Moore (1962-65). Careerwise, only Jim Bradley (16.8) and Jim Smith (14.4) averaged more.

As a junior and a senior, Booker posted season double-doubles in points and rebounds. In 21 games for coach Bill Healey in 1959-60, he averaged 15.0 points and 15.8 rebounds. During 1960-61, No. 52 posted 15.8 points and 14.3 rebounds in 13 games.

As the story goes, NIU football coach Howard Fletcher persuaded a reluctant Booker to come out for his sport, and Booker earned varsity football letters in 1959 and 1960.

During the university’s centennial celebration in 1999-2000, Booker was honored on the NIU All-Century Team by a 29-person committee. A 1980 inductee into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Booker also was a charter member of the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1992. That class also included Bo Ellis, Cazzie Russell and Terry Cummings.

In the paint, Booker was known for his surly attitude and nasty elbows. In personal contrast, his mom taught him to play the piano as a boy. As an adult, he loved playing the upright bass.

Speculation at the time had Booker going to Seton Hall, but he went to Utah State and then NIU. Although the free-agency stint with the Colts was previously undocumented, there is a publicity photo of Booker in a Colts uniform from 1961 in the archives of a Baltimore newspaper.

A U.S. Army veteran, Booker is survived by his second wife, a son, and three grandchildren.

• Mike Korcek is a 1970 graduate of NIU, and was the school’s head sports information director from 1984-2006. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at sports@daily-chronicle.com.

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