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There Really Was a Lava Libretti

March 12, 2015

By: Bennett Liebman
Government Lawyer in Residence

Over the decades, former New York State governor Mario Cuomo used to talk about the many assumed names he had used over the years while playing basketball and baseball games in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island. He spoke about playing in church-sponsored leagues and regional leagues under the names Glendy Laduke, Lava Libretti, Matt Dente, Connie Cutts, and even Igor Livingston.[1] Most of these aliases were used for teams associated with legendary amateur coach Joe Austin[2] who managed for decades a host of teams that ran through St. Monica’s Roman Catholic Church in South Jamaica in Queens.

Of these nom de plumes, Lava Libretti always seemed to be the most descriptive and interesting. Mario Cuomo after becoming governor would say that it was because he was “always hot.”[3] The earlier explanation was the notion that the name conveyed two aspects of his personality. The “Lava” part stemmed from the fact that he was a hothead. The “Libretti” surname came from the fact that he was always carrying books. So with Lava Libretti, you got a hot-headed bookworm.

It is always nice to trust these stories, but it’s better to verify them. In the case of Lava Libretti, it does look like you can actually rely on the name. The Long Island Press[4] from February 9, 1948 shows Mr. Libretti playing for the St. Monica Celtics[5] against the Flushing Flashes. In the game won 73-35 by the Celtics, Joe Schlosser scored 24 points, and “teammate Lava Libretti followed closely with 19 points, made on seven two-pointers and five charity tosses.”[6] [Emphasis added] The same story appears that day in the Long Island Star Journal under a different headline.[7] Thanks to the Internet, a copy of the Star Journal article is available for perusal.

So, Mario Cuomo actually used the name Lava Libretti playing for Joe Austin. But this raises further issues. What 15 year old would seriously call himself Lava Libretti? Would someone who called himself Lava Libretti ever conceive of using the name Igor Livingston? We can verify Lava Libretti, but it is still a leap of faith to believe in Igor Livingston.

There Really Was a Lava Libretti

[1] Richard Benedetto, “Mario Cuomo Put the Person Before Politics,” Utica Observer-Dispatch, January 6, 2015; Bob Keeler, “For Assemb. Hevesi, Second Is Not So Bad,” Newsday, April 1, 1979.

[2] See George Vecsey, :Sports of The Times; Farewell to Governor’s Coach, New York Times, September 11, 1998; Bill Bell, “Joe Austin Way of Life Jamaica Man Leveled Playing Field For Kids,” New York Daily News, August 23, 2001.

[3] Pete Axthelm, “The Fiery Conciliator,” Newsweek, July 23, 1984.

[4] For information on the Long Island Press, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Island_Daily_Press.

[5]  A variety of Joe Austin -managed teams were called the Celtics.

[6] “Celtics Avenge Early Loss,” Routing Flashes by 73-35,” Long Island Press, February 9, 1948.

[7] “Flashes Lose to St. Monica’s,” Long Island Star Journal, February 9, 1948,.Pg. 12.

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