Howard Garfinkel, who changed the landscape of college and professional basketball through an innovative high school scouting service and a celebrated instructional camp that helped groom top young players like Michael Jordan and LeBron James, as well as a roster of now-renowned coaches, died on Saturday in his native Manhattan. He was 86.
The cause was complications of lung cancer, said a spokesman at Mount Sinai West Hospital, where Garfinkel died.
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a frequent speaker at Garfinkel’s annual Five-Star Basketball Camp in Pennsylvania, told The New York Times in a 2013 interview that Garfinkel had a powerful influence on the sport.
“He helped shape the game of basketball as we know it today,” Krzyzewski said.
Garfinkel, the son of a Manhattan garment worker, was a modestly talented high school basketball player more than 70 years ago at the now-defunct Barnard High School in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
“I could shoot a two-handed set shot, but I really had no moves because I didn’t work at it enough,” he told The Times in 2013. “I was more of a schoolyard-type player.”
In time, he made his basketball name as a high school scout — a conduit of information to college coaches in the early years of their battle for schoolboy talent. His typewritten reports on players he covered from West Virginia to Maine in the 1960s and ’70s, long before the arrival of ESPN, email and YouTube, gave coaches everywhere, especially those on the West Coast, an opportunity to widen their geographic recruiting boundaries.
Among the many subscribers who paid $50 a year for his scouting services was John Wooden, the great coach of U.C.L.A. Wooden was inspired by Garfinkel’s notes of praise about a tall, skinny center from Power Memorial Academy in Manhattan named Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Alcindor led Wooden’s teams to three straight N.C.A.A. championships, from 1967 to ’69, and, as Abdul-Jabbar, had a Hall of Fame career in the National Basketball Association.
Garfinkel, along with the coaches Will Klein and Roy Rubin, created the Five-Star Basketball Camp in 1966, originally in the Columbia County hamlet of Niverville, N.Y. They moved it to Honesdale, Pa., northeast of Scranton, the next year. It became the template for what is now a staple of the basketball development and recruiting universe: the summer camp, complete with guest coaches and showcase games.
Through the years, the camp drew some of the top schoolboy talents in America. Besides Jordan and James, the rosters included the future N.B.A. stars Moses Malone, Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and, more recently, Chris Paul. (Malone and James each made the difficult leap from high school to the pros.)
The first camp instructor Garfinkel hired, at $50 per day, was Bob Knight, who went on to become one of college basketball’s most successful coaches, winning three N.C.A.A. championships at Indiana University.
He was followed by a parade of instructors, virtually unknown at the time, who went on to have sterling careers coaching in the college and professional ranks, among them Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly, Dick Vitale, Rick Pitino and John Calipari.
“For a college or pro coach to get the opportunity to speak at one of his camps was like getting an opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall,” Krzyzewski told The Times in 2013. “If you got that opportunity, you knew you had arrived.”
Since 1966, the camp says on its website, it has produced more than 600 N.B.A. and 10,000 Division I players.
In a telephone interview Saturday, Brown called Garfinkel “a unique individual with incredible vision into the hearts and souls of high school athletes.”
Brown, a former coach in the American Basketball Association and the N.B.A. who is now a color analyst for ABC and ESPN, added of Garfinkel, “All he needed was one look, just one game, and he knew what the potential of a player could be, and he was always right on.”
Garfinkel sold his stake in the Five-Star Basketball Camp in 2005, but he continued to run annual basketball clinics at colleges around New York State. His “clinics to end all clinics,” as he liked to call them, drew marquee names from the college coaching ranks, including Geno Auriemma of the Connecticut women’s program; Mike Brey of the Notre Dame men’s program; and John Beilein and Kim Barnes Arico, the men’s and women’s coaches at Michigan.
“One of the players I remember Howard talking up was Grant Hill,” Krzyzewski said. “He wasn’t one of Howard’s top-rated guys, but Howard just had this feeling about him, and when I saw Grant on the court, he just sort of glistened. I knew Howard was right again.”
Hill had an all-American career at Duke and an all-star career in the N.B.A. and has also been a television basketball commentator.
Garfinkel, who often said that he was not “an Internet guy,” produced his typewritten evaluations using a telephone and an I.B.M. typewriter in his Manhattan apartment, where letters, brochures, programs, rosters, news clippings and magazines were strewn across the floor.
Buried beneath it all were three thick binders that contained hundreds of succinct scouting reports on some of the most phenomenal schoolboy athletes ever, each of them graded by Garfinkel on a scale of 1 to 10, with comments.
There were entries for the New Yorkers Nate Archibald of DeWitt Clinton High School and Julius Erving of Roosevelt High School. Garfinkel rated Archibald high in speed (9), spring (9) and dribbling (10) and gave Erving high grades for speed (8), spring (8-9), shooting (7) and rebounding (7).
“Hot prospect and can do it all,” Garfinkel wrote of Erving, who, later known as Dr. J, became one of the game’s greatest players. “Goes well to hoop with either hand, handles ball intelligently, above-average 17-foot jump shooter, rebounds with desire and has an excellent attitude.”
Howard Morris Garfinkel was born in Manhattan on Aug. 1, 1929, to Eva and Stanley Garfinkel. Howard Garfinkel left Syracuse University after one semester, when he was 18, and briefly worked for his father’s woolen textile business.
He is survived by several cousins. His only sibling, a brother, Merrill, died earlier.
Garfinkel was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo., in 2013, the same year he was inducted into the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame in Troy, N.Y., where he received a lifetime achievement award.
“I know I gave up some other things, like having a family,” Garfinkel, who never married, told The Times in 2013. “But I loved every minute of my basketball life.”