Decked in his old NBA referee shirt, sporting a 90th birthday pin and a crown, Hall of Fame former NBA official and U.S. Army veteran Emanuel “Manny Sokal” Sokolofsky celebrated his 90th birthday in style at the Oceanside Care Center last month.
Balloons lined the room and colorful birthday tablecloths were on display as dozens of Sokolofsky’s family members and friends, including his daughter, Debbie Banahan, celebrated the occasion.
“That was the best birthday I’ve ever had,” Sokolofsky said.
Born in 1929 to a family of European Jewish immigrants, Sokolofsky was the fourth-oldest of six children. He grew to love basketball while playing pick-up games on the streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Sokolofsky played all four years while attending Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York, and made a name for himself with his accurate shooting. He received four scholarship offers to play in college, but his parents told him he couldn’t go.
He got work as a bus boy at the cafeteria-style restaurant chain Dubrows on Utica Avenue while officiating games on the side, for $5 a game, for the Hebrew Basketball Society. He also worked games for the Jewish Center in Manhattan, as well as church league games and others around the city.
In 1952, after serving a two-year stint in the Army, Sokolofsky began working at a 7 Up bottling plant in Mineola, commuting via the Long Island Rail Road, and for years he continued to referee night and weekend games. He caught a big break when he was asked to fill in for a no-show and call a scrimmage match between City College and Manhattan College at Madison Square Garden. There he caught the eye of City College coach Dave Polanksy. He ended up working his way toward officiating in the NBA, which he did for 13 years.