A Very Basketball Christmas

Before multi-million dollar contracts, top basketball coaches were rewarded with… kitchen appliances?

Coach Murray Greason led Wake Forest College Basketball from 1933-1957.

It was December 1952 and Wake Forest College Basketball Coach Murray Greason had just led the Demon Deacons to a 51-50 win over NC State in the midst of a cheering home crowd at Gore Gymnasium. Once the biggest indoor arena in North Carolina, Gore was called “the crackerbox” because it packed in so many fans that students in the lower bleachers could actually reach out and touch the players.

Fans rooting for the Demon Deacs in “the crackerbox.”

Over the course of this particular game–on Tuesday, December 9, 1952–Coach Greason was to the point of pulling out his hair. “All four strands of it,” as reported in the Wake Forest College newspaper, the Old Gold & Black. But when the game was over, and the hard work had paid off, Greason could take a deep breath of relief.

That’s when the fans began pouring onto the floor. They hugged the players. Hugged assistant coach Bones McKinney. Lifted Greason to their shoulders and carried him–victorious–to center court.

It’s not clear if the students knew they were romping right into a secret holiday plan… but there indeed was something special afoot.

As they deposited Coach Greason back on the hardwood, the sneaky planners sprang into action and the Christmas fun began.

Stepping over to join the baffled Coach, a man representing the Wake Forest College Alumni made a presentation. He called Mrs. Greason and Murray Junior out of the stands. Then he began hauling out all these enormous presents. The three Greasons stood there, bemused, as they were presented with a massive television set, a deep fat cooker, an eleven-foot refrigerator, and enough frozen food to “fill a freezer cabinet.”

This was long before the introduction of big, lucrative coaching contracts. Folks considered these surprise appliances a pretty big reward.

Greason, who’d put in twenty years of faithful service to Wake Forest, was worth every bit of it.

Greason Says Thanks

After accepting the gifts, the slow-spoken Coach took the microphone and thanked his players and fans for the win.

People loved Murray Greason for his ability to take defeat with the same grace as victory. And, as the Old Gold & Black reporter wrote, “Suffering often from a lack of top-flight material and adequate reserve strength, the coach has had many defeats here; but he has also had many gratifying victories. Wake Forest has beaten State College three times during the last four years of Wolfpack supremacy, a feat which no other Big Four team has duplicated. With a healthy twinkle in his eye, Murray Greason is the type of man who can coach basketball and retain his easy-going personality.”

Murray Greason might have been easy-going, but it appears he was the most competitive laid-back guy ever to live.

He earned the title of Southern Conference Coach of the Year in 1953, and in 1954 led Wake Forest into the newly formed Atlantic Coast Conference. Two years later he was named ACC Coach of the Year.

So as he stood in “the crackerbox” that December–alongside his family, friends, players, fans, and that surprising heap of Christmas appliances–Greason must have been happy.

With that characteristic twinkle in his eye, he looked around and then he said: “The ’52 Deacon team might be the best of them all.”


  1. Ah yes, I remember those happy days going to the gym for basketball games in 1950s before the college moved!

    1. That’s what Murray, Jr. says too! He remembers running from where he’d been playing in his own basketball game at the high school, on this very night, to the college gym so he could watch the end of this college matchup. Then he got called onto the court with his parents for all the gifts!

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