New York City basketball coach uses lessons he learned from his father’s friendship with MLK

There is a unique connection between a current New York City high school basketball coach and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Cardozo High School’s Ron Naclerio has won more basketball games than any public high school coach in New York state history. Naclerio was also drafted by the Chicago White Sox as an outfielder, reaching their Major League camp in 1981.
But neither of those two accomplishments is what Naclerio is most proud of.
“Sept. 20, 1958, was the day that my father got the call,” he says.
Emil Naclerio was a Manhattan surgeon. He was called to Harlem Hospital for an emergency. A 29-year-old Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been stabbed while signing books at a department store in Harlem.
“My father quickly assessed the situation, saw the knife in Dr. King’s chest close to his aorta. If he would’ve sneezed or coughed, as Dr. King said in his famous speech, the knife penetrates his aorta – no Dr. King,” Naclerio says.
The life-saving procedure required Dr. Emil Naclerio to remove two of Dr. King’s ribs to safely extricate the knife. It also led to a lifelong friendship between the Manhattan doctor and the civil rights icon.
Dr. King even wrote letters to Naclerio’s father.
“It really means so much to me because every time I think of Dr. King, I think of my father, how they became two friends – two people from different worlds met each other, respected each other, ended up loving each other,” Naclerio says.
Now in his 41st season as the basketball coach at his alma mater, Naclerio has applied the lessons from his father’s relationship with Dr. King to his relationships with hundreds who have played for him.
“I’ve never looked at my kids – whether they are white, Black, Asian – I just look at them as they’re my kids,” he says.