A Memorial Mass was offered Saturday in St. John the Baptist Catholic Church for J. Melvin Thurston, 78, who was captain of the Canisius College Golden Griffins basketball team in the 1940s and went on to a four-year professional basketball career. Burial was private.
Thurston, who also served for 14 years as deputy treasurer of Niagara County, died Wednesday (Oct. 8, 1997) in Lockport Memorial Hospital after a short illness.
Thurston played several sports at Lockport High School.
He also played on a Lockport club basketball team that won a state YMCA championship in 1939, starred on a Canisius team that was a nationally ranked powerhouse in the war years and was named to national magazines' college all-star lists.
"He was captain in 1942 and '43, and he played in '40 and '41," said Joe Niland, a former Canisius teammate who later would become a Canisius College coach.
"He played for the original Buffalo (pro) team. They had a good team, but they just couldn't draw."
The Buffalo Bisons franchise of the fledgling National Basketball League, competing with popular Little Three college ball in the post-war years, moved to Wisconsin as the Tri-City Blackhawks, then became the St. Louis Hawks. A final move transformed the team into today's Atlanta Hawks, of the National Basketball Association.
Thurston had been traded by the Wisconsin team to the Providence Steam Rollers in another pro league. He was a starter and a high scorer for his teams, but a knee injury ended his career.
A 5-foot, 11-inch guard known for his speed and quickness, Thurston began his pro career after a wartime stint with the Army Air Forces. Called up after his Canisius career, he trained as a pilot but spent much of his time playing for service and airfield basketball teams.
Thurston's years in pro basketball eventually qualified him for an NBA pension. That recognition, which meant much to him, came in 1988 when the NBA heeded a drive by star players and began recognizing players from pre-NBA leagues and wartime service.
Thurston also was a member of the NBA Association.
Following his basketball career, he worked at several jobs, spending years as a salesman for the Al Maroone car dealership and as a New York State Electric & Gas employee. He then became deputy county treasurer, retiring from that post in 1984.
Survivors include a son, John M. II; a brother, E. Gerald; and two grandchildren.[mvgl]