Their love of the game of basketball started in their Bayonne youth.
Steve Rosner, Keith Greene, and Ken Eisler met when they were still youngsters while playing basketball in the Jewish Community Center back in the late ‘60s, an era where practically every Bayonne kid with a pair of sneakers played in the leagues run by the immortal Bill Broderick.
“We played basketball on the teams they had in the JCC,” said Greene, now a nonprofit executive helping senior citizens and combating hunger. “We played on the Biddy teams there. We’re just three of many who played in those leagues. It gave us our love of basketball.”
Through the years, the three have remained the closest of friends. Rosner, now one of the most prominent sports agents, handling many of the top sports broadcasters with his 16W firm in the Meadowlands; Eisler, a banker in St. Louis; and Greene centering on hoops, the basis of their friendship.
Rosner played basketball at Bayonne High School (Class of 1976) and Eisler (Bayonne Class of 1973) went on to Rutgers University, where he became manager on the famed Rutgers team that went to the NCAA Final Four in Philadelphia in 1976.
“We just had our 40th reunion,” Eisler said of the beloved Scarlet Knights team, coached by Tom Young. The team headed to the Final Four with an undefeated record and featured All-American Phil Sellers. “It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. That experience gave me my taste for the tournament.”
Rocky Mountain high
In fact, their collective love of basketball has enabled the three friends to make an annual sojourn to points all over the country, to watch the NCAA Tournament, as longtime friends and combatants for the elusive “Stanne Cup.”
The three boys from Bayonne—if you can call someone “boy” after six decades—set aside one weekend a year for them and only them, to watch the first round of March Madness together, then hole up in a hotel suite where they eat shipped-in food and drink shipped-in wine, just to remind themselves that their bond of friendship is deeply rooted in basketball.
Last weekend, Rosner, Greene, and Eisler were in Denver for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, procuring tickets for the games on Thursday (four games in all) and Saturday (two more). On Friday, the trio spends the day in a hotel suite watching the other action in the tournament.
They started to go to the tourney together in 1987 in New Orleans and they stayed in the St. Anne’s Hotel. Thus the name for their trophy, St. Anne became Stanne.
And yes, they pick all the games in the NCAA Tournament, filling out their bracket like the 30 million or so other Americans—including President Barack Obama—with a scoring system that enables a winner each year.
The winner gets to keep the Stanne Cup for a year and has to have his name engraved on it. Greene has secured the Stanne Cup a total of 12 times, Rosner eight, and Eisler six. There is no monetary prize; it’s just for bragging rights. Much like their fine food and exquisite wine, the trophy gets shipped to the locale to add to the fun.
The A list
“This weekend is the highlight of the year,” said Rosner, who got into the sports-agent field by representing New York Giants Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor back in the 1980s.
Rosner was the sports information director at Wagner College when he was introduced to someone starting a financial and sports division of a company.
“One thing led to another and I was introduced to Lawrence by another Bayonne guy Jerry Dailey,” Rosner said. “We had dinner. We talked about me representing him and that was it.”
Rosner and partner Frank Vuono own 16W Marketing (named after the New Jersey Turnpike exit that is right outside their offices), and they represent a Who’s Who of sports broadcasters, such as Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason, Ron Darling, Bob Papa, Chris Collinsworth, and Howie Long.
But it all began with Rosner’s association with the man called “LT.”
“You’ll never hear a bad thing coming out of my mouth about Lawrence Taylor,” Rosner said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without Lawrence.”
“This cements what is already a strong friendship.” – Ken Eisler
Although they live in separate parts of the country, they book their time together in advance to celebrate the tournament and their friendship. Last weekend, it was Denver. In the past, it was places like Michigan and Florida and Louisville. Every year since 1990, 26 trips in all, they have managed to get together to watch games, fill out their brackets, eat, and drink.
“We’re all wine guys,” Eisler said. “We all have wine cellars. We each have to have two bottles shipped here and they have to be rated with a 90-point rating or better by Wine Spectator.”
The top wine they shared this weekend is a 2004 Cabernet Pahlmeyer from Napa Valley, California.
“It’s great stuff,” said Greene, a graduate of George Washington and a season ticket holder for both the Colonials’ men’s and women’s basketball teams.
They also have all their food shipped to the site from Zabar’s in New York so they never have to leave the suite for the games on Friday.
“We have lox and bagels for the morning, then salami and provolone for lunch,” Rosner said. “We’re set up all day.”
Then, there’s a luxurious steak dinner to cap the Friday’s festivities.
“It’s not a cheap weekend,” Rosner said.
They have been to Final Fours before, but nothing rivals the first weekend of March Madness, with all the different games, including the six that they watch live.
“There are more teams here and more games,” Rosner said in a phone interview from their Denver hotel suite. “It’s in a smaller venue. It’s all about the games.”
The guys found another Bayonne native in referee Brian O’Connell, who was officiating the games in Denver. O’Connell is one of the top officials in college basketball, especially working Big East games.
Eisler and O’Connell have been friends for a long time, growing up on the same block together.
But don’t dare ask to have another person infiltrate their get-together.
“I have friends who ask to be a part of it,” Greene said. “But this will never change. It’s just the three of us. We’re like the United Nations Security Council. No one gets in.”
“We’re going to do this as long as we’re alive,” Eisler said. “Even when one of us dies, we’ll still do it.”
“We’re watching a lot of basketball, a lot of basketball,” Rosner said. “The basketball is the bonding part. Basketball and bonding. It’s why we’re here.”
The guys have already picked next year’s location. It’s Buffalo and the first round games there.
“It has to be where the games are on Thursday and Saturday,” Rosner said. “Once we get to the arena on Thursday, we pull out the game program and decide where we’re going next. Well, next year it’s Buffalo.”
The Stanne Cup will be shuffling—and and shipping off—to Buffalo.
“This cements what is already a strong friendship,” Eisler said.
“I have other friends who always ask, ‘Where are you going this year?’” Greene said. “They ask, ‘What city and what are you bringing?’ A lot of people get interested in what we’re doing.”
“As long as we have a nice suite, that’s all that matters,” Rosner said.
So three friends from Bayonne having a nice weekend together—eating, drinking and watching hoops. What more can you ask for?
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.