Washington State baseball and basketball standout Gene Conley x’50, the only professional athlete to win both a World Series and NBA championship, died July 4, 2017. He was 86.
Conley was a pitcher with the Milwaukee Braves when the team won the World Series in 1957 and he helped the Boston Celtics to three NBA titles from 1959 to 1961. He played against sports legends such as Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Wilt Chamberlain during an 18-year dual-sport career that also included four All-Star appearances.
At Washington State, where he anchored both the baseball and basketball teams for two seasons before going pro, he led the Cougars to Pacific Coast Conference baseball and basketball championships in 1950, including the school’s first appearance in the College World Series title matchup.
Raised in Richland, Conley was among the most highly recruited high school athletes of 1948–49. Sports historian Richard B. Fry notes that three programs, including Washington State, were hit with recruiting violation fines in connection with their attempts to land him.
Longtime basketball Coach Jack Friel faced heavy criticism at the time but unapologetically called Conley worth every dime, Fry wrote in his 1989 book The Crimson & the Gray: 100 Years with the WSU Cougars. Besides, the coach argued, the fine levied against WSC was the smallest of the three, with University of Washington being hit with $5,500 and the University of Idaho with $4,010 compared to Washington State’s $3,720.
Conley signed his first pro contracts in 1950. During his Major League career he played with the Boston (and later Milwaukee) Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Boston Red Sox. In the NBA, he played with the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks.
After retiring from professional sports, Conley founded a paper company in Foxboro, Massachusetts, which he operated for 36 years. He is survived by his wife, Kathryn, their three children, seven grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.