Former Duke Player Emma Jumps to Death

John Valenti and
Anthony M. DeStefano Newsday / MCT

MELVILLE, N.Y. — Tom Emma, a 1983 draft pick of the NBA Chicago Bulls, jumped to his death from a Manhattan building Tuesday, New York City police said.

He was 49.

Emma, of Manhattan, leaped from the 22nd floor New York Athletic Club at 180 Central Park South about 11:30 a.m., a New York Police Department spokesman said.

Emma’s body was found on a second-floor landing of 160 Central Park South, the Jumeirah Essex House.

Police said relatives told them Emma had been depressed. Family members declined to comment Tuesday.

A 1979 graduate of Manhasset (N.Y.) High, Emma is regarded as one of the finest high school players ever from Long Island.

“Tom was just a very polite young man,” said Fritz Mueller, who coached at Manhasset from 1953-82 and now lives in Arizona. “Never had a bad word to say about anybody. And just loved basketball. He just enjoyed being around everybody. Never a curse word. Never hollered at anybody. Just went about his business. They enjoyed playing with him. Just a fine, fine, fine young man.”

He broke the school scoring record once held by Hall of Fame football player Jim Brown, who was a multisport athlete at Manhasset, and the 1,983 points Emma scored from 1975-79 was the county mark until 1991 when another two-time All-Long Island player, David Mascia of Lynbrook, hit a new record.

“The fact he became the scoring leader in Nassau County really never affected him at all,” Mueller said. “He never thought in that light. He just played each game as they went. He was just a prolific scorer. With the three-point line, he would have been even better.”

Emma went to Duke, which made the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight his freshman year under Bill Foster, then played three seasons for a new Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski. Emma became the Blue Devils’ team captain under Krzyzewski in 1983. A 6-foot-2, 185-pound guard, Emma averaged 8.3 points, 2.9 assists and 2.1 rebounds his senior year.

“The Duke basketball family is deeply saddened to hear of the tragic passing of Tom Emma,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “He was a good man and fine representative of Duke University. Our hearts go out to his family and friends. He will be missed.”

The Blue Devils went 24-9, 17-13, 10-17 and 11-17 in the four seasons Emma played at Duke, making the NCAA Tournament in 1980 under Foster and the NIT in 1981 under Krzyzewski. Emma was selected 210th overall in the 1983 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, but never played a game for them.

Matt Doherty, who graduated from Holy Trinity in 1980 and went to play and coach at North Carolina, recalled meeting Emma during a recruiting trip to Duke. Although their high schools never played each other, Doherty and Emma faced off in plenty of ACC games in college.

“He was always an upbeat, positive, friendly guy,” said Doherty, now the coach at SMU. “Here’s a guy who was one of the best players to ever come out of Long Island and he could have been a stuck-up, snobby guy but he was down-to-earth, the nicest guy I’ve ever met.”