Swede Masin

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Seymour "Swede" Masin (June 7, 1920 - September 10, 2005) was a high school and college athlete of extraordinary versatility. He also played professional basketball in the American Basketball League, a precursor to the National Basketball Association.

Early years[edit]

Seymour Masin was born June 7, 1920, in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Sophie and Max Masin, who were Russian Jewish immigrants.[1] He grew up in the nearly all-Jewish Weequahic section of the city, and attended historic Weequahic High School. Even today, more than seventy years later, he is considered the school’s best athlete, ever. Big, very strong, fast, and agile, in his day Masin was arguably New Jersey’s best football, basketball, and track and field athlete. Besides his imposing physical presence, he had blond hair and blue eyes, and his Scandinavian-looking appearance earned him "Swede" as his nickname. In particular, he was a revered, beloved hero to his fellow Jews.

After graduating from high school, Masin went to Panzer College, a small teacher’s college in nearby East Orange, which merged with Montclair State Teachers College in 1958. At Panzer, Masin again was a three-sport phenomenon. He was the best in the state in the shot put and discus, he was named to the Coaches’ All-American team in soccer (which he took up due to parental objections to him playing American football), and he was the dominant star of the tiny school’s remarkable basketball team, which won forty-four straight games—for what was then an all-time collegiate record.

Swede was among the inaugural inductees for the halls of fame for Weequahic High School, Panzer College, JCC Metrowest, and Newark (New Jersey). In 2000, he was named one of New Jersey’s top fifty all-around high school athletes of the twentieth century.


Upon graduating from Panzer in 1942, Masin served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He captained a minesweeper, and spent much of his tour of duty patrolling the waters off the coasts of Italy, France, and North Africa.

Later life[edit]

In 1946, Swede married Estelle Lepore, also a Weequahic High School graduate. They raised two sons and two daughters, and lived in South Orange, New Jersey. Masin was a liquor salesman for fifty years.

In the late 1990s, Masin attracted much attention, thanks to Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel American Pastoral (1997). The novel’s central character was Seymour "Swede" Levov—also a legendary Jewish athlete at Newark’s Weequahic High School, who later attended a teacher’s college in nearby East Orange and married out of his faith. Although Roth had never met Seymour "Swede" Masin until after the publication of American Pastoral, he also had grown up in the Weequahic section of Newark and never denied that his character was based in part on Masin.

Seymour "Swede" Masin died September 10, 2005 in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, from complications of Alzheimer's Disease. The title of his obituary was "Seymour ‘Swede’ Masin, Newark’s Humble Sports Icon." The primary biographical reference is Swede: Weequahic’s Gentle Giant (iUniverse, 2009), written by his son, Robert G. Masin of Portland, Oregon.