Doctor who operated on Namath's knees dies

SCARSDALE, N.Y. -- Dr. James Nicholas, whose pioneering work on sports injuries included four operations on Joe Namath's knees, has died of colon cancer at age 85, Lenox Hill Hospital said Monday.

Hospital spokeswoman Barbara Osborn said Nicholas died Saturday at his Scarsdale home. Nicholas founded the world's first hospital-based center for the treatment and prevention of sports injuries at Lenox Hill in Manhattan, now known as the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma.

Nicholas had studied under Dr. Sidney Gaynor, team physician for the New York Yankees, and in the 1960s and 1970s was team doctor for the New York Jets, Knicks and Rangers.

He performed his first surgery on Namath's right knee three weeks after the quarterback was drafted by the Jets and signed his then-sensational $400,000 contract in 1965. There were two more operations on Namath's knees before the Jets' surprise 1969 Super Bowl victory and one afterward.

Nicholas also worked on the knees of Jets running backs Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer, and his three patients toasted him at the Super Bowl celebration.

A brace that Nicholas developed for Namath was eventually worn by thousands of patients.

"He holds a special place in the hearts of Jets fans and players alike -- Joe Namath first among them -- for the devotion he gave this team over several decades," Jets owner Woody Johnson said in a statement. "He cared for the players, staff and coaches as he would his own family, and he will always be remembered as part of the New York Jets family."

Earlier in his career, Nicholas, an expert in adrenal disease, was part of a team that operated on Sen. John F. Kennedy's spine six years before he became president.