Harry Tzivanii suffered an injury during World War II that left him with chronic back pain. Twenty years ago, the government told him he could no longer take the medication they were providing to help with the pain. And to top it all off, he found out that he had cancer.
And not just one type. Five.
That man has gone to work for 62 years with all of those problems. That man is a 20-year-old usher who has worked for Syracuse University athletics for more than six decades.
Okay, he’s actually 85, though all evidence points to the contrary.
Tzivani is a hard man to miss; just look courtside at an SU basketball game and you will see him in his bright orange jacket. He has been an integral part of Syracuse University athletics for so long that he has seen more history unfold at SU than most people could ever imagine.
He has seen Jim Boeheim play for the Orangemen alongside Dave Bing. He saw Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little, the great No. 44s, take the field in the 1950s and '60s. He has seen Derrick Coleman, Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, Jonny Flynn and Hakim Warrick play basketball.
Over the course of 62 years, Tzivani has been to approximately 2,000 basketball games alone, a number that most SU fans could never even fathom. But he never stopped to consider the scope of how many games he has actually seen.
In fact, it left him in awe.
“I never thought of that, really, but that’s an awesome number,” Tzivani said. “Wow, that’s a lot of games.”
He has ushered games at Manley Field House, Armory Square, and even the state fairgrounds. Now, he is a mainstay of Syracuse athletics.
At work, Tzivani is responsible for accommodating photographers, checking credentials, and making sure ball boys are on task. He also caters to visiting teams should they have any needs while they are at the arena.
On and off the court, Tzivani exudes pride in Syracuse University. Throughout his career at SU, he has met thousands of student-athletes, each of whom he cared for deeply.
“I wanted to be a parent for a parent that wasn’t there for them,” Tzivani said.
Tzivani has lived with pain for almost his entire life. When the Japanese came to retake Saipan in World War II, Tzivani was ordered to man a 40mm gun. As he did, a Japanese plane dropped a bomb that threw him into a bulkhead, causing chronic back and head pain for the reson of his life. From 1944 to 1989, he lived on morphine until the government took him off the medication.
Then, in 1993, Tzivani discovered he had bone marrow cancer. As if one major malady was not enough, doctors have since discovered at least three other types of cancer in his body: lymphoma behind his eye, colon cancer and thyroid cancer.
One month agao Tzivani had a CT scan which revealed that he has enlarged lymph nodes in his chest. He will soon visit a cancer center in Buffalo to undergo a PET scan to determine if the nodes are cancerous.
But apparently five different types of cancer cannot stop Harry Tzivani.
“I’m 85 years old, but I feel like I’m 20,” Tzivani said. “These past years, since 1993, have been the healthiest of my life.”
Tzivani owes that health to the storm of medication circulating in his body. What the rest of us call chemotherapy, Tzivani calls “goo-goo juice.” The treatments enable Tzivani to continue working and living his life the same way he always has: in service to the university and to others.
When Syracuse hosts the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight in March, Tzivani will be there in his bright orange jacket, making sure the operation is running smoothly. He hopes that one day Syracuse will have the amenities to host a Final Four, but for now, he can simply have pride in a university that he has served for 62 years.
“Syracuse will be the Southern Cal of New York State,” Tzivani said. “Every team is going to be a champion.”