Today’s blog entry was inspired by a chat I recently had with a friend and something disturbing that took place during the Kansas State-Southern Miss men’s college basketball game.
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in Windsor Terrace I was exposed to many ethnic groups.
The majority of my friends I hung out with were White but I had Black friends, Puerto Rican friends, Cuban friends, Dominican friends, Asian, and Jewish friends.
One night in August, when I was 12 years old, I found myself in the boys schoolyard at Holy Name all alone. It must have been close to Midnight. Oftentimes in the summer if it got boring around our apartment or if my mother was fighting with her boyfriend, I’d grab my basketball and head to the yard located on Howard Place.
As I made my way into the empty schoolyard I clutched my ball tight. When it reached 10PM you were forbidden to hang out in the yard, as the noise would disrupt not only the residents but the priests too. I stood on the pavement and faced the basket on the middle court closest to Howard Place. There were three full courts in the yard but the middle court was the most popular and besides, from the street light on Howard, you could actually see the rim a lot easier. I looked all around to make sure no one could see me. The key was not to let the ball hit the ground. If any of the priests heard you in the yard, they’d throw you out.
Standing in front of the basket, in the middle of the key I began to warm-up. I’d move to both the left box and right, always using the backboard. We had half-moon shaped boards, so banking your shot was difficult. On the left side, I made sure to use my left hand, just like Danny Pisselli had taught us. After making 10 shots from both sides I sat against the fence and rested. No make that, I began to dream that I was in Madison Square Garden. I looked out onto the empty court and saw the Knicks and the Bullets. I imagined Walt Frazier and Phil Chenier going head-to-head.
It was getting late so I figured I better get home, not that anyone would miss me.
But before I left, a bunch of kids came walking in through the entrance on Howard Place.
I glanced over and didn’t recognize them as it was pretty dark. I did know one thing, they were a mix of Black and Puerto Rican.
The group came walking in, there must have been 6 or 7 of them and boy were they loud. I wanted to remind them to keep their voices down but I’m sure they would have just told me to shut up. I began to make my way past them, but not until one kid said something to me.
“Where ya going white boy?”
I didn’t say anything back.
“Yo, I’m talking to you!”
I stopped and looked at the kid.
He was taller than me, as were all his friends. They came up Howard Place probably from the subway.
Before I could start to walk away, one of the kids slapped the basketball out of my hands.
“GIMME THE BALL FAGGOT!”
It was my fault the kid was able to rip the ball from my hands – you were always taught to hold onto the ball as tight as possible. Maybe it was that I was nervous and my palms were sweaty?
I stood there and did nothing as the kid who slapped the ball away went in for a lay-up. His dribble was awkward. You can tell he wasn’t a baller. As he jogged to the basket, he double-dribbled. I looked over towards the red brick Brother’s House where the priests lived and I’m sure with the dribbling of the ball and the kids loud voices, Father Shine would poke his head out the window and yell at them.
For the first time in my life I was praying for that to happen. It seemed like that was my only hope, a priest chasing us out.
For the next few minutes these kids ran up and down the court shooting the ball. Neither of them were any good, matter of fact I thought I knew all the hispanic and black kids from the neighborhood but to my surprise I didn’t recognize any of them.
After a few minutes of out of control play I heard one of the kids yell, “Yo let’s break out.”
As they started walking out of the yard, I looked at the tall, skinny kid who was carrying my basketball.
“Yo, give me back my ball.” I said rather sheepishly
“Fuck you white boy.”
I didn’t answer.
What could I do? There was 1 of me and a lot of them. If I made an attempt to retrieve my ball and fight for it, they would have killed me right there.
But maybe I should have stepped up and fought for my ball?
Not giving it much thought, the ball wasn’t worth it. I had a few others at home anyway.
I figured my ball was gone.
As the group of kids made their way out of the schoolyard I heard someone yell, “YO, GIVE ‘EM HIS BALL BACK!”
The group came to a halt.
I glanced over my right shoulder through the chain-linked fence and there was a tall black guy. I didn’t notice this guy as I was nervous about my ball.
“YOU HEARD ME, GIVE RED BACK HIS BALL!” He said again but this time a bit louder.
Holy shit I thought to myself, this guy knows my name?
I watched as this guy who was wearing blue jeans, white Chuck Taylor hi-tops and a white t-shirt snatched the ball away from the kid and toss it to me while he passed the entrance to the yard.
He was like Superman coming to my rescue.
The guy didn’t say a word to me, he walked down Howard Place probably on the way to the train.
Glancing at the group of kids to see what their next move was going to be, I noticed they had started walking up Howard Place towards Prospect Avenue. I could hear them saying stuff to me, but I didn’t care, I had my basketball back. I jogged down Howard hoping to catch up to my hero, but he was long gone down the subway stairs.
To this day I never knew who the guy was that helped me get my basketball back. And to this day I never knew who those kids were that tried to steal my it.
Over the years, my street education in race relations from growing up in New York City has helped me get along with all races. My classroom for this area was the schoolyard, we didn’t see the color of someone’s skin. We saw an opportunity to get along with one another. It pains me when I see or hear of a situation that involves some sort of race-hate.
What makes another individual display bigotry?