Before we played a game of stickball or softball, before we would choose up sides, what was the one thing the owner of the ball would scream out?
“CHIPS ON THE BALL!”
Playing a street game that included a rubber ball, if you happened to lose the ball you had to pay the owner to replace it.
In the girls schoolyard playing stickball, if someone hit the Spaldeen over the roof on 9th avenue; pay me Reggie!
If you played baseball in the lot and out fouled off a pitch over the fence, game over. Chip in for a new baseball!
Down at P.S. 154’s if someone “roofed” the softball you had to ante up. That is unless Joey Stasiak, Richie or Phillip Mullins were around to climb the roof and retrieve the ball.
To be honest though, I don’t ever recall anyone chipping in to buy a new ball.
Do kids still call, “chips on the ball?”
Let’s not forget the alert, smart aleck kid prior to the game screaming out, “NO CHIPS!”
The 2012 Summer Olympics are here.
Track and Field is one of my favorite events; I hated running as a kid.
Actually, let me correct that; I hated jogging.
I prefer speed walking or riding my mountain bike for daily exercise.
As a kid, the type of running I enjoyed was playing baseball in the lot on 16th street. You started in the batters box and hit the ball, then you ran the bases. (No black hitting tee for us)
You sprinted down the first baseline like Mickey Rivers. Going from second to home on a single, you felt like Lou Brock. Or, if you possessed blinding speed like Seeley street resident John Cain, you hit the ball in the gap and stretched it into a triple.
While playing basketball in the boys schoolyard at Holy Name. Pushing the ball on the fastbreak like Brian Keating and scoring a layup or hitting a teammate with a pass. Transition basketball was fun. You sprinted up and down the court.
Running around in the streets playing coco-leavo was fun; as was playing tag, red light-green light, and stickball. Do kids still play those games? (Hopping the turnstile took a little bit of running too)
Circling Prospect Park or the diamonds inside the park sucked! The will to run just wasn’t there for me.
I marveled at guys like Mickey McNally, Jimmy Rauthier and the late Vinnie Brunton working hard, going all out around the park. I looked at them and wondered, “how do they do it?”
Discipline, that’s how. Those cats were determined and committed. They were machines!
To be honest though, have you ever seen the mugs on people who jog? They look miserable! I’m sure they feel wonderful deep down inside though.
The New York City Marathon looks like a lot of fun…that is when you are standing on the sidewalk down on 4th avenue watching the runners pass you.
Cross-Country practice for Holy Name was not my cup of tea. Running for Mr. Gruschow was a burden but it’s what you did in the Fall. You had no choice. It would have been so much more enjoyable being in the boys schoolyard playing basketball. My running teammates, Mickey Reilly and Edmund Gallahue, those guys could book!
In the Spring, you ran track. Who can forget those Saturday morning track meets down at Midwood Field? In the sixth grade I came in first place in the 100 yard dash.
When I was sixteen I went jogging around Prospect Park with one of my favorite people of all-time; Mary Kawas. The night before, while hanging out on the parkside we talked about meeting up at 7:30.
“7:30 in the morning or tomorrow night?” I asked.
Mary was one of the greatest athletes from the neighborhood; that includes both male and female. She could outrun most guys. Running was in her DNA. Her brothers Ricky and Charlie where speed demons.
Growing up I had the pleasure of spending a ton of time with “Mary K”…she was the best.
It was a humid, sunny, July morning when we met up at the Circle; Laura Cox joined us. I really didn’t feel like being there.
I get there and both girls are already stretching out.
I’m like, “damn it, am I late?”
As they finished getting loose, I did some bullshit toe-touch and swung my arms around a few times; I was ready!
I ran in basketball sneakers, Mary and Laura had running shoes. That was me, always unprepared.
Together as a threesome we made our way down Prospect Park Southwest. I was rolling; that is until we got to the Parade Grounds. Mary went out ahead of Laura and I.
Mary was like Secretariat at Belmont Park.
On the other side of the park by the zoo, we lost sight of Mary; she was like a Gazelle, clearly leaving us in the dust.
We passed the Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Museum on Eastern Parkway; an ideal time to do some sight-seeing.
Laura was starting to inch ahead of him so I had to catch up.
As you hit Grand Army Plaza, it felt like the run was almost over, you were coming down the stretch. Thoughts of visiting the library came over me. No not really, I wasn’t much of a reader.
“DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME!” (Belmont Racetrack announcer voice)
As we made the left turn and hit Prospect Park West, Mary was nowhere in sight. I had thoughts of crossing the street and asking for a nurse at the Madonna residence.
I was clearly running out of gas, my tank was on “E”. I might have actually stopped at Garfield Place to rest.
Up ahead at the bronze sculpture on ninth street I stopped and sat down. Sensing someone staring at me I peeked over my left shoulder, glancing up at Marquis de Lafayette, the French-born general. I could have sworn he said:
“GET UP AND FINISH YOU WUSS!”
I was hearing things, right? He didn’t just say that did he?
Statues don’t talk.
Regardless, I got back up on my back on my aching feet.
Running past the 11th street playground on my left I saw a few young children and their parents entering the park. I felt a hint of motivation come over me.
I passed the bench by 12th street and saw Slick sitting down; he looked at me and gave me the “thumbs up”.
Ahead of me I saw Mary and Laura; they had finished. Mary was sitting on the monument (totem pole).
“Good job Fin!” Mary cried out to me.
I looked at her and shook my head. She was being kind. Mary was always inspirational and encouraging.
I was awful.
She on the other hand was a machine.
Her discipline was Olympic-like; mine sucked. I had none.
It takes a ton of discipline to get your ass up and running.
Kudos to all the athletes in London that are shooting for a Gold medal. And of course, to all the people who run. They find the motivation to get up, tie their running shoes and hit the pavement. I envy you all.
By the way, do people still jog around Prospect Park?
Joan (Ferraro) Hanvey, a former resident of Windsor Terrace sent me this wonderful poem.
I knew I lost Brooklyn
when my Grandson asked,
“WHAT’S A STOOP?”
I knew I lost Brooklyn
when “A dime was dropped on me”
and I almost forgot the phrase.
I knew I lost Brooklyn
when names like Mousie and Cannonball were from
some other gang in some other neighborhood.
I knew I lost Brooklyn
when children no longer “whinged”
and no one “bunked” into me.
I knew I lost Brooklyn
when a Chandelier was not something to be
seen from the outside looking in.
I knew I lost Brooklyn
when the tub was in the bathroom where it belongs
and the fire escape was no longer the porch.
I knew I lost Brooklyn
when I could not find a nice cup of tea
and no one asked me what parish I came from.
I knew I lost Brooklyn
when the “poor house” was an empty threat
and the “crying towel” was gone.
There will always be “A Tree Growing There” for me.
I was six-years-old when my love affair began with the New York Knicks. That was forty-two years ago. It was also the year they won their first of two NBA championships.
How can a young boy growing up in the schoolyards of Brooklyn not be affected by the way the Knicks played the game?
“The Knicks in 1970 had a team that a college coach could take his team to see and say, ‘now there’s the way the game is supposed to be played,” said the late Pete Newell.
Three years later the Knicks won the championship once again. The core of their organization; Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Phil Jackson and Dave Debusschere were together for both titles. The Knicks were a team that played the right way. They hit the open man, they defended and pulled for each other. Red Holzman was the head coach who made it all happen. Red’s assistant coach was team trainer, Danny Whelan. It was a time teams didn’t have “second-row” assistants.
It’s probably the last time you will ever see an NBA championship starting five (1973) all from a non-high major college: Frazier (Southern Illinois), Monroe (Winston-Salem), Bradley (Princeton), Debusschere (U of Detroit), Reed (Grambling).
The Knicks were a team dedicated to one common purpose: Winning a championship!
Over the next few years I watched the Knicks as much as possible on television and listened to them on the radio. Marv Albert doing the play-by-play alongside Cal Ramsay who handled the analysis. I can’t forget the night while watching the Knicks play in Phoenix, Suns guard Ron Lee crashed into the press table and spilled soda all over Cal’s new sport jacket.
On Christmas night in 1976 I attended my first Knicks home game. I sat in the red seats, just a few feet from the court. It was Julius Erving’s first season as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. That night ‘The Doctor’ broke my heart with a couple of big shots down the stretch to beat my team 105-104. Brooklyn’s own Lloyd Free led Philly with 30 points as Bob McAdoo scored 24 for the Knicks.
Two years later the Knicks drafted Micheal Ray Richardson; an unknown, exciting point guard out of the University of Montana. After watching “Sugar” play for the Knicks, he became my favorite player. I loved the way he defended, shared the ball and slashed to the basket. In the schoolyard I would emulate his jump-shot and his over-the-head finger roll.
In 1982, after four seasons that saw the Knicks make the playoffs just once (losing to the Bulls 2-0) Sugar was gone. I was bitter for a year or two but the good thing was they traded him for Bernard King.
Hubie Brown was the new Knicks head coach and he got them to the Eastern Conference semi-finals in his first season.
Scraping up money to attend as many home games as possible was the norm. Reading about them every single morning in the New York Post, New York Daily News and the New York Newsday; I felt like an expert. Picking up Basketball Digest each month also kept me up on not only my team but the entire league.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Pete Vescey of the New York Post providing the best material in and around the league.
We would use our student I.D. at the ticket window in the lobby of the Garden to get half price off an eight dollar ticket only to find ourselves climbing the countless escalators to the roof. We sat in “Blue Heaven.”
If there was a sell-out (19,500) we were screwed. One night I recall the LA Lakers in town and the game was sold out.
I was crushed. I was hoping to see Magic vs Sugar.
But fear not, we found a way to sneak in. I walked around the Garden searching for an open door. The gate to the ramp where the visiting bus would use was up, there was a delivery truck talking to the security guard, I snuck around the other side and ran up the to the game.
The never-ending escalator climb sucked. On our way up to the top, at each level we’d try to schmooze the usher standing at each door but to no avail. The old men in their MSG-issued red blazers knew we were students.
Watching King, the former Fort Hamilton High School scoring machine dominate the opposition either in the post with his sweet turn-around or soaring in from the wing for a slam-dunk. BK had the Garden jumping. Or if they were giving the more talented Boston Celtics with Larry Bird all they could handle only to come up short, we admired the Knicks toughness. Last bit not least, listening to Hubie shout out from the bench, “POWER RIGHT, POWER RIGHT!”
After games we’d wait outside on the street for the players. Chatting them up sometimes close to midnight. I recall one night hanging out with Hubie in front of the parking lot where he kept his car. He had a stat sheet in one hand, a can of diet coke in the other, a black leather bag over his shoulder. He talked to us like we were his coaching staff.
The Garden was electric on Christmas night in 1984 when King scored 60 points against the New Jersey Nets. What people forget is the Nets won the game and Michael Ray, playing for the Nets scored 36 points. I should know, I was there rooting for Sugar as he dropped 24 points in the second half against his former team.
Players like Rory Sparrow and Edmund Sherrod ran the point. I admired Louie Orr battle bigger and stronger forwards on a nightly basis. Watching Billy Cartwright shoot that odd-looking shot and of course there was the late Marvin ‘The Eraser” Webster swatting shots into the third row.
One season I attended 39 of the 41 home games. I was nuts; it cost me my first girlfriend too. I put the Knicks ahead of a wonderful girl.
I watched guys like Larry Demic, Sly Williams, Eddie Lee Wilkins and Ken ‘The Animal” Bannister. Others that came through 33rd and 8th that should always be remembered is Eric Fernsten, Brian Quinnet.
The NBA used to schedule pre-season doubleheader exhibition games at the Garden; 6PM and 8PM. It was there that I saw a glimpse of a future Hall of Fame player in Dennis Rodman. ‘The Worm’ minus the tattoo’s and body piercings was a rookie with the Detroit Pistons in the six o’clock game. There were about 400 people in the stands.
I can’t forget the veterans who were a little past their prime but had a ton of experience on their resume, brought in by the Knicks front office. Guys like Kiki Vandeweghe, Paul Westphal, Mike Newlin, Doc Rivers, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, Penny Hardaway and Steve Francis.
This year’s Knicks squad has gone back to that “experience” philosophy by bringing in Jason Kidd (39), Kurt Thomas (39) and Marcus Camby (38).
Hubie lasted four seasons in New York; early in his fifth year he was fired after going 4-12. Bob Hill took over.
The following season Rick Pitno took over after Hill went 20-46. Hubie’s former assistant made the playoffs in both of his years at the Garden.
Then it was Stu Jackson and John MacLeod running the show with players like Trent Tucker, Rod Strickland, Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins and Johnny Newman.
Pat Riley came on board in 1991. Riley brought a different brand of basketball than the one he used to be successful in LA. Instead of the fast-breaking, up-tempo style, Riley came in with the “tough-guy” approach. The Knicks had guys like Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel, Anthony Mason and Greg Anthony to provide the muscle.
Riley coached the Knicks for four seasons reaching the finals in 1994. Assistant coach Jeff Van Gundy took over. JVG was a grinder, one of the hardest working guys in the profession. Hard work paid off.
Five years later the Knicks made it to the finals against the San Antonio Spurs (the strike season). New York’s regular season record was 27-23. Once again they came up short going down four games to one.
Coaches like Lenny Wilkins, Don Nelson, Herb Williams, Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas all ran the ship at one time or another. Since Holzmann stepped down in 1982, the Knicks have had 16 head coaches.
Mike D’Antoni arrived in 2008 and tried to clean up the mess. His uptempo style that was called “.07 seconds or less” in Phoenix was met with mixed emotions. Some said that the style was only good for the regular season and would not work in the playoffs. He was gone after three and half years, making the playoffs just once.
I will give credit to D’Antoni for giving Jeremy Lin a chance of a lifetime last year. Lin brought excitement to the Garden.
The Knicks picked up Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire; two very good players to build the Knicks into contenders. Last year, Lin came on the scene and lit the Garden up. He was by far the most popular Knicks player.
The former Harvard guard who was cut by three teams, played in the D-League and was sitting at the end of the Knicks bench when D’Antoni called his number.
In 35 games, Lin scored 14 PPG and dished out 6.2 assists per game. But Lin wound up getting hurt and missed the last part of the season, including the playoffs.
Now, in the summer of 2012, the Houston Rockets (a team that cut him last year) has signed him; the Knicks refused to match the offer.
When I think back to the Knicks of the early 70’s, Lin is the one player who would fit in rather nicely with them.
The past twelve years the Knicks have been difficult to watch. They are still trying to win their first play-off series in that period. From 2001 to 2010 they made the post-season just once! Going out in the first round the past two years, it’s been difficult to watch.
Like Phil Jackson recently said on HBO’s, Real Sports; “the pieces do not fit.”
How much can a Knicks fan take?
Knicks fans deserve much better.
“Don’t be on time, be early.”
As a kid I was the worst when it came to being on time.
When I was a student at Holy Name, the number in the box on my report card for “days late” was always in double figures.
This with living across the street from the damn building!
My nickname should have been, “Tardy”.
I think back to the many mornings walking up the black, steel steps in the schoolyard leading to the building and having to pass Sister Barbara, our school principal.
I’m sure she was thinking to herself, “late again Mr. Finamore!”
At the time I should have felt embarrassed walking in on class after it had started.
“Mr. Finamore, don’t you have an alarm clock?” Miss Lynn, my 3rd grade teacher asked me one morning as I took my seat way in the back of the class.
She totally embarrassed me in front of my classmates.
“No, I don’t you witch!” I mumbled under my breath.
In those days, you didn’t talk back to your teachers.
Thank heavens all that changed as I got a bit older.
My quote of the day pertains to time; I was awful during one stretch of my life managing it. I would have to say that it started early in life; always running late in the morning. Running around the apartment in a reckless manner, searching for a sock, or the hairbrush. Some mornings being so late I wouldn’t eat any breakfast which probably explains my below average grades.
It wasn’t until I was coaching at a basketball camp in my early 20’s that I listened to another coach talk to the campers about the importance of being on time; since then, I have become much better managing my time.
How are you when it comes to going places?
Are you one who is always running behind and rushing to get to your destination?
Or, are you the type that arrives early?
When I became serious about the coaching profession I tried to study and research as many of the great coaches as possible. One of my subjects was Vince Lombardi, the late, great football coach. He would often talk about self-improvement. “If you ain’t 15 minutes early, you’re late.”
We call that, “Lombardi Time.”
I wanted to wish someone from the neighborhood a Happy 50th birthday!
Listen, it’s a woman, I know it’s not cool that you reveal their age; so I will not give her name.
But she knows who she is.
When the school bell rang ending recess, we all walked towards the entrance of the school building to get back to our classroom.
At Holy Name, going outside for recess was our gym class. We didn’t have a gym to call our own.
“Are you coming to the schoolyard after school.” She asked me as we walked side-by-side.
“Yeah, are you?” I answered, not making eye contact with her.
“Yep, I’ll be there.” She said as she leaned closer to me, grabbing my hand and holding it as we walked into school.
“FINAMORE, LET GO OF THAT GIRL’S HAND!” I heard a teacher shout.
I quickly let go. One thing you didn’t want to do is get caught holding hands or kissing a girl in school.
At 3:00 PM, when the bell rang at dismissal, I sprinted down the stairs and across 9th avenue. I dashed up my apartment stairs and changed out of my school clothes. Trousers, tie, shoes, black socks and white dress shirt. I threw them on my bed.
Every day after school I would grab my basketball and walk to the boys schoolyard, but today was a bit different. As I walked down the stairs to our apartment, I ran across the avenue and jogged down Windsor Place, hanging a right on Howard Place. Dribbling my basketball up Howard towards the entrance of the yard, I passed kids still coming out of school. I made my way towards the first basket and started taking some shots…alone.
After each attempt, I would glance over at the entrance of the yard.
Soon, a few male friends arrived so we began a game of three-on-three. After the first game, we walked over to the fence on Howard Place and took a seat.
“What time is it?” I asked my buddy Jimmy.
I got up off the ground and walked over to the entrance of the yard and glanced down Howard Place, towards Windsor Place.
“C’mon Red, you playin’ or what?” John Godfrey screamed out to me, as a few kids were waiting on me to start another game.
I walked back to the court, not so eager to play. I didn’t feel too enthusiastic about playing. I had gotten my hopes up too high about her coming to the yard.
Maybe she had homework to do? Or maybe her mother wouldn’t let her out after school?
In our neighborhood, parents made their kids do their homework after school, but not mine.
It was also possible that she didn’t like me anymore, I thought to myself as I checked the ball and we began to play.
We played a few more games, at the conclusion of each, I walked over to the entrance to have a peek down Howard.
“Jimmy, what time ya got?”
Peturbed, he looked over at me.
“Why you keep askin’ me about the time, you got a date or something?’
Yeah I got a date, a date that isn’t showing up I thought to myself.
The sun was going down, it became a bit cooler and I could see people outside the schoolyard walking up Howard place from the train station, on their way home from work.
Before we left for dinner, we began a game of taps.
I volunteered to go outside; you know I was crazy now because no one ever wanted to be outside when playing taps.
Walking outside, glancing down Howard Place for about the hundredth time, hoping she’d appear.
No such luck.
When I was 13 years old I played Seven Minutes in Heaven for the very first time.
I was paired up with a girl I will never forget.
Her kiss was memorable.
Seven Minutes in Heaven is a kissing game that turns into a make-out game. You hook up with someone from the opposite sex, do the 23 skidoo to a secluded area and kiss…for seven minutes.
On a cool Friday night in September, there was a bunch of us hanging out on the corner of Windsor Place between Howard and Fuller Place. You know, a chill in the air where you need a light jacket and mother nature is reminding you summer is over.
It was around 9:30. I’m not sure how the two of us matched-up but before I knew it, we were both walking away slowly from our friends, holding hands, towards Fuller Place. My cousins lived at 29 Fuller, I was hoping they would not see me with her.
We stopped in front of a random house and she made her way up the stoop then down the basement stairs. I watched her walk in front of me. She had white pants on.
As she took a seat on the cold concrete steps I followed behind her and sat across from her.
Out of nowhere, I heard a voice shout, “GO!”
Her scent was intoxicating. The only perfume I had ever whiffed was my mom’s. In the past, I’d only been this close to a girl when my sister and I would play King of the Mountain on our bunk beds.
She put her arms around my neck and pulled me close. She gazed at me, removed a piece of gum from her mouth and lunged forward. Our lips locked. Her tongue found her way into my mouth and she moved it around like a snake. My arms stayed by my side.
And yes, my knees were weak.
I opened my eyes. Was I supposed to do that or keep them shut?
It was weird.
Her eyes were closed, she had clearly done this before.
I was clueless.
There was no “google” to learn how to kiss.
No “Kissing for Dummies” book available at the 6th avenue library and you didn’t talk to anyone on “how to kiss a girl.”
After the game, it was clear she had won; She overwhelmed me.
“You’re a good kisser,” she said to me as we walked back to where a few of our friends had gathered.
Most of us stood there in silence. I was speechless.
Walking home on cloud nine I figured my mother was going to yell at me for being so late.
I’m a good kisser I thought to myself. I kept saying it over and over all the way home.
No one had ever told me I was good at anything.
I had a hard time sleeping that night; all I could think of was that girl who I kissed for the very first time; she was the only thing on my mind.
While lying on my back on my bed, somewhere around midnight and staring up at the ceiling, I kept repeating her words…out loud.
“Whad ya say?” my mom asked as he walked by my bed.
“Nothin’.” I answered.
A few nights later we played Seven Minutes in Heaven again.
This time she was paired up with a different kid. After each seven minute segment, I hoped and prayed I’d get paired with her, but this one night it just wasn’t happening. I wanted the night to end; I was facing my first feelings of jealousy.
She was beautiful. A lot of guys from the neighborhood liked her. In school I would see her at recess in the schoolyard standing around with her female friends talking. When I would get sent to the principal’s office, I’d peek through the door of her classroom.
One afternoon playing slap ball in the girls schoolyard, a buddy of mine informed me she “liked me.”
When I heard that my self-esteem went through the roof. I felt like a million dollars.
A few nights later we were hanging out in our usual spot. Someone in our group shouted:
“Let’s play Seven Minutes.”
I was like, “Damn!”
I watched one couple pair off and head down Fuller and duck behind two parked cars. They quickly disappeared. She looked at me and said,
Turning red in the face and feeling nervous, I gave a hesitant, “Yeah.”
Once again I was going to spend a few minutes with this pretty girl who was on my mind day and night.
There was no selection process this time. It wasn’t like ‘Spin the Bottle’.
No sir, she looked at me and grabbed my hand.
You would have thought after breaking the ice with her just a few nights ago that I would be ready?
Not a chance.
We walked a few yards down Fuller. I was shaking like a leaf. Standing in front of the same exact house where we kissed the other night she reached for my hand and led me down the basement stairs.
She moved forward and pressed her lips against mine.
I knew the drill.
Opening my eyes, I was surprised to see hers already open.
Her eyes were gorgeous.
She cracked a smile, then laughed.
This girl was incredible.
She had an intoxicating personality.
She took spending seven minutes in heaven to a new level.
I felt so good with her. I didn’t want the seven minutes to end.
By the way, who was keeping time?