Bishop Ford High School is closing its doors in June. No doubt it’s a sad day at 500 19th street. Growing up in the neighborhood and having many friends attend Ford, I have so many memories of the Falcons. Let me take you back 34 years ago…
On a warm Friday afternoon in May, I was shooting all alone in my paved paradise; the boys schoolyard at Holy Name.
It was a little after three. Students from Bishop Ford were making their way to the F-train down on Windsor Place. Their route was simple. Exit the school up on nineteenth street, stroll a few short blocks across ninth avenue, hang a right at Joe’s Pizza down Prospect Avenue and make a quick left on Howard Place.
On their way down Howard they would pass the yard. I had seen them for years. Most would be walking pretty fast to catch their train. Some would walk slow and watch us play ball. I would see some kids smoking cigarettes and at times catch a boy and girl holding hands. The girls were pretty.
At times I was envious. Jealous too. I always wanted to go to Ford. Many of my friends attended the catholic school up by the cemetery.
The Ford kids had a habit of breaking balls.
“GET A JOB YA BUM”! I heard a kid shout.
I stood there motionless on the middle court. The kid kept walking but I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was a wise-ass punk.
I was hurt inside, embarrassed and ashamed. I wanted to run out and rip this kid’s fucking heart out. The only problem was I was alone and he was with a bunch of his classmates who were all laughing.
I let it go but deep down, it was building up inside of me. “It” was the rage.
“Hey man, you ever go to school,” another kid called out. I glanced up from my dribbling drill.
Boy, these kids love to fuck with me, I thought to myself.
This was actually the first time I had ever heard any comments from them.
Ignoring the jerk I dribbled through my legs, crossed over, and stutter stepped like Earl Monroe, down to the other end of the court against the church wall pulling up for a mid-range jump shot.
“Yeah man, you’re always here!” another kid barked.
Now I was pissed.
This was my yard. Of course I was here all the time.
I felt like going out there and fighting them but they were in large groups. On other days in the past some of them would stare at me and call out, “nice shot!” after I made a jumper. The girls would be watching too. When I’d catch one of them out of the corner of my eye I would try to show off by going behind my back with the dribble, just like Walt Frazier avoiding a defender.
One afternoon a tall white kid walked into the yard. He was wearing black slacks, a dark dress shirt and black shoes that were shiny and pointy. We called them, “cockroach killers.”
This kid must have been about six-foot-five. He had three expensive, looking gold chains hanging from his neck. He resembled a football player, but Ford didn’t have a football team.
“Hey can I take a few shots with you?” he asked.
“Yeah sure,” I replied, as I threw him a crisp, two-handed chest pass.
“Nice shoes.” I uttered to him. He didn’t hear me, he was too excited about having the ball in his hands.
I watched him as he shot the ball from twenty feet away and missed everything.
“Airball!” came a cry from outside the fence.
A bunch of kids paused to watch him.
There they go breaking balls again.
I chased the ball down and threw it back to the tall kid. He caught it and placed it down on the concrete. Looking at me he said, “Here we go.”
He we go? I thought to myself? This kid was clearly an inside player, he had no right stepping out and trying to make a long jump shot.
As he rolled up his sleeves he looked like someone who was about to have a fist fight. That’s what the tough guys did in the old days.
“Here we go,” he proclaimed.
Picking up the ball he attempted another shot from the same distance.
As the ball was on it’s way to the netless rim; another comment came from the peanut gallery.
“Hey Tony, give it up man, you suck!”
The ball sailed through the air and ended up being another airball.
It didn’t hit a thing.
No rim or backboard. It just landed on the ground and bounced away.
This kid sucks, I thought to myself. I chased the ball down again and listened to some more kids ridicule him.
“Tony, you suck man, that kid will school you!”
“Yeah Tony, go home and study!” another kid screamed. They all laughed.
I looked at Tony and shrugged my shoulders.
“Later for them man, they probably suck anyway.” I pointed out to him.
Tony looked at me and asked, “You wanna play one on one?”
This kid was kidding, right? I thought to myself. How the fuck was he going to guard me wearing shoes?
I started dribbling the ball between my legs and said “your ball first.”
I zipped another crisp chest pass to him catching him by surprise as he fumbled the ball.
Tony took the ball out first and couldn’t buy a basket for the next five minutes. I scored with ease every time I touched the ball. I took it right by the uncoordinated kid. His first problem was trying to shoot from deep. I was waiting for him to back me down into the post. He had me by at least a hundred pounds.
When I had the ball and he tried to get close to me on defense, I would back him up with a few pump fakes and jab steps, and launch my jumper. A crowd had gathered outside the fence, and after enough of taking it to him, the tall fella called it quits.
Tony was like a defeated boxer in the ring throwing in the towel, he had enough.
“Hey man, you’re good, what school you go to?” He asked me.
I looked at the kid, thought about the question and tossed up a long jumper that went straight though the rim.
“I go to Jay.”
“What year you in?” He asked
“Wow! You’re fuckin’ good, you play varsity?”
I chased the ball down and didn’t answer him.
“I gotta get home, take care. It was nice playing with you,” he said.
The kid extended his hand. He told me he was the center on the freshmen team at Ford.
“Nice meeting you,” I answered.
Tony took off out of the yard and down Howard Place.
I continued to shoot…alone.