Best ice cream spot back in the day was on 9th avenue. That’s right. No better spot than Bonalli’s.
GT, DP and I were recently sharing stories about the late John Corrar. GT told me a funny one about John and his brother Joey.
John was in church on the day of his wedding getting ready to tie the knot with Theresa. He was sweating and looked nervous. John’s mother looks over at Joey and Jimmy Rauthier who are in the wedding party and says, “John looks really nervous.”
So Joey answers, “Don’t worry ma, I’ll take him over to Bonalli’s for a malted.”
RIP John and Joey…
Today is September 11, 2018. Only one thing comes to mind, 9-11.
September 11, 2001 is a day this country will never forget.
Captain Vincent Brunton of Truck Company Ladder 105, one of the best from our neighborhood died that day. “Vinny” as we all knew him, was on the job in the World Trade Center doing his job…saving people.
Vinny attended Holy Name grammar school and Bishop Ford High School. He was an excellent athlete too. I recall watching him run point guard in the schoolyard during the summer league; and loved his passion playing football for Farrell’s down at Farragut Road.
(Jan. 2, 1958-Sept. 11, 2001)
I was six years-old when I fell in love with basketball.
Matter of fact, it was right around the time my father left our family.
The year was 1970, Christmas morning. The boys schoolyard at Holy Name of Jesus elementary school was the spot.
When I look back at my childhood, I realize that basketball took the place of my father.
Little did I know at the time basketball would save my life. No, it didn’t make me millions of dollars. It helped shape the man I am today.
Basketball taught me valuable lessons along the way, lessons I should have learned from my absent father.
The game, the players, the coaches and fans. All taught me lessons on how to do things the right way.
My father would come around from time to time but it was never real; he never had my best interest at heart. I think he spent time with me just to keep my mother off his back. My father never told me he loved me. Come to think of it, even when I was with him, he wouldn’t say very much. My basketball showed me love. It always stayed with me, never left me. The round ball was always there for me. My basketball talked to me. It never left me for someone else.
Basketball loved me and I loved it back. Bottom line, when my father left us, he let me down, the rock was there to cushion my fall.
At times during my life I abused Mr. Basketball. I threw it away. I kicked it, kicked it when it was down. When it was begging for me to pick it up off the floor, I ignored it.
When my ball desperately needed air, I allowed it to suffer. Walking past it every day. Paying it no mind. You have to show a basketball much love. Every day.
When I played the game I passed the basketball to teammates, shot it from all over the court and dribbled it up the court. The feeling of holding a basketball was the best feeling in the world. Like a parent holding their newborn. Picking a basketball up off the floor is like no other feeling in the world. When I would hop on my bike to go play ball I would hold my basketball under my left arm and hold the handlebars with my right hand.
On that Christmas morning in the boys schoolyard I took my first shot. I recall that day like it was yesterday. My mother bought my first basketball. No one forgets their first basketball and their first shot. The ball was a Voit, I don’t even think Voit is around anymore?
Washing my basketball every night in our bathtub became a daily ritual. My mother and brother would get mad at me when I would use the hair dryer on it.
“That’s for my hair, stupid,” my mother once said to me.
I slept with my basketball. If my sister could sleep with dolls and stuffed animals, why couldn’t I snuggle up with my basketball?
Walking to the schoolyard on that cold Christmas morning I was dribbling the ball across 9th avenue, down Windsor Place and up Howard Place to the entrance of the yard. Families were walking together to church. I was headed to my church, the schoolyard. It was there that I worshiped the game of basketball. The schoolyard was my safe-haven.
The first time I was on a team, I was eight years-old; I was taught to always keep my head up when dribbling. See the floor. “Hit the open man” is what New York Knicks head coach Red Holzman used to say to the Knickerbockers.
From my apartment on the corner of Windsor and Ninth, it was 212 steps to the schoolyard. Don’t laugh, I once counted the steps while I worked on my cross-over dribble. If someone was walking towards me, I got low and crossed them up.
On December 25, the yard was empty. Why wouldn’t it be? It was Christmas morning. But on most days, the yard was packed with kids from the neighborhood. On Saturday mornings I always wanted to be the first one there. Last to leave too.
Just me and my Voit basketball. Lucky me, six baskets to choose from. The boys schoolyard at Holy Name became my paved paradise.
I worked on my dribbling, shooting and even used the concrete walls of the church and school to practice my passing. Throw the ball against the wall, naturally it comes back to you. There was a big white sign on the church wall which had the hours the schoolyard was open. While I dribbled towards it I recited the hours. Keep your head up!
One of my favorite things to do when I was alone in the schoolyard was to dribble to every basket and make a lay-up. After dribbling to my right side for six right-handed layups I would do it all over again but this time I would reverse my direction and go left, and of course shoot it with my left-hand. We were taught in the third grade to use your opposite hand. I should mention that from grades 3-8 at Holy Name we had outstanding coaches.
They taught us to play the game the right way. Share the ball. Be a good teammate.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York I had hundreds of friends but basketball became my best friend. My older brother once said, “You’re going to marry a basketball.” He was close, after these years I have been having an affair with it.
At times in my life I ran away from basketball. Turned my back on it. Gave up on it. Thought there was nothing in it for me. I abused it. I was selfish. But today, I realized the ball is everything to me. It dawned on me this past summer while coaching groups of youngsters at a summer camp just how much I love basketball.
This summer I was able to rekindle the flame for hoops.
Over the years I played in many basketball games all over New York City. We played full-court and half-court. I have taken many shots on many different rims. My experience in basketball is probably no interest to anyone but it means the world to me.
I never played college or professional basketball. I was lucky enough to play a few games in high school. It was a time where I let basketball down. But I got to do the next best thing, coach it. I have been able to coach at the collegiate level and now currently at the high school level. I love being around the players. I love helping them improve. I will pass for them and rebound their shots.
Mr. Basketball, thanks for always being there for me. Thanks for waiting for me. Most important, thanks for putting up with me. I haven’t been the greatest partner, but here I am, at 54, learning to love you once again.
One lesson I learned is if you love and respect the game, it tends to reward you back.
Basketball, I will never let you down again.
This morning my wife and I were discussing today’s youths compared to when we were growing up in the 70’s and 80’s.
Back in the day you had the older guys passing along their encouragement, advice, and discipline to us younger guys. (Not sure if it was the same on the girl’s side of the fence)
It could be a basketball coach like Danny Piselli in the schoolyard teaching us how to take a left-handed lay-up in the 4th grade. Or it could be the late Joe Farrell from Terrace Place showing us how to play basketball the right way or maybe it was Officer Doyle from the 7-2 telling us to get off the corner at midnight and get home. (Not in those exact words).
I wish I could sit here and jot down all the advice I received as a kid. Did I take the advice? Yes and no. I was a smart-ass kid who thought they knew everything.
There was a cool cat named Cadgee whom I believe was from twelfth street between eight and ninth avenues that was always in the schoolyard playing ball. The guy was aces. He owned a ten-speed bike and was always riding around the neighborhood. I recall him talking to me when I would be frustrated from playing bad or losing a game in the yard. I’d be on the side waiting to get back on the court and sure enough Cadgee would come over and tell me to cool down and get my head straight and go back out there and get them. He would also buy me an ice from time-to-time at Bonalli’s.
Years later I heard he found God and became a born-again christian. (It would be amazing if he ever finds this blog).
There was also my main man Corrado pulling up to the curb on ninth street and fifth avenue in his cherry-red caddy while I waited for the B75 bus when it was close to midnight. I was a bit hungry and was craving donuts so I walked down to the donut shop picking up a dozen; Instead of waiting for the bus, Corado pulled up and gave me a lift up to the avenue.
Thanks to Richie Feriolo for giving me a card in celebration of my eight grade graduation from Holy Name and slipping in a ten spot. (And thanks for accompanying me on a recruiting trip years later in Staten Island)
And of course a special thanks to Gerard Trapp from Howard Place for telling me to go to school and get a good job! Also for allowing me to hang out in Farrell’s when I was underaged but always serving me a coke. And I can’t forget the many nights after he got off work he would take me down to George’s Restaurant on Coney Island Avenue.
The older guys from the neighborhood took you under their wing. Unbeknownst to me at the time, they were trying to teach us about life. About growing up the right way.
Bill Parcells once said, “The kids from today and back in the day haven’t changed, it’s the people around them that have changed.”