Some good guys on these squads…
Some good guys on these squads…
“The choices you make will shape your life forever.”
As I sit here on a sunny Saturday afternoon enjoying life, something occurred to me while I was reading, ‘A Drinking Life’ by Pete Hamill.
I miss my old neighborhood. To be specific, I miss the boys schoolyard at Holy Name of Jesus grammar school.
Saturday’s were the best. No doubt it was my favorite day of the week. Wake up early, have a bowl of Frosted Flakes, watch cartoons, get dressed and head out the door.
My energy level on Saturday mornings was a lot higher than Monday through Friday. Don’t get me started about Sunday morning…
After my cereal I grab my basketball, walk down the two flights of stairs in our second floor railroad-apartment on the corner of Ninth and Windsor Place.
Crossing ninth avenue heading down Windsor Place there were days I didn’t stop for the red light. If the coast was clear, I was jetting across the avenue. No Crossing Guard needed, only during the week, 8am-3pm.
As I approached Howard Place I hang a right and walk alongside the picket fence that wrapped around the school building. Changing direction at Howard, I would imitate Earl “The Pearl’ Monroe and spin dribble, avoiding an imaginary defender.
A good thing about the 202 steps walk from my apartment to the yard was I had enough time to work on your dribbling skills with both hands. Along with my spin dribble I worked on the cross-over and hesitation. You got your reps in.
As I get closer to the entrance of the yard, my pace quickened. Going from a speedy walk to a light jog. I was anxious to play.
Some days I would listen for the sound of a bouncing ball or voices coming from the yard. If I heard them, I’d get excited knowing there were games going on and kids to play against. Even though I enjoyed my alone time in the yard, having a friend or stranger to play against was the ultimate feeling. Competition in the schoolyard helped shape you for the better.
If by chance you didn’t own a basketball and no one was around, you could always walk across Howard Place and look down the Trapp’s basement steps; there was always extra basketballs waiting to be borrowed. And you better bring it back. We went on the honor system, for the most part.
Walking into the schoolyard felt like paradise. It was another world. Free from all the bullshit.
There was always a special feeling when you were in the yard, a feeling like no other.
When I first discovered the boys schoolyard at the age of 6, I spent most of my time dribbling on the side watching the older guys like Gerard Trapp, Cadge and Jimmy Routhier play three-on-three. I studied their styles. Between games when the players took a quick break before running it back, I would run on the court and get up a few shots.
“Good shot Red,” I heard someone say.
On Saturday we would spend all day in the schoolyard, only to go home for lunch but always returning for the afternoon. After playing in the sun all day you went back home at five o’clock for dinner and on many occasions you returned and played before it got dark. When it did get dark, the priests at Holy Name kicked you out.
“GET OUT OF THE SCHOOLYARD!” They liked to shout.
On average if you loved the game you spent 8 hours on a Saturday playing the game you loved.
Those were the days my friend…
Brooklyn, New York, early to mid-1980’s.
On a hot Saturday in July, wake up early, hop on our mountain bikes and ride to East 5th Street Park.
After a couple of hours of solid up and down basketball, grab a quick bite to eat, hop back on our bikes and head down Ocean Parkway; destination, Brighton Beach.
Stroll on the boardwalk, say hello to all our friends, listen to some music and take in the sights.
Get back on our bikes, pedal our asses off to Manhattan Beach for some more ball.
After another good run, we hit the boardwalk and once again, say hello to friends, listen to the music and take in the sights.
At around 6 p.m. get back on our bikes, head back home, shower, eat, and hit the clubs.
Those were the days my friends!
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.
For the next few days I will be paying tribute to people I have known for a long time. People from the neighborhood that meant a lot to me growing up. These people made a huge impact on me. From friends to teachers to coaches. I’ll even mention a couple of priests and nuns.
My best friend – we talk often, even text on a daily basis.
Growing up as kids Glenn and I played lots of ball together. Holy Name schoolyard. P.S. 154’s, East 5th street and Manhattan Beach.
Despite being a year older than me, Glenn and I hung out often. We played together on the basketball team at Holy Name. We also played pick-up ball everywhere there was a court.
We’d hop on our Mongoose mountain bikes and ride to Manhattan. Over the Brooklyn Bridge up 6th avenue to West 4th street, Central Park, the Lower East Side; we covered a lot of ground.
“Hey Kid, you know how to ride a bike?”
When it was time to step out at night, we hung out in dance clubs all over the city. We danced, drank and met so many good people.
A classic line on the dance floor at the Limelight. Or maybe it was Xenon?
Cat Club. Studio 54. Peppermint Lounge. Danceteria. Boy-O-Boy, so many clubs…
“Do I know you?”
Glenn and I worked together as messengers down on Wall Street with our boy T-Bone. A few years later we both worked the door at Planet Hollywood.
“Any advice for a struggling actor from Queens?”
“Yo Lance. Blue Fish…Blue Fish…”
One weekend we made a road trip York College in PA, it was a memorable one.
We played ball on Saturday afternoon against their players and went to a cool club later that night.
“You can’t get those Lima beans up that high…”
Knicks games at the Garden, Mets games at Shea and most important, spending time down his basement on Sherman Street listening to records.
The night Bernard King scored 60 points against the Nets we were both in the house. My guy Sugar dropped 36 that night for New Jersey leading the Nets to the win.
Glenn’s parents were gems; his mom treated me like a son. His dad was aces.
Speaking of aces, how about Frankie the Ace? We played so much ball down 154’s; basketball and stick-ball. We called it Swift.
Remember that bowling ball bag the Ace carried.
“Hey Jerry, there’s no tomorrow…”
Last but not least one day in August we were walking the boardwalk at Coney Island. All of a sudden we see Gerard Grayson on the sand, naked. Cops were hauling him off.
“YO FINAMORE, THEY TOOK MY CLOTHES!”
Hundreds of people on the boardwalk and he sees me…
To conclude, I miss those days of hanging out with Glenn. We had so much fun and learned a lot about friendships.
Yo Glenn, hope all is well.