Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Bit of Basketball History, NYC Area Style

Came across this on my computer and wanted to share again. Just somthing to read when you have nothing else to do lol.

A Bit of Basketball History, NYC Area Style

It was a hot summer day many years ago that I ventured to the local park outside of home in the St. Nicholas Projects in Central Harlem to watch the most famous summer basketball league in America. Besides the great basketball, it was a great place to collect empty soda bottles in order to cash them in for the .02 deposits on the small bottles and .05 deposits on the larger bottles. Growing up this was one of the many ways to earn money for purchasing candy, or attending movies. Besides hustling at the local food chains carrying bags, this and opening taxi doors at local churches was the next best thing for a bunch of enterprising 11 year old kids.

As I sat down in a small space under the basket watching the great Wilt The Stilt Chamberlain from Philadelphia dominate the paint I was amazed at his size and ability. He was a true super star!!!! But what has remained with me for over 40 years is what happened with less than one minute to go in the game Big Wilt was playing. Big Wilt stepped on my foot going for a loose ball under the basket and all I could do is scream. Being the enterprising person I was at the time, I turned my pain into gain by tapping him on the shoulder with a smile minutes after the game reminding him how he hurt me. Well Wilt Chamberlain decided to treat me and a few other kids to sodas and Ice cream for my suffering. We were so pleased just to get him to acknowledge us. But to get him to treat us to goodies? That was the greatest! I would imagine if the same thing happened now, kids and parents would be seeking much more compensation via law suits, etc. lol.

That day was my first real initiation into New York City Summer Basketball. Summer basketball in New York City has been popular for 50 years or more. We all know the story about the legendary Holcombe Rucker. But many do not remember the other legendary figures associated with NYC Summer basketball. People such as Ollie Edinboro who was a protégé of Mr. Rucker, Snookie Walker who owned the Famous Snookies Sugar Bowl which was a popular local restaurant filled with basketball trophies. Oddly Snookie was even more famous for standing up to organized crime to protect his vending machine business. His exploits and courage against organized crime was legendary!

Additional heroes were Leroy Otis, One Eye Sam, Rodger Buster Bryant, Bob McCullough, Sand Man Sims, Jaws, Artie George, John Black, Jelly Roll, Cecil Watkins, Leroy Watkins, Lester Roberts, Skinny Reeves, Rap Perez, Gil Reynolds, Jim Couch, the Taliaferro Twins, Don Adams, and Hilton White. Later these guys were replaced by a few major teams who provided better uniforms, trips nationally and internationally, and assistance with tuition to private schools. They included Ernie Lorch at Riverside Church who often saw his early teams slaughtered by the older programs run by the gentlemen listed above. Also on this new and wealthy list was Lou Demeo (sp) who rumor has it was from Argentina and decided after meeting a few young men at a Knick game to start the Gaucho program. Both of these programs took kids from all over NYC and parts of Long Island and New Jersey in contrast to how others won with kids locally. They even had kids nationally participate in some tournaments including the great “Golden Hoops” sponsored at the time by The NY Daily News and coordinated greatly by Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Bob McCullough, Butch Purcell, and The Uptown Chamber of Commerce.

Summer ball in the city was played in all 5 boros but dominated by tournaments in Manhattan, The Bronx, and Brooklyn. In fact, it became so competitive that the original youth Rucker League and City Wide which was new at the time, decided to have end of the summer championships which were held at St. Johns Recreation Center in Brooklyn. All the champs from leagues in the five boros went through a playoff with the winners meeting in Brooklyn on a Sunday for the overall City Championship. This was huge and as a youngster I had the privilege of participating as a member of Leroy Otis’s Church of the Masters/Young Life midget team. I remember the game as if it was played yesterday. It was so exciting to be part of an event that no longer exits. By the way we did win the game against a strong team of future Boys High Stars including Ernie Douse, Gus Washington, and a guard named Bo who was great to say the least. Well this is not about my limited basketball exploits. It’s about the many players who left their mark on the hard top.

I remember the first time I watched Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland play basketball. He was a 6 ft 2 guy who honestly was dunking on guys in Mount Morris Park playing for Milbank. He was one of the greatest guards I had ever seen. I could care less about the NBA. The summer in NYC had all I wanted to see. Pee Wee dominated the game and was very smooth off the court. I remember watching him score 50 in a game when he played in the Pro Rucker. I also remember him driving a luxury Duisenberg automobile around my Harlem Neighborhood later that evening in a blue suit with 4 beautiful women all dressed in blue riding with him. Now in our eyes, that was a star!

The first time I saw Pablo Robinson play basketball I thought he was doing magic. How could he do so much with a basketball. He was simply amazing the way he dominated. He had a brother Walter who was also good but not the player Pablo was. Still remember how folks always talked about his dad, who according to many was one of the top Chefs in NYC. Pablo made all of us proud by making the Harlem Globetrotters and even having a cartoon character in his image on the Globetrotter Cartoon Show.

People always seem to think Earl “The Goat” Manigualt was the greatest athlete and player during his time. He was a great one but the person often forgotten is Willie Manguam. I personally saw Willie Manguam take a quarter off the top of the basket in a park on 130th street and 7th avenue at 11 PM at night 45 years ago. I saw it with my own eyes as he took the quarter during a bet with a few other players. Besides jumping, Willie could just play!!! He could shoot, run, jump, and defend. Unfortunately we rarely hear his name. But he was a true playground legend.

Rodney Butler was the Charles Barkley of his time. When he entered a gym initially folks got a good laugh because he was a fat guy. Yes I said fat as opposed to big. Around 6 ft 3 and 280 ponds of White Castle Muscle, he would dominate every game he played. If he did not score 40 or 50 points it was a bad game, all he did was play hard and dominate. He also went on the Springfield College where the legendary Hilton White coached after a great career with the NYC Parks department as coach of The Bronx Falcons. Prior to these guys were players like Willie Hall, Bill Pleas (The First Mt. Vernon Star I saw), Dave Grey (Mt. Vernon) Dean Meminger, Tiny Archibald, Charlie Yelverton, The Great Joe Hammond, the best player ever both fundamentally and skill wise, Red Cotto the first HS All American from my old neighborhood, Rudy Waterman from LI, The Smith Brothers who all were great, The Williams Brothers from Mt. Vernon including Gus who still competes every Sunday at IS 201 in Harlem with a host of other ex NBA and local stars, Thomas Lockhart, Butch Lee, Artie Green who could draw 7000 to an outside game at King Towers, Bill Willoughby from Englewood (Which is 4 minutes from Manhattan) who played a lot in Harlem, and many more.

During these times a few NJ programs started to emerge as powers keeping the good players in the Garden State for the most part. People such as Rich Leary and the NJ Demons, who could be the greatest teacher ever in local AAU basketball, Brian Crawford and the Newark Rams, Sandy Python and the Road Runners, The Jersey Shore Warriors, The NJ Jay Hawks, and others. Recent additions have been the New Jersey All Stars and what might be the best program in NY or NJ The Playez Basketball Club based in Patterson NJ. 2nd best could easily be New Heights of NYC based on talent.

But for overall best program including services to support athletes, New Heights remains number 1 to me. Program wise others have eemerged as major players in youth basketball. The Panthers led by dapper Gary Charles and Sterling Nunly, Bingo's All Stars, The new Metro Hawks, The New Riverside Church Hawks, and Juice All Stars, all of New York.

I could go on and on with this and will in the future. But one thing for sure, New York City Area (including LI and NJ) basketball has proved to be entertaining and a great learning ground for many players including those from the suburbs


Double-00 said...

Ball , did that guy pick the quarter off the rim or top of the back board ?

LFBall said...

Honestly it was taken from the top of the backboard. True story.

By the way, The Goat was very good. Not sure he was GREAT as folks say. He was famous for what he went through. But Willie was a tougher and better player who at the time of the act of taking the quarter off the top of the backboard, was rumored to be a drug addict. I think it was a bet and he really needed the money.

Really looking forward to that West Virginia Game.

Tom said...

Hello LF,

Whoever you are you must have been right there in the 60's and 70's.
It's a pleasure to be transported back to those times.
Thanks very much for including my name with so many of the great New York City players. It's an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as them.
Thomas Lockhart