Basketball in Midwood, and why I wasn’t a star
The number of really good, even really great, basketball players that came from Brooklyn is as breath-taking as the style of play most of them brought to the court. Of the 60 greatest players from New York that overlapped me by SlamonLine, twenty, one fourth, were Brooklyn Boys. This doesn’t include some like Mike Jordan who was born in Brooklyn but played his HS ball in N.C. Then Real GM adds another near dozen.
Brooklyn produced greats. I was not one of them. When one is isolated in an upper middle class Brooklyn neighborhood, is playing “B-ball” all the time, and only following the Knicks in the papers, not even one’s own high school much, fantasies can abound in one’s head. In my sophomore year, I tried out.
Preparatory to that I had proven myself as good as anyone in the neighborhood. I had a chance encounter at the school yard with a now long forgotten national all-star from South Carolina. I bedeviled him with defense during a pick-up game, stole a few balls from him, and even hit a few shots over him. He complimented me when we left the yard. I had read stories about Bob Petit who said there were days when he was in high school that he would spend a day taking upwards of 10,000 shots! That’s why he was Bob Petit and I wasn’t. But I did practice, sometimes for a few hours. At about 5’10 and 135 pounds I was not to be feared under the boards; however, without a coach to teach me strength regimes for my legs I could still, every-so-often dunk the ball. I stretched my hands until I could palm the ball; Sweet Water Clifton was model for that.
I’ll start at the end. I was the last man cut from Midwood’s team, a sleight I’ve never outgrown. It has had a definite effect on my alumni giving, though I am a life member. Playing with five guys all of whom have your same dream, there’s not a lot of teamwork in the scrimmage. I took two shots. One was a patented set shot I studied that Vince Barilla of the Knicks shot. “Barilla BOMBS!” the announcer would scream. I swished it. Neil Johnson had already brought the jump shot to the game and as I grinned with ego at the coach he yelled, “Gralnick, no one shoots that shot anymore!” I was crushed.
I had another ace up my sleeve. I could drive down the sideline and when parallel with the net and about to fly out of bounds, I could unerringly hit a floating jump shot. I did it over the captain’s head, apparently not a good thing. Again, the coach: “You couldn’t do that again if you tried!” I got one more scrimmage, but no one would through me the ball. As he read the names of those who would not be reporting to practice, I waited, and waited. Mine was the last named called. Just before the next season, I said, “Coach, I’m comin’ out again.” He said, “Don’t bother.” I only take sophomores so I can mold them into the existing team. “Sad songs make you cry.” This was one of them.
But I was a loyal fan, and one day the Midwoodsmen played xxx high, staring Connie Hawkins, already known as “The Hawk.” I was seated under the back board. Out he came. My mouth dropped. He had an air about him that said, “This ain’t just a game to me.” He was almost a foot taller than me. He had arms so long, that if properly prepared could have made him a stand-in for Icarus. When he dunked over our center it looked like he was the only one who had left the floor. Watching him ball-handle was well downright disheartening. Maybe the coach knew what he was saving me from.
Later I realized that in spite of the Barnet Shulman’s floating around my area, the guys who would play through had names like:
Rudy La Russo,
Mike Dunleavy, Sr.
There would be no Billy Gralnick on that list.
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