Wally Green: What a way to see the world
He played basketball, football and volleyball when he was a student at Lafayette High School. He wrestled.
“I did it all,” says Wally Green in his own first-person story. “I grew up in the dangerous and violent Marlboro housing projects. I became part of a gang at the age of 13 and owned six guns.”
His gang was Tragedy because his mother and stepfather said that was what followed Wally Green.
Twice he was grazed by bullets, he told the New York Times.
Green says his life just sucked and he was headed down a deep and dark road – which he called The End.
“The End,” he says, “Refers to the end of my life or my freedom, because I was either going to wind up in jail or dead.”
Sports gave him a reason to stay away from a stepfather who inflicted pain on his mother – and at times him – and deal with him.
In June, Wally Green, 41, gave a graduation address at a charter school in Brooklyn. He’s tried out for “The Cube,” the TV game show hosted by retired NBA star Dwayne Wade.
He teaches at a Ping-Pong social club for those who can afford the $49-an-hour table tennis lessons.
But Green still remembers Asian American students at Lafayette High playing Ping-Pong in the lunchroom – he says he made fun of them like crazy.
“I feel bad about that now,” he admits.
By chance he vented his frustrations one night in a pool hall – he said he didn’t know Black kids played Ping-Pong.
He was mentored by a man at the place, and the mentor paid for Green to train at a sports academy in Hanover, Germany. He was just 19 years old at the time. He turned pro in 2001 and started playing in international tournaments.
And today, his resume includes 35 international Pro Tour competitions representing the U.S. – a black, hip-hop guy with bleached-out hair and designs all over his head, traveling all over the world.
Who knew Ping-Pong would be the way to see the world?
“It took me to North Korea,” he wrote. “One day I was checking the website of the International Table Tennis Federation when I saw North Korea listed. I couldn’t believe there was an actual international tournament being held there.
“My North Korean opponent and the 5,000-plus North Korean spectators will never forget the day a crazy black guy, with bleached-out hair with designs all over it, stepped foot in their country, competed hard, showed respect, brought laughter, happiness.
“And, most of all, love.”
When Green started his professional journey, he quickly learned Asia was the center of the Ping-Pong universe.
In China, he noted in the Times, there are entire sports academies dedicated to table tennis. There is a professional league.
The Chinese team swept every gold medal at the last Summer Olympics – save one – which was won by a mixed Japanese doubles pair.
The highest-ranking American in men’s singles is Kanak Jha, at No. 32. The next best American is No. 165.
In fact, the American table tennis team at the Tokyo Olympics was entirely Asian American.
Green did discover a Guyanese athlete named George Braithwaite when he began playing table tennis in Manhattan.
It was a year later Green found out Braithwaite was the only Black member of the American table tennis squad that went to Beijing in 1971. He died of COVID in 2020.
Wally Green may be from Brooklyn, yet, Ping-Pong has transported him from the housing projects to all over the globe.
Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR
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