Saturday, February 6, 2010

the old guy

I made my college freshmen basketball team, but I was not much of a factor on the squad. I came off the bench and probably averaged no more than five points a game. I had only one game when I scored in double figures, and I think that the total that day was only 11 points.

I had reached the peak of my basketball playing prowess by September of 1967 just before I went off to college in Albany. During the preceding months I'd played quite a bit at a summer camp and found I could typically hold my own. So, that September before I went off to school to deteriorate, I would go to a local park in the evening where good 17-20 year old players congregated to play. The park, Cantiague, had earned a reputation for quality games. Players I knew of who'd done well at various high schools on the island would travel miles to Cantiague to compete.

The games there were four on four for the most part. And there was always a wait to get on. Two teams would form, and then several groups of four would wait to play "winners." Lose a game at Cantiague and you could wait a half hour to play again. (Once I took my tools to Manhattan Beach to play and there you could wait an hour if you lost a game). So these four on four contests were fiercely competed. You did not come to Cantiague to sit around and wait to play, and if you lost, you would be sitting around and waiting.

One night we'd won a game or two when a foursome came on the court that had an old guy on the team. Three kids around 18 and this old guy. This game ought to be a breeze. Within minutes this old guy was engineering play and taking apart the rest of us with passes and funny looking set shots. I took over and tried to guard the old guy and damn if he wasn't making me look stationary--whistling these passes past me, getting everyone on his team moving and cutting. Occasionally the old guy would take a dribble, stop abruptly to set, and then sink a long range push shot that looked like it belonged on the old newsreels. Typically before each game the players would shake hands with opponents and introduce themselves. The old guy's name, I remembered, was Dick.

Dick killed us. The games at Cantiague were "winners out", which means that if you make a basket you kept the ball. We barely saw the ball with Dick effortlessly and modestly taking us apart. When I sat down, I asked someone who the hell the old guy Dick was. I find out that Dick's last name is McGuire.

I hadn't recognized him. Dick McGuire had coached the Knicks in the mid sixties and played professionally for the Knicks in the 50s. When I came home and told my dad I'd played against Dick McGuire at Cantiague and that he beat us bad, he snorted and asked me if I still had my shorts.

The other day I read that Dick McGuire had passed and I remembered that day at Cantiague. I've done some reading about the old Knicks and know that McGuire had been a humble and well liked man. I remembered that he was humble when he humbled us kids so many years ago.

Later today I drive to Albany for an annual rendezvous with college buddies. We go to a basketball game, and then have dinner where we have cocktails, discuss (and solve) all the world's problems. It's always fun. I am thinking this morning that we revellers this evening will be twenty years older than Dick McGuire was when he was the old guy tearing me apart at Cantiague.

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