Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cantiague--in Brazil

In the summer of 1967 I reached my peak as a basketball player.  I played my best ball as a counselor in a summer camp against other camp teams and, once, against a visiting crew of New York Knicks. The Knicks with Willis Reed, Howard Komives, and Walt Frazier did not try all that hard when they and two hand picked 15 year olds, played against our counselor team.  But I was hot in that game, must have scored in the mid twenties. Reed actually came out to contest one of my shots, Komives tried to box me out (successfully)--I don't recall Frazier trying real hard.  But I do recall that after I hit two long shots and drove past one of the fifteen years olds, the counselors were up 6-0 and the Knicks called time out.  At the end of the game Komives came up to me and said, "Nice game, Blondie."

So, at the end of the summer I figured I could play with most good players my age.  And the place you went at night in my home town area to play pick up basketball games under the lights was Cantiague Park, referred to by high school players simply as Cantiague.

So in late August and early September in 1967 I would drive to the next town and see how I could do at Cantiague.  Still could not compete with the really great players who would come there to strut their stuff. But I could do okay.

There was a lot of arguing at Cantiague. You played "winners' in the park. That meant that when you went to the court you got a group of three or four players together and you called "winners". This meant your team would wait to play the winners of the two pick-up teams on the court. As long as you won, your team kept playing. Lose a game and you might wait a half hour or more before you got on the court.  So, you really tried hard to win those games.  A lot of squawking about who fouled who and which team got the ball out. Some intra team tension if a player messed up causing your team to fall behind and run the risk of losing.

Fast forward 47 years.  It is about 10:30 pm in Rio de Janeiro in 2014.   I walked to a soccer field that I mentioned in an earlier blog sits very close to the hotel property.

It was Cantiague Park. In 15 minutes I was transported nearly half a century.  The court was lit up and the teams were playing five on five not counting the goalie. A team was waiting to play winners.

 I can not understand more than a handful of words in Portuguese, and those words I have learned since Monday.  But I knew, essentially, what these guys were saying. Players were yelling at their teammates because they did not defend well, yelling at the opponents disputing calls, exulting when they scored a goal, and leaving the court despondently when they had succumbed.  After a game concluded, in bounded the team that had called "winners." All fresh and ready to try and hold onto the court.

Unlike Cantiague there was a bit of a viewing area and a refreshment stand nearby.  Spectators were drinking beer as they watched. Sometimes the imbibing spectators were the same players who were waiting to play winners.

A few other differences.  The danger level in these Cantiague-Brazil games was great. The soccer balls were kicked with alarming velocity.  There was a fence surrounding the "pitch" but a couple of times I flinched as rocket soccer balls smashed into the fence near where I was standing.  The goaltenders made saves which made me wonder if they would still have fingers when they were done. Two players kicking the ball simultaneously made for the potential of some real injuries. While the yelling at Cantiague was not insignificant, these guys were yelling more.  Almost incessant squawking at their teammates for making plays deemed foolish by the squawker.

It is winter here, but it feels like those nights at the end of summer, where we teenagers who thought we could play, started in the early evening and might play under the lights until late into the nights at Cantiague.

Could not understand a word being uttered, barely understand the game, have no real clue about the strategy, can't tell how good these players are,  but I know this: this was Cantiague in Brazil.

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