Mendel Letters 60 — “Y” Basketball
I was never quite good enough as an athlete to make a school team. At JHS 82 I made the first cut when I tried out for the softball team because I was a decent outfielder, but I couldn’t hit well enough. In my first year at Bronx Science, I made the junior “scrubs” on the cross-country team, but practices were at Van Cortlandt Park and it was too difficult to get home from there by subway. Anyway, I preferred playing basketball for the Concourse YMHA junior team with my friend Richie Ross. The old Jewish Y was on the Concourse near 167th.
Richie was definitely a better player than me and he always started as a scoring forward. He also played baseball for the Taft High School team.
Our “Y” basketball team played a very structured game. If you didn’t follow the rules, you sat down. I’ve been the same height, six-feet-tall, since I was 14 and played down low in a double-pivot. Our point guard, his nickname was Bobo, brought up the ball, and he was the only one allowed to dribble. When Bobo got to the forecourt he had two options. He could pass to one of the wingmen, the other guard or the scoring forward, who were allowed to take a jump shot or drive to the basket. Richie would usually drive and then hook the ball up over a taller defender. Bobo’s other option was to pass the ball to one of the low-post players and we would pass the ball back out to one the designated shooters. We were not allowed to shoot.
After passing we were supposed to pivot to the basket for a possible rebound on a missed shot. The only time the pivots were permitted to shoot was if we secured an offensive rebound, so we were tigers on the backboard. On defense we played “zone” rather than “man-to-man,” which meant we guarded an area, not a specific person.
My best game occurred one day when I was pretty sick. I woke up with a 102-degree fever and downed a couple of Dristan tablets before heading to the Y. By the time I got there I couldn’t feel anything. I dominated the backboards that day and scored 12 points, my all-time high, before fouling out.
I dreamed this was the start of my basketball career but then tragedy hit — I stopped growing. When I tried out for the Y senior team the next year, the low post players were 6’2” or 6’4” and not as skinny as I was. I didn’t have the ball-handling or shooting skills to play in the backcourt and once again, I couldn’t make the cut.
I lost track of Richie after that and the YMHA closed in 1980 as the neighborhood became less Jewish.
Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.
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