I recently thought to myself how lucky a young man I was coaching was to have such a supportive family. It made me think of a few people I wanted to thank for their support of my early years as a player.
My grandmother Nora Efferen (Nono to us) who always encouraged my basketball and introduced me to the park where I honed my game.
To the “wrong element” who harassed pretty much everyone else who entered “their” park but for some reason chose to give me a free pass.
To the NYPD Bomb Squad detective I only knew as Brian who always made time to encourage and praise me when everyone else criticized the “kid.” He also made time to teach at the end of our games despite his commitment to his job and his two young daughters suffering from childhood cataracts.
To the Syracuse University guy who always used to drop by the playground and teach me things like the jab step. I never knew how important footwork was at that moment, but your lessons are still fresh in my head.
To everyone in the Queensbridge projects who saw my love for the playground game. Your harassment made me tougher, your bullying steeled my will and eventually you accepted me as one of your own when my playing did my talking.
To my Uncle Jack who always wanted to hear about my game. He would watch me play on the Stuyvesant Town Courts until half an hour after dark. No matter how poorly I played, Uncle Jack only saw the moments of brilliance. Uncle Jack taught me by example. Forgiveness, family, leadership, and humility.
To my Grandfather Pop who taught me integrity was not about who is watching- it is inside.
To John Wooden- who wrote Practical Modern Basketball. It was my bible for many years and the dog eared copy still holds a dear place in my heart and home. I have read that book over 100 times.
To my college roommate and teammate Jim McCloskey who showed me kindness and friendship.
To everyone who told me I would never, never become a player. I don’t want to sound harsh, but the truth is I thought of you while I was practicing on the courts alone. You actually did make me better. At the risk of sounding like a bad sport- I enjoyed beating most of you. For those of you I never did beat… are you still playing? As we get older we come to realize the value of rivals. Thank you.
To the NYC Subway. While others from my neighborhood remained trapped by their minds…you took me away to the finest competition in the world, Rucker, West Fourth, Flatbush, Lost Battalion, Rockaway, Stuyvesant Town. Cunningham Park, and Central Park. No internet back then, a lot of trips would yield no game but just info on when the next game might be.
To my little brother who was always there for me and now is raising a little athlete of his own. You always had the athleticism, I had the love… your son has both.
To the old guys who let me play with them on Sunday mornings at Bush Park. Most of your games aged relatively gracefully. I wish you were around to tell me how you did it…I am struggling.
To All Of You – THANK YOU!