A FACE FROM THE PAST
memoire by Larry Lefkowitz
A Face From the Past
When Bill Bradley, former New York Nicks basketball player and former senator from New Jersy, announced on television a few years back that he was considering running for the Democratic nomination for president, my thoughts went back almost a half century before to a basketball court in the old Y.M.H.A. building on Stockton Street in Trenton, New Jersey.
There as a youth I played basketball on a small court which possessed a uniqueness that gave our Y team an advantage over every opposing team. The ceiling had been built (for some architectural or other reason) lower down on one side, which resulted in the basket on that side of the court having a lower space between it and the ceiling than the basket on the other side of the court.
Only a set shot with a flat trajectory had a chance of entering the net. (In those days the two-handed set shot made famous by Joe Fulks of the Philadelphia Warriors, a team based in the City of Brotherly Love, a mere thirty miles south.) We, as a result, became the best flat set shooters in New Jersey and, who knows, the world. Many a game, otherwise lost, was won when the opposing team's arched shots bounced harmlessly off the ceiling in ridiculous, if not risible, angles.
In addition to the Y team, the Y ran an intramural basketball league, and that year our team "The Spartans", lead by Jack Haveson, the Joe Fulks of the flat trajectory set shot, won the league championship. We were to receive small individual trophies bearing witness to each player's contribution to this feat at the annual father-and-son banquet held by the Y.
The master-of-ceremonies of that banquet was my father, who served in the same capacity at Bar Association dinners and other functions. The guest of honor at our banquet was a young basketball player from Princeton University (situated ten miles north of Trenton) named Bill Bradley.
Most of the guests of honor at those father-and-son banquets were venerable baseball players whom our fathers knew of, but we had barely heard of, if we had heard of them at all. Such as "Chief Bender", a quandom pitcher with the Philadelphia Athletics. We dutifully asked these players for their autographs, while we dreamed of receiving those of Pee Wee Reese or Willy Mays. (Today, older as he was then, I have a greater appreciation of the Chief.)
Following the banquet, as we drove home in the car, I clutching proudly my small trophy with the gild-colored player, my father said, "What a nice guy that Bill Bradley is to have come from Princeton to attend a small Y function."
I hadn't seen Bill Bradley close-up since, until I saw him on television announcing his considering throwing his hat into the presidential ring. The old basketball court where he appeared as guest of honor no longer exists. Nor the basket at one end of the court which even the Bill Bradley of then, and perhaps even the Bill Bradley of greater basketball skill afterwards, would have had difficulty putting a set shot into. Compared to which, throwing your hat into a ring - even a presidential one - is comparatively easy, though you are less certain of winning the game.