Thursday, January 28, 2016

January 28, 2016--Shooting Hoops With Bernie

I knew there was something familiar about him. More than the Brooklyn accent and all the shrugging and Yiddish hand gestures.

And then it struck me.

Toward the end of Monday's Democratic town meeting, Bernie Sanders, egged on by moderator Chris Cuomo, spoke about his athletic days. How when at Madison High School he was on the track team and earlier, at PS 197, he was the center on their basketball team.

"Oh my God," I said to Rona, "Now I know where I know him."

"This should be good." She rolled her eyes.

"No, really, I went to PS 244 in East Flatbush and he went to PS 197 in Midwood, just down Kings Highway. They were our arch rivals. In fact, in the mid-50s we played against them for the PSAL Brooklyn Basketball Championship."

"Really?" I nodded, "And?"

"And, we lost. We came in second."

"You really remember him?"

"Not all that specifically, to tell you the truth. But before the championship game, our coach, Burt Ludwig, told us what to expect. He said, the main threat was their center." Looking over at me, he continued, "He's very tall. Like you. And moves well. He's also very aggressive so expect to get pounded a lot. Especially when fighting for rebounds."

"I can handle him," I said, more reflexively than from genuine self-confidence.

In truth, my main asset was that I was so tall. An overgrown 14-year-old. Already six-four. Though I was underweight and poorly coordinated. But I was scrappy. I didn't mind exchanging elbows under the backboards.

I grew up hearing the calumny that though Jews might be smart, we were not street-tough. That's why so many of us perversely admired the remnants of the Murder Incorporated gang, a gang of more-than-tough Jews who operated out of a candy store in Brownsville. Walking distance from where I grew up.

So, I was committed to the mantra, Never Again. Never again would Jews submit to violent antisemitism and this got played out in sports.

There were a number of Jewish boxing champions, including Max Baer and Jake LaMatta, and footballers such as Sid Luckman. Also baseball stars including Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax; as well as more than a few basketball heroes. Dolph Schayes, Red Auerbach, and Nat Holman come to mind.

And then there were Bernie Sanders of PS 197 and not-so-little Stevie Zwerling of PS 244.

The rest is Brooklyn legend.

Though we won the semifinal game fairly easily, with Bernie pushing me around while fighting for rebounds, they killed us and then went on to win the city and state championships.

(See the team picture below from the Brooklyn Eagle of, as they put it, the borough's "second best" team.)

So, Hillary, if you think you're running against mister-nice-guy, think again and watch out for those elbows.

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