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505Growing up

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  • Stanley Levin
    Feb 18, 2010

                                   GROWING UP - by Stan Levin


      At the age of thirteen, or, fourteen I played basketball for the55th street Police precinct in the Police Athletic League. We wore fancy yellow basketball uniforms with navy numbers on the back. A patrolman named Mr. O’Neill, one of the organizers of the League, would pick me up in his bright red police car and take me to the game of the day. Games were usually played at a high school gym in different precincts around the city. I was a starter and played well, but for some reason I quit the team. After playing a few games, I told Mr. O’Neill I no longer wanted to play. He could not understand why as I had no real explanation and tried to convince me to keep playing for the team. I remember the last game I played at a facility named Father Divine Hall in a “tough” black neighborhood. In the balcony we were constantly booed. I was a young teen, felt menaced and I think that experience influenced me to quit the team, a fact I apparently was ashamed to tell Mr. O’Neill.


      As a young teen I acted self assured but apparently lacked self confidence and in particular determination.

      I was considered an excellent basketball player in the school yard arena, playing and competing with established college and high school stars on a regular basis. Yet, when I made the basketball team in high school as a freshman, I quit the team because I wasn’t on the starting five. Instead of striving to prove myself and earning a starting position I made a snap decision to quit, no discussion with coach or anyone, just quit. This was a bad pattern of behavior that was not in my best self interest. I was totally unaware of this negative behavior at this point in time.


      In 1948 I was chosen to play in the Narberth independent summer league on the West Philadelphia team. The coaches Ralph Gamble and Joe Tomlin apparently had been made aware of my ability playing in the school yard in West Philadelphia . The league consisted of all established well known college  stars, including Paul Arizen who was the star on my team. Arizen eventually became a star player in the NBA and was named to the professional hall of fame. I must have had some talent or I never would have been selected to be on the team.


      The first game I played in I was assigned to start the game. The coach wanted to see how I would perform being guarded by a player named Cecil Mosenson who played for Overbrook High and Temple U. He later became coach of that team and was the coach of the immortal Wilt Chamberlain.


      As the game started I had the ball in my hands and made a move that faked Mosenson out of position. I drove to the center of the court, leaped up and had a clear shot at the basket. Usually I would make a shot like that nine out of ten times but this time I shot the ball too hard and missed. Soon after, the five best players came on the court and I sat the rest of the game on the bench.


      My friend, Joe Schimmel, an excellent player who was in the stands as a spectator, came to me after the game and said “I thought you were going to make that shot”. I felt inept and said “so did I”.


      I can’t help thinking if I had made that shot it would have instilled the confidence I needed when playing before a crowd, which I was not accustomed to. Possibly I would have been permitted more playing time. Although that one missed shot was in 1948, it must have been significant to me as I remembered it 60 years later when writing my memoir. I was the youngest player on the team, the tenth man in line, with the least amount of experience playing at a team level. I should have been proud to be on the team. I did not realize I would have further developed my skills by being exposed to experienced players had I been more patient. Unfortunately for me that was not my mind set.


      In the next game I was again a starter and was matched up against Marty Zippel who played professionally for the Wilkes Barre Barons. I did feel honored to be playing against him but only played a few minutes before I went back to the bench. Again, I should have been elated to compete with these established stars and to better learn the fine points of the game. I, without discussion quit the team after only two games because I thought I wasn’t playing enough. College coaches scouted this league. I did have a friend who had the stick to it quality and received a college scholarship to Gettysburg for basketball.


      As I look back at that police league experience and other basketball playing opportunities that I allowed to elude me I feel certain the void in my sports activity life was the absence of a mentor to push me to be a team competitor. This might have given me more self confidence.


      An absence of determination and inability to communicate with the coach or anyone who might have been able to shape my thinking in a positive direction was a bad pattern of behavior. Where did this behavior come from? Was I embarrassed to sit on the bench although playing amongst established stars? I think so. Was it possible I subconsciously thought I wouldn’t make it? I don’t know. I do know in the school yards I played with supreme confidence with skilled, more mature players. I think I probably may have been initially too nervous to play in front of a crowd. What I didn’t know then, and know now, everyone who first starts to play has the same feelings until they get into the game. I became aware of this fact many years later when I read in a sports column that the great basketball star, Bill Russell usually threw up from nerves before every game. And, he was a great player in college and in the pros. Also, many years later I had discussed this phenomena of mine with Hook Wallace, a high school and college basketball star in the nineteen forties. He told me the feelings I had in front of a crowd were natural and would go away once the game begins. I probably would have been able to overcome my negative feelings if I had further confided in someone that could have been a helpful mentor. Talent undeveloped is an unfortunate story. At the time, long ago, I didn’t know it.


      Excellent reflexes, good hand - eye coordination and agility in movement are not skills that are teachable. I had a “feel” for the basket and was a very capable shot maker for that era of nineteen forties basketball which was a much slower moving game than it is in the modern era. A person either has it or doesn’t have it. I did have the inherent skills but never allowed myself to have the patience to become a team coachable player. My athletic skills served me well in sports participation on an individual level throughout my life. At the age of seventy I was still shooting basketballs on the court of my Moorestown property. I still had a variety of shots including left handed “hook” shots.


      My regret is I never became a player in a team sport. I would never know how far my basketball abilities might have taken me if furthered developed under a coach’s tutelage.


      My track record as a quitter because I told myself I wasn’t getting enough playing time was too extensive and certainly was a bad pattern.


      I quit the Police League at the age fourteen, quit the high school team at the age of sixteen, quit the Narberth League at the age of seventeen, quit a team in the Brith Sholom League at the age of eighteen. And even quit the tryout after two sessions of practice on my college team at the age of twenty three. Playing on all those teams should have been an opportunity for me. Either I lacked the drive to prove myself or couldn’t face the possibility that maybe I wasn’t as talented as I thought, certainly not as an organized team player. I remember being annoyed t myself when I witnessed competing on my high school team, and college team, that I easily outclassed playing against them in our schoolyard games. But, they had the necessary stick to it attitude that was missing in me.


      The only time I did not quit a basketball team was when I played on a team in the army while in basic training. In that scenario I was determined to play.  By competing well on the army team it enabled me to avoid K.P. (kitchen police). It also gave me the rare opportunity to be independent of drill instructors, even if only for an hour or two. Quitting was not an option in the army. My two years of service enabled me to learn to face situations and not be a quitter.

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