Al Stark, in addition to being one of the producers of Pomonok Dreams, ran the Night Center at PS 201 and a summer basketball league at the park back in the early 1970s. In 2009, he wrote an article about his love of basketball for the Queens Chronicle. With a couple of updates, here it is for your reading pleasure:
Basketball was a magical game when I was growing up in the early 1960s in Pomonok. Although most of my time was spent playing some incarnation of baseball, punch ball, stickball (pitching in or fungo style), stoop ball or even box baseball, there was something unique and mystifying about shooting and dribbling that made me gravitate toward the hardwood.
It all started when my father would take me to the old Madison Square Garden. After a Nedick’s hotdog and orange drink, we’d make our way through the smoke-filled lobby to see the Harlem Globetrotters with Meadowlark Lemon and Marques Haynes doing tricks with the ball that seemed impossible to replicate. After two choruses of “Sweet Georgia Brown”, I was hooked.
I became devoted to the game. I used to give my house key to the “parkie” at the P.S. 201 playground as collateral so I could borrow a ball. Sometimes I would even shovel the snow off the court to practice my hook shot and outside jumper, which I could never really master.
As I entered my teen years and my hair grew longer, my boundaries widened. Almost every summer it was off to Kutshers’ Country Club and Hotel in the Catskill Mountains for the Maurice Stokes Annual Charity Basketball Game. Basketball people know that Mo would have been one of the all-time greatest players in NBA history if not for the rare brain injury that damaged his motor control, but could never destroy his heart and soul. It was all about hanging out with Wilt, Chet “The Jet” Walker, Ray Scott, Walt Bellamy, Billy “The Kangaroo Kid” Cunningham, and the Van Arsdale brothers. And making believe we were part of their entourage.
The TV game of the week always seemed to showcase the Celtics and Lakers, with the ‘76ers thrown into the mix. But you could see the Knickerbockers anytime at the Garden with 50 cents and your GO card from school with players like Tom Hoover, Al Butler, Kenny Sears, Donnis Butcher, and Willie Naulls.
Now the game is global, but street ball magic remains prominent in any neighborhood on any kind of asphalt in any city or town. I miss the evenings at the Campbell Junior High Night Center. The full-court and three-on-three games at P.S. 201 when all we needed were the street lights on Kissena Boulevard to keep the run going all night long. I miss sneaking into the Queens College gymnasium to play whenever it was open – or until we got kicked out. I remember taking the G train from Continental Avenue in Forest Hills to Lost Battalion Hall in Rego Park, where one defeat could result in an hour wait before getting back on to the main court with the chain-link rims.
I wish I could have had some guidance. I wish I could have had some coaching so I could have perfected that outside jump shot. Maybe I could have been a backup small forward or defensive specialist and earned myself a spot on the bench of the 1969 John Bowne High School varsity basketball team.
I still get the urge to lace up my high-top Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers purchased at Central Sporting Goods on Jamaica Avenue, only a bus ride away on the Q25/34. But too many years have passed. I know my body and mind won’t think and react in the same way, or at the same time. I know that my hook shot will look ridiculous and the crowd will yell “air ball”.
But I’m blessed because I was able to pass my love of the game down to my son, Trevor, who now plays professional basketball in Israel. He wears the uniform that has my name on the back of his jersey and makes the shots I could never hit. Watching him always brings me back to the Pomonok days of choosing up sides and competing with a bunch of great guys who would eventually become life-long friends.