Swish! A high-arching, elegant jumper from the right hand corner. All net. It was Hank Magaha’s favorite shot. He was 6 feet, 2 inches of bronze muscle who could make shots from just about anyplace inside the half-court line. He was a Chicago street ball legend.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I learned to love playing basketball when I was about 12. At first it was a pastime. It quickly became a passion. Living in a tiny two-bedroom basement apartment with my mother, four sisters, and an aunt, not only did I love the game, it was my Great Escape.
Every day after school, I’d dash home, do my chores and homework, lace up my $12 Maxwell Street Converse Allstars, then walk the half mile to the Howland School basketball court. When I got there, there was always the same big guy at the wrought iron gate. His job was to take your money. After school this was Imperial Chaplain turf, and if you didn’t pay, you didn’t get in.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that I shouldn’t bring more than a dime with me. The big guy would take the dime (sometimes a nickel), play-slap me on the head, and shove me in. Little did he know I would have paid him a month’s lunch money to get in just one afternoon. That’s how much I loved to play the game.
There was always a full-court game on before I got there, and a bunch of guys waiting to play against the winner. As a new kid, skinny too, I didn’t get picked to play too often at first. Over time, as my play got better, I got picked more often. Through my banter with the big guy and others, they got to know me. Eventually, most of them befriended me.