BALL SIDE MIDDLE

As told to the NBA Retired Players Association...

JANUARY 26, 2021

A Game Grows in Brooklyn

By Peter Vecsey

After being interviewed last week by Craig Boothe regarding his documentary ‘Ball Side Middle,’ I decided to bequeath him today’s space.

Boothe, who proudly possesses a journalism degree, explains where he came from and what he wants the doc to achieve.

Below are the 33 players, many household names, who expanded on their schoolyard, high school and college reputations by joining NBA rosters for a year, part thereof or much more. The accounts, assessments and stories regarding their games are the upshot of what I’ve seen over the years or been told in the last 24 hours.

“As a young man growing up in Brooklyn, I was introduced to the game of basketball at the age of seven,” Boothe begins. “The place was Flatbush, home of fabled Foster Park, which was highlighted in “Heaven is a Playground,” a book written in 1976 by Rick Telander. It received national acclaim and was considered one of President Obama’s favorite reads.

“Early on,” Boothe continues, “I was attracted to the game’s demanding competition and was fortunate to travel throughout the boroughs while representing a P.A.L. team until 11. At 12, my life radically changed, as I was bussed from my predominately black neighborhood to Roy H. Mann Junior High. Numerous young black teens experienced the same plight as they sometimes were attacked, or had to run for their lives in these communities of hate.

“High school was no different, as I was bussed from East New York, Brooklyn to South Shore High School, in the Canarsie neighborhood. Despite the daily racial episodes, many of us who traveled from East New York, Brownsville and Bedford Stuyvesant, focused on basketball. It became our gift. The gift of distraction and survival! The gift that kept giving! We learned under duress and through commitment to contend and thrive at the highest level.

“From the period of 1974-86, Brooklyn, by all versions and visions, was considered the world’s epicenter of basketball. During this time, we produced some of the top high school teams in the country, Lafayette (1974-‘75), Canarsie (1975-‘76), Boys and Girls High School (1978-‘79), Nazareth High School (1978-‘79), Xaverian High School (1980-‘81) and Alexander Hamilton (1980-‘81).

“Albert King led the way early in the decade. He was named national Player of the Year in 1976-‘77, and was a 3-time All-America. Chris Mullin, Class of ‘81 and Pearl Washington, Class of ‘83 became McDonald’s All-Americans as well.

“Brooklyn’s greatest accomplishment during this cross-over decade was the 32 players who made NBA teams. With all of this success, history somehow skipped over that outstanding era. There was very little film documentation of this rousing realization.

“As someone who played and was intimately involved during this era, I fervently feel now the time is ripe to transmit the story. A story crammed with challenges and adversity young black males confronted. A story about how the gift of basketball existed for all to seize, and how it shielded many from drugs, gangs, racism and socio-economic environments designed for us to fail,” Boothe emphasizes.

“Ball Side Middle is a drill learned by many of us in Brooklyn, in my case, St. John’s Recreational Center. It metaphorically describes how the ball saved our lives. The side were our supporters. In the middle is where it remains in our core.

“The documentary is a four-part series that escorts viewers through our Brooklyn journey. As the narrator, storyteller and executive producer, I have been blessed to partner with James Rapelyea, filmmaker and editor, as well as Melanie Boothe and Eric Short, assistant producers. Our passionate project is scheduled for completion in early spring of 2021.

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