This was the first lesson of Lexington Basketball. At every basketball camp he instructed that we attended sacrificially as children would always say this first. “Practice makes permanent not perfect.”
It made perfect sense. Your practice habits had to be fundamentally sound. Before I started a gang, I had basketball, I had General Hospital on daytime and I had these basketball camps in which the Big Guy contended that “Rollie” was the only friend you needed. “If your ugly like Coach Mumford, so what, if you’re a loser like Brinklow and people don’t like to be around you, so what, if you smell funny, so what? If you don’t get invited to parties, or your family doesn’t have money to send you away to fancy summer places, so what, if you think your alone your not, why don’t you give time to poor Rollie for Pete’s sake.” And his voice would end that little intro on such a nice little bow tie of a tone from such a big man that it calmed me to no end. I knew it was true.
“You see this, Rollie.”
And he’d pick up any nearby orange basketball. “Rollie doesn’t care who you know, what you look like, or where your from, he just wants to come back to you. He always does.” He’d then drop the basketball on the ground proving his point as it popped back into his hands. “Unbelievable.” He’d always say in one word thus solving my biggest problem. And then he’d begin dribbling Rollie with either hand and pick his standard day 1st of camp speech back up. It never gets old
“Here he is, Rollie, the only person that always comes back to you no matter how you screw up.” And he’d pick up his dribble, “Who can tell me who we name Rollie after?” Hands darted up.
“Yo Horwitz who?” Horowitz was a Coach Farias favorite. He looked like Lucas (movie FN) with the coke bottles and “video smart” looks. The kid would light up and answer a question that every kid in camp knew. And in his cute kid tone, “Rollie Massimino was a former Lexington high school coach who went on to coach the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA championship at Villanova against the Georgetown Hoyas in 1985.”
“That’s right Horowitz, Rollie, former Lexington coach, big timer, that’s our basketball program, and that gives you an idea of some of the greatness that has come through here. So you bounce Rollie on his head and he always comes back, no matter what, you leave him outside, stuff him in the garage, it doesn’t matter he’s always happy to see you. What other friends do you have like that?” He’d proposition the question before again going back to Horwitz, “Hey Horowitz!” He nodded in his direction and the kids face like many of us in camp, remained glowing. “This is what I want you to do tonight. OK, go home grab your wife.”
“But coach!” His squeaky voice elevated over all else. “I’m too young to have a wife.” He was confused and the Big Guy never broke stride. “OK, that’s good cause I don’t want married campers in here. “
“OK, so no wife OK Horowitz, we’ll use your mother. You got a mother don’t you?” “Yeah I got a mother.” The kid would say proving it to himself. Horwitz seems retarded with his face, I mean he’s the brunt of this joke every summer and you think he would’ve picked up by now.
“OK, Horwitz I want you to go home tonight and try to bounce your mother on her head and then kick in her the face.” The camp laughs. “OK” Horwitz chuckled. “See if she comes back to you, but Rollie?” And then he would again kick him, retrieve and bounce, demonstrate what was true. “He always comes back to you.” Coach Farias was a big man with brunt toughness of a football player and the finesse and charm of a hardwood Houdini. In the eighties he was at least two fifty lb’s. “And that’s why Rollie is your best friend, and if you work hard you can be as good at this game as you want to be. “OK but its not just Rollie, whose your other best friend?” And the whole camp chanted back, “Stan!”
Cont. “That’s right everyone forgets about good old Stan. Stan of course named after another legendary Astori basketball coach Stan Boitan. Stan won back to back state titles right here at Astori high, and because of that, and many, many more reasons that is what we call the rim in Astori, Stan. OK, now Stan is another best friend you might not know you have. Now Stan stands out there all winter long with no one to play with. You and Rollie, hopefully is inside with you, in front of the fireplace, watching TV. Meanwhile!” His voice echoed throughout the gymnasium. “You got poor Stan, his face is icing up, he hasn’t seen anyone in months, he’s covered in snow, you can barely see him, up there freezen to death.” And he would quite grandly point to many of the campers mesmerized by his hoops ode to a ball and a rim.
Cont. “Good old Stan, cause when the weather gets nice, and you and Rollie go back outside he’s right there ready to play! He doesn’t complain that you hadn’t gone to see him once in months. He doesn’t complain that you left him to freeze while Rollie was up in your room all winter. He’s happy to see you, he’s your best friend, right there all for you! It’s solely in your hands. Rollie and Stan, it’s unbelievable.” And then he’d tie it all in.
“Ok Horwitz tonight after you go home and try and bounce your motha off her head and kick her in the face, try throwing her outside with Stan in the ice and snow. Horwitz you think she’s comen back? You think your getting lunch, lunch money tomorrow?” Horwitz’s head bolted back and forth. And then his peripheral vision would catch a camper, a new younger camper breaking another cardinal rule, sitting on a basketball. He’d whistle that “coach” whistle and loudly say, “hey!” In the violator’s direction before asking his timeless, “would you sit on a violin? No you wouldn’t you never ever sit on a basketball just like you wouldn’t a violin.” In our life’s this is what was sacred and none of us no matter our dementia ever sat on a basketball.
“Practice makes permanent.”
Proving once again that life lessons and sports lesson are as transparent as gambling, bookies, brokers and clients . So I might have been nothing short of an ADD riddled, corner cutting white kid acting black but I played basketball the way it was supposed to be played. We all did, it was the only way it was played in Astori.
Our freshman basketball team was off to an undefeated start. And even though I didn’t start the sting was taken out by our wins following a similar pattern of Santo and I always coming off the bench to capture a lead we so far had retained 5 times in a row. Mike started, and even though we were two of the smaller kids at the high school his handle is why Lloyd Mumford used to call him “Magic,” that and it was the eighties. Mike could dribble with his head up, with both hands at a fast pace. Goldy started at the two, with Kevin at the three, and TR and Wells at the four and five. Clarke Junior High had two starters and Diamond, the other three. Santo and I from Clarke came in off the bench, Lamont too.
Through it all I have worked harder than ever on my game. I played defense at a high level. The varsity was now ranked number #19 in the state according to the latest Boston Globe poll. I wanted the varsity to be successful during my high school tenure before it. Globe “ink” made all other aspects of the program want to work harder. We all wanted to be a part of the program’s success on any level. It’s what we worked our whole lives for, basketball. Basketball was king in our small town, a packed gym of two thousand fans from the community made you a king for a night.
check the 1:55 mark of this vid