Uncle Slappy called last night to talk basketball. The New York Knicks have just hired professional basketball’s winning-est coach giving that woe-begone franchise its first glimmer of real hope in a long time. Further, college basketball’s March Madness is in full fury, and you can hardly turn on the Boob Tube without seeing a bunch of black men in shorts doing amazing athletic feats.
Truth be told, Uncle Slappy’s been a basketball fan since the game was dominated by a team called the Philadelphia Sphas. The Sphas won 11 championships in 17 years in the old Eastern Basketball League and its successor league, the American Basketball League.
In those segregated days, basketball was dominated by Jews and, in fact, the name “Spha” stood for “South Philadelphia Hebrew Association.” Their team was manned by such stalwarts as Harry Litwack, Cy Kasselman, Irv Torgoff, Max Posnack and Red Klotz. Perhaps to drive home the point, their away uniforms said “Hebrews” across their chests and both their home and away uniforms, of course, were adorned with the Jewish six-pointed star.
Uncle Slappy grew up during the era when a guy my height (6’2”) would qualify as a center and a two-handed set shot was a legitimate offensive weapon. Like a lot of fans from that era, part of him still believes that today’s players, for all their prodigious athletic gifts, have nothing on the plodding Jews of yore.
“I wish,” he began the call “the Knicks could bring Red Holzman back, along with Phil Jackson,” he said.
“He was a great coach,” I admitted. He had, after all, led the Knicks to both of their championship seasons.
“Jackson was wild when he was a player, what with the long hair and the bell bottoms.”
“But he was quite a ballplayer,” I moderated.
“Everything was crazy in those days. Hippies, Drugs and the Women’s Lubrication Movement.”
I said nothing for a good minute, and he waited me out.
Finally, I said “Say goodnight, Uncle Slappy.”
He’s done this before and he did it again. “Goodnight, Uncle Slappy.”