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Hallowed ground

The following two excerpts are taken from Inside the Cage: A Season at West 4th Street's Legendary Tournament, published earlier this year by Simon Spotlight Entertainment:

Nobody at West 4th Street in New York City is famous.

No one is rich.

No one is important.

Or influential.

Or politically connected.

But a summer basketball tournament has been going on down here for over twenty-five years, and the same guy who started the tournament is still running it. His name is Kenny Graham. He is fifty years old and he drives a limo for a living. He spends almost half the year in Rio de Janeiro and speaks excellent Portuguese. New York City and the Department of Parks and Recreation give him no assistance with his program. They probably never will.

But his summer tournament is known to basketball insiders around the world. Professional scouts come here from Europe. PlayStation, the giant computer game producer, features the West 4th Street Cage in its hottest video basketball games. Nike is selling a BattleGrounds line of clothing and footwear featuring the Cage logo. The recent book Hoops Nation (1998), by Chris Ballard, evaluated over one thousand public courts for the quality of their pickup games. The Cage was ranked first, the best there is. This is no ordinary playground ...

Nike's new BattleGrounds merchandise line has gotten at least one thing right: West 4th Street is a battleground. All battlegrounds are sacred places. That is why we remember them so well, and that is why we revisit them. Battlegrounds are where fates are determined, lives are changed, and often, people rise to new levels. People can be perfected here. The Cage at West 4th Street is hallowed ground -- for all the right reasons.


***



Wight Martindale Jr. devotes a chapter to former Lehigh basketball star Bobby Willis' efforts to continue playing professional basketball.

Bobby Willis played in Portugal last winter, but his franchise has folded. Now he just hustles, hoping to improve his game and get a tryout somewhere. There are lots of Bobby Willises out there.

"This life is brutal," Willis says. "Guys like me will go anywhere to play where we think someone may notice us. We live very humbly. I live at home because I can't afford an apartment. After all, I have no income. And I really don't have an agent. At this level it is hard to get an effective agent. Mostly, we're all just scrambling, networking where we can."

At a practice session being held at John Jay College near the end of the summer, Willis revealed the life of an undrafted, unrepresented prospect. "A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a workout run by the Washington Wizards. While I was there I ran into a guy who had driven himself to Washington all the way from Houston. He had no more than twenty minutes' playing time on the floor, working out in front of an assistant coach of the Washington Wizards. He finished his workout, took a shower, got back in his car, and drove all the way back home. Nothing came of it. But that's what you do. I'd do the same thing."


Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Fall 2005

Posted on Monday, October 17, 2005

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