This week, lots of fans will wax nostalgic about the end of what we know as The Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. With the conference being split effectively in two, the event will carry on, but with some new names and faces. Some of the sport’s greatest rivalries will disappear into the mist.
A big part of what got The Big East going in the 1980’s was the play of the locals, not just the student-athletes who lifted area basketball to new heights at schools like St. John’s and Seton Hall, but those who came from the playgrounds and the streets of New York to help other programs sky. Pearl Washington at Syracuse, Kenny Smith at North Carolina, Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld at Tennessee, all part of a hoops culture that superseded New York and helped make college basketball what it is today.
One of those playgrounds that helped raise those young people to new heights was in the Rockaways. The legendary St. Francis de Sales basketball courts, both indoors and outdoors, were home to some of the biggest names in the game who would migrate to the beach each summer. Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, Brian Winters, Dick McGuire, the list goes on and on and continues every year. Like Rucker Park or West 4th Street, the best of the best found their way to Rockaway.
For a while it looked like all that would be changed last fall, when Super Storm Sandy devastated the courts and the gym at the legendary school, blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. The courts were covered in sand, flood waters destroyed uniforms and families lost everything.
But those in Rockaway are as tough as the courts that they have played on, and they have started to work their way back to a sense of normalcy. That will be true as well on the basketball courts this summer, thanks to a donation by the hoops brand AND1 that was announced this week. The grassroots company will donate apparel for the almost 1,000 kids who play on the summer league, and also put up some cash to help start a fund to re-finish the outside courts which are vital to the neighborhood and are a lifeline to young rising stars from all over the area.
“There are few communities anywhere in the country where basketball is so tightly woven into its fabric than the Rockaways, and there are even fewer legendary summer programs than those at St. Francis de Sales,” said Maurice Levy, Marketing Director for AND1 in a statement. “This donation of apparel and seed money will be a good step towards helping heal a community on the rebound, where basketball is so important. AND 1 has always been about using the game as a metaphor to never give up in life, and we believe that mantra mirrors the values of the hoops culture of The Rockaways. By working together, we can help some very deserving basketball campers and their hard-working families.”
That sentiment was not lost on one of the key links from hoops past to hoops future, a name synonymous with New York basketball, especially this time of year as the Big East rolls into town. The name is Mullin, Terence to be exact, a part of basketball royalty in New York, one whose family took to these courts as well as the one at MSG, on their way up the hoops ladder.
“St. Francis is the backbone of the community in the Rockaways, but it is also the summer basketball home for everyone from Dick McGuire and Julius Erving to Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson and thousands of young people who play on these courts from morning until night every day,” Mullin, also a St. John’s former point guard and camp director and coach for St. Francis de Sales said. “This assist by AND 1, a brand that has always understood the power of a basketball culture, will give us a much needed boost as our kids return to the courts and the youth programs this summer. They understand the value of keeping kids active through a sport like basketball, and now we will again have the ability to do that.”
The $5,000 in seed money will jumpstart a brand new campaign with a goal to raise $100,000 to fully restore the damaged grounds and basketball courts. AND1 will provide uniforms for the participants in the summer league program which tip-off in June. It is a great example of the hoops community banding together to help each other, much like the lift one would get from taking a charge in pickup ball near the beach, or in sitting with friends and watching the college stars of yesteryear battling it out for supremacy in the best basketball conference in the country.
So while the sport goes through this transition from past to future, the summer playgrounds that spawned so many stars will be going through some changes as well, with the help of a rebounding grassroots brand and the hard work of local community leaders, all determined to keep a tradition alive and the game moving forward.
More information on the St. Francis de Sales summer basketball programs and its fund raising, visit: http://www.stfranciddesales.kintera.org/.