Inside the front lobby of the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Community Center in the Rosedale section of the Bronx, Willie Negron waits patiently with a net of basketballs, uniforms and energy drinks. He is the owner, GM and coach of a semi pro basketball team that carries a lot of responsibility.
“I am carrying out a commitment to my late brother,” Negron explains about his New York Lightning semi pro basketball team that participates in the Elite Basketball League. The team is dedicated to the memory of Willie’s brother Robert “Surrob” Negron, who passed away in 2010 and also to Lightning player Paul Flowers who passed away in the past year.
For Negron, a school aide by day and employed by the NYC Department of Education at nearby James Monroe High School, basketball is everything and so was his brother. So it was appropriate that he lived the dream.
You can also see Negron attending various high school basketball games and at courtside for home games at Fordham University, Lehman College and Manhattan College.
Yes, it is his love but the Lightning is his first bolt that provides strength and gives players another, and perhaps final opportunity at stardom in the NBA or other professional basketball leagues around the globe.
Thursday night the Sotomayor center was reserved for Negron. His roster is comprised of former high school and college talent and they travel extensive miles from the tri-state area. Negron pays fees to the Elite league and for practice time at Fordham and other courts when available, and there is no funding except for selling of candy.
There is a student trainer he recruits for games that will tend to an injury or two and of course Negron has a fee to pay licensed officials. A mission to get a permanent home court at the Fordham Rose Hill Gym, or the Lehman Apex Center is that final bolt that Negron is trying to achieve for the Lightning.
In the meantime they continue and play organized league games. The crowd is minimal, there are no admission fees to watch the Lightning and information is distributed in the website http://www.nylightningbasketball.com/
On this night as his guys suited up for their game against Bronx Holy Storm. Negron was giving last minute directions. There is no game plan because practices are limited at the Lehman College Apex Center, Fordham Lomardi Gym and the Stuy Dome in Brooklyn.
But these are basketball players and they know the game
“I love the game, Love Willie the passion and commitment,” said Andre Martin. The 6 ft. guard at 26-years of age played college ball at FIT in Manhattan and is employed as a teacher for kids with special needs at a Bronx school. He is aware that the Lightning is that one last opportunity as time marches on.
There are so many opportunities that are limited in the game. The Lightning offers that chance and Martin has that philosophy to continue until the body says no more. Of course, Negron is there to assist players with his numerous contacts in the game that include scouts and personnel from professional leagues.
The overall goal is to keep this team running and keeping afloat so that more like Martin get that opportunity to continue.
Martin would score 20 points and Tyrone Mitchell, a 6-2 guard from Mount Vernon also scored 20. There was no game clock or dressing facilities and the guys ran the ball as the final and unofficial seconds clicked down before the Lightning came away with a tight 81-78 win.
During timeouts, Negron sat in a chair or kneeled down to provide some direction and no plays were devised. It was basketball and his players enjoyed their time on the court and all got playing time.
“Never stop living the dream,” said Anthony Baker a point guard from the Bronx. And for Willie Negron and the New York Lightning that puts it all in perspective about continuing a quest no matter how long or difficult the task.
After those final seconds clicked off the clock there was no time to celebrate. Without a proper home court setting they quickly took away the chairs at court side and dimmed the lights. It was time to go home as Negron discussed the outcome with some of his players and digested a bad call that almost cost his team.
The players scattered to their homes in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and most by mass transit.
“It’s all about the effort and a good cause,” said Negron. The next home game for the New York Lightning is set but the venue is not. That final bolt for Negron is hopefully nearing in and for the moment the legacy continues for his brother and the dream goes on for his players.
Comment Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso