I recall meeting Willie Negron years back at a high school basketball game in the Bronx. He sat in the last row and had a clipboard in his lap. He took notes and would later call a local or national college basketball coach.
“That kid has all the makings of being a big-time player soon,” Negron would say.
He said that about many talented basketball players that he saw. And those that did not move on to bigger and better would always stay in touch with their coach and mentor. There are so many to mention and so few he rarely saw on the court.
Sadly, today, we mourn the passing of Willie Negron. He was not a major icon in the world of hoops. But in New York City, the Bronx in particular, where he was known, Negron was an icon to them. He was in many ways a second father and they came to him for that guidance and support.
Thing is, Willie Negron never gloated about his talent to spot a rising star in the game. He never bragged about his knowledge of the game. He wasn’t a star on the court. He always had that ability to reach out and help youngsters to achieve their goals.
And to those that did not get to fulfill their dream, again too many to recollect, they made sure to keep in touch with their mentor. There was always a place for them to continue playing a game they loved, and Willie Negron made that possible.
And they played on all levels. They played organized basketball at local gyms and in college facilities that could accommodate the efforts Willie Negron set out to do.
He organized a Five Star Basketball Camp. It was all year round and provided that opportunity. College coaches, the major names including Rick Pitino and John Caipari were never hesitant and picked up the phone.
And up at Rose Hill, on the campus of Fordham University in the Bronx, Willie Negron was at courtside or in the last row at the oldest indoor college basketball arena in the country. He had the chart and prior to an undisclosed illness that made it difficult, Willie was observing players on the court.
A few here and there he knew that were playing for big time Atlantic-10 Conference schools.
Officials at Fordham, they never turned him down for a credential. They always made a few adjustments for Willie to utilize the Rose Hill Gym for a tournament or the adjacent Vince Lombardi Athletic center for tryouts.
“Willie was one of a kind,” said Joe Dibari, the longtime Sports Information Director of Fordham Athletics. “His knowledge and dedication to basketball was unmatched. He poured his all into the teams he coached, and I know there are a bunch of players out there who are better because of Willie. He will be missed.”
And it was done in the memory of his late brother, Robert ‘Surrob’ Negron to assist unheralded NYC players. They became The New York Lightning, no matter how good they were on the court. Negron did not care how much money he spent to make them better.
After locking in the Sonia Sotomayor Community Center in the South Bronx, a venue for a tournament, Wille Negorn said to yours truly, “I need you to be there for me and the teams. They will appreciate the exposure, They deserve the attention. I don’t”
Well, I was there. He had me sit by the bench as he coached the Willie All-Stars. The tournament did not draw many for a minimal admission. Again. Willie Negron expended his money from his job as a paraprofessional at James Monroe HIgh School in the Bronx.
The equipment, uniforms, travel were all out of the pocket. There were minimal sponsors. HIs brother, who also gave it a try at basketball and offered that to others, was always the lasting tribute.
“I want them to continue the legacy he left,” Negron said. “My brother is always here.”
And to them, to all, we were gifted to know and respect the mission. Willie Negron was for the kids, to those who wanted to continue playing the game they loved. It was never for him. It was for the community.
This was basketball, a game he loved. This was his legacy, and he had that gift to always succeed and gave that to others.
RIP Willie Negron and condolences to family, friends, and all the basketball players in New York that were fortunate to know him.
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