The Day After…MLK

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke and died over non-violence, yet society was not ready for that message then.

The day after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. died on that fateful Thursday evening in April, the world needed non-violence while the basketball game played on; now we’re getting called to sit in (if we want to call it that) and the games have stopped. Times haven’t changed much, or have they?

The Friday after the assassination, the world was stunned and shattered, yet the sports page read like another day heralding the first game in a playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers, the reigning champions, taking on the Boston Celtics, the dynasty. An article in The Philadelphia Inquirer had Coach Alex Hannum talking about the psychology of influencing the fans as they were unphased by the events being played out in real life and were gearing up to fight the greatest rivalry in professional sports in their day.

“You want a boisterous crowd at home” Hannum continued, “It intimidates the officials. I don’t consider that immoral. The crowd needs someone to hate.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 5, 1968: “Coaches Bait Hook, Fans Bite” by Sandy Padwe

I was shocked to read on and discover how fans threw eggs and beer cans at games. I always thought of basketball as a more civilized sport. But Dad said he remembers Boston fans throw raw eggs from the rafters and hit their own player. And in Philadelphia, someone threw a beer can or bottle, he can’t remember which, from the second level of the old convention hall and cracked somebody’s skull open (he just happened to be sitting at the score table). They had thrown it with the beer in it. And even when Dad coached he said: “no one would even think of wearing paraphernalia for the wrong team.”

Okay, truth, I did wear all green to a Philadelphia 76ers game. I was in 7th grade and it’s embarrassing to admit I had an all-green outfit, but in all fairness, it was St. Patrick’s Day. I remember doing my walk of shame to the seats after someone pointed out, “You’re the coach’s daughter. You of all people should know better.” Of course, I’d rather be embarrassed for my oversight than have an egg thrown at me.

Fifty years later, the 76ers World Championship team got together to celebrate their reunion at the Spectrum. While reminiscing about the good times the year before, they couldn’t help but remember the bad. They wished they could have taken back that game. After all these years, that question can’t leave them alone.

Maybe we can try to understand this now for what it was.

Dad had no choice but to sit out that game, he had broken his wrist (we discussed that last week) and had just come off of his operation on Tuesday. So Dad said, “I’m not the right person for you to talk to on this. Call Mr. Jones tomorrow at 10. He’d love to talk to you.”

So we are in for a treat getting to see this through the perspective of point guard Wali “Wonder” Jones, he got the nickname from 76ers teammate Chet Walker, and he was kind enough to grant me an hour and a half phone interview on Wednesday. He considered himself to bleed Philly having gone to Overbrook High School and Villanova University where he was one of two African Americans on the team and only 20 in the entire school to get out of the inner city and the violence.

When he transferred to the 76ers after making the NBA All-Rookie Team with the Baltimore Bullets, he considered himself to be a great quarterback of the team, and Dad stands by that claim saying he was an incredible team player, he made it his job to keep everybody happy and harmonious on and off the court.

But that part of his job was easy. They were a family, brothers, a fraternity. That family included everyone on the 76ers team and even the other teams, yes, even Boston. “When we played, we were the best of friends. The papers made it seem I hated Sam Jones and that we (Boston and Philadelphia) hated one another. We’d go to Boston and eat dinner and meet their family…We were taught don’t fraternize with the enemy. Don’t show your friendship on the court (off the court no one would tell us what to do).”

In 1967, even the papers referred to Jones’ job (in this case it was “Helps 76ers Nick Knicks”).

Philadelphia Daily News, December 28, 1967

Only one year before, the 76ers upstaged Boston for the Championship; it was happier times. Unlike Sunday, 1968, the national day of mourning. That second game in the series was canceled and they reflected on the game that had been played that Friday night. Suddenly it all seemed so “trivial”, according to Jack Ramsey.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 7, 1968

Mr. Jones said that Chet Walker even wrote about it in his book, published in 1995. “Long Time Coming: A Black Athlete’s Coming-Of-Age In America.” https://www.amazon.com/Long-Time-Coming-Coming-Age/dp/0802115047.

The Boston Globe summed up the situation after the game was played. I do warn you, as Mr. Jones had mentioned to me when he introduced himself, “I was called Negro and colored then.” It upsets me to see that word in print in The Boston Globe when The Philadelphia Inquirer writers didn’t use it, but sadly, that was the least of the problems.

The Boston Globe, April 8, 1968: “C’sList Drills–76ers Get Option” By Jack Barry

Since Dad had his injury, Mom didn’t save the sports page the day after MLK died, it wasn’t exactly on her mind either, so I don’t have any of the Evening Bulletin articles by George Kiseda, which I would have loved. When I can get to some microfiche in a library, it will be something I will most definitely pursue. But luckily The Boston Globe article just mentioned referred to it.

“Up to a half-hour before Friday’s game, Walker was not going on the floor at all. He was interviewed by George Kiseda (Phila Bulletin writer) and the papers here Friday night were full of his remarks about not wanting to play said Hannum.”

The Boston Globe, April 8, 1968

But Mr. Jones said if he could, he wouldn’t have played, but at the time, he needed the job; there were only 16 teams. He felt a sense of powerlessness and he felt defeated and the world seemed out of control and hopelessly divided. His heart wasn’t in that game. Of course they lost.

Society was different back then, he said, in order for me to understand how devastated he was the day after MLK died, yet why he played, I have to understand how other African Americans were treated, he explained. In 1972 he co-authored a book with Jim Washington, “Black Men Challange American Sports” and he explored black athletes who never got recognition from the 1800s to the 1960s. He still recalls Jesse Owens speaking to his Middle School and telling them how after he won the gold medals in the Olympics in 1936, he came home and couldn’t get a job.

Mr. Jones had seen his own father, an excellent baseball player, who is 103 and living on his own and sharp as a whip, play in recreation centers for the Negro Baseball League. Consequently, baseball was Mr. Jones first love, then basketball when his older brother introduced him to it. Mr. Jones saw it as his way out of the inner city.

When I asked him if he loved basketball, he said he chose to play basketball so he could get a scholarship to get a college education. He came from the inner city but from a family who valued education and the golden rule that came from the bible: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He came from an activist family who believed the world needn’t be divisive. There was a way out.

They were marching, there were sit-ins (in the 50s at Woolworth’s, his brother was in college then) and his father and mother were speaking out about inequality.

He had nine brothers and sisters and he remembers when his older brother went to N.C. A&T State University in 1957. A 15-year old Wally Jones went with his parents and he had never experienced segregation with white fountains and having to sit at the kitchen. They were told they weren’t allowed to sit at the Woolworth’s counter and his mother said, “I’m not eating in no kitchen.” https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18615556

For Mr. Jones, basketball was a way out. Not to say there wasn’t aggression being played out on that court, too. Mr. Jones said, “aggression was the game…It was a dog eat dog world.”

“I was very aggressive. As small as I was, you’re getting hit by 6’8, 6’9 men, kneed, knocked down. I got hit so hard in my groin I had to go to the hospital. There were stitches in the head, broken clavicle bones in shoulders, two operations on the knee.” In fact, he still ices his knees because they swell up.

But I’m jumping ahead to next week. There’s so much more we need to explore here and so much we weren’t able to cover. But let’s end part one on this note: Mr. Jones made up for the powerlessness he felt that night and he’s made a lifetime of good out of it. He’s been a humanitarian and he’s made his ancestors proud. Yet, if there’s one thing he could have changed in that world of sit-ins, that night he would have chosen to sit out.

It’s not so different today. We’re still sitting in, albeit this time in our houses, and the games have stopped, regardless of how the fans wanted them to continue.

So maybe we really can learn from history. Maybe we can learn from the past to understand how to pave the way for a brighter tomorrow. If we just take this one sit-in at a time.

A Muse 4 You: How might the bittersweet lessons of our past teach us what we need to know today?

to be continued…


The Day of What Ifs

Wilt Chamberlain answering reporters questions after a playoff game in 1968 entitled “NOW LIKE I WAS TELLING THE KNICKS”

Since we’re all about finding games to play these days, board games aren’t the only way to have some fun, let’s play the what if game. It’s especially appropriate if we go back to this exact day in history in 1968 when it all started.

It’s the day the playoffs stopped, not for everyone the way it has today, just for Dad. He broke his wrist.

A wonderful sports writer of the time, George Kiseda, wrote about Dad’s injury for the Evening Bulletin on March 28, 1968. It brought me back to the days when there was a game and the story wouldn’t appear in the paper until the following day. Dad said that if they played in California, because of the three hour time difference, it would be in the paper two days later.

Here’s what Kiseda had to say:

THE DOCTORS at Temple University Hospital told Billy Cunningham his right wrist was broken in three places and the first thing Cunningham did was remind them he is left-handed and suggest that maybe he could wear a cast and play against the Knicks in New York Saturday.

“I have to do what I do with my little boy,” Dr. Stan Lorber said, giving Cunningham the Tastykake sign, “Time out.”

Dr. Lorber explained to Cunningham that the steel pins will have to be placed in his arm and his basketball session is over.

“What if we play Boston or Detroit (after New York)?” Cunningham wanted to know.

“If you play Boston or Detroit in eight weeks,” Dr. Charles Parsons said, “you’ll be ready.”

The Evening Bulletin, March 28, 1968

I just loved the Tastykake time out sign. I wonder if that was around when I was little, I don’t remember it. But anyway, Dad remembered the three steel pins sticking out of his hand and he couldn’t imagine what he was thinking wanting to play with the other hand. He was going through a bit of the Peter Pan Syndrome that we talked about last week, he was young and he thought the most important thing was to play ball. However, it did make him quite the weatherman–he could predict whether it was going to precipitate the following day.

I asked Dad how hard was it not to be able to play. It was a dumb question, knowing Dad, he’s not one to let pain get in his way, or anything, for that matter. He’s the only person I know who prefers to have an operation without anesthesia so he can drive himself home afterwards. He couldn’t have taken it lightly.

He said it was heartbreaking sitting on the bench, he just had to show up at a certain time, and do nothing. But it did bring up an interesting point, it got Dad to wonder what if.

What if gale-force winds hadn’t blown off a portion of the roof of the old Spectrum on South Broad Street and they didn’t need an alternate place to play that night? They played in the Palestra, where the University of Pennsylvania plays, only there’s no give to the floor. It’s a permanent floor laid over concrete. At the Spectrum, they put something over the ice, then they laid the floor so there was a bit of space between the floor and the ice, which gave it a trampoline effect with less bounce. “I might not have broken my wrist if we’d played at the Spectrum.”

What if he’d been able to play in the remainder of that playoff series? They would have still won against New York, like they did, but what if they could have beat Boston? They would have won the World Championship a second year in a row. “We were trying to repeat as World Champions. At the end of that year Wilt was traded to LA. “

What if Dad had been healthy and he’d been able to play and they had won, would Wilt have been traded? Would it have ended his career as a 76er?

There’s a bit of backstory here, Wilt was led to believe by Ike Richman, part owner of the 76ers along with Irving Kosloff, that he’d get a piece of ownership of the team; Ike died earlier that year and Kosloff wouldn’t honor the gentleman’s agreement. In other words, the trade was a disaster.

And there in the July 11, 1968 Evening Bulletin, Kiseda wrote about it, however briefly:

All around the National Basketball Association they were still reacting 24 hours after The Trade, the biggest in the history of basketball and maybe in the history of all sports (because when was the last time an MVP was discarded?)

The Evening Bulletin, July 11, 1968

I was really warming up to this sports reporter so I looked him up. Unfortunately he had died of dementia in 2007, and Dad said he was sorry to hear about that because he was such a brilliant, albeit opinionated, man. When I mentioned to Dad that I read that Kiseda was well loved, he laughed and said he wouldn’t know about that. George wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He’d get in a precarious situation, and everyone else would have kept their mouth shut, but he’d stick his nose in anyway even if it got him into trouble.

So this is how the what if game started on this very day in history. What if we bring George Kiseda’s opinionated spirit back and play the what if game on this day in 2020, where might that lead us? Let’s turn to this week’s experts gathered by TEDConnects for daily conversations in their new Community and Hope series. I watched them all and then summed up each one as a what if statement.

Sandy David, Psychologist studying emotional agility, on March 23: What if we move away from our mind and into our hearts and come into our emotions, however scary they might be, and observe them for what they teach us about our values? In fact, having what Susan calls emotional agility can lead us to see beyond the soul and experience the person behind the person. It’s something we all need right now. https://youtu.be/Xgyh0juINNI

Bill Gates, the only guest who doesn’t need an introduction (according to head of TED Chris Anderson), on March 24: What if we go into Bill Gates mind and see the world working together through innovation and science? Early on he poured $100 million into his foundation to administer easy and cheap testing and develop vaccines. He says we must quarantine, there is no middle ground with this, we must quarantine now, but if we do it well, within 20 days we will see a difference, and within 6-10 weeks we could get somewhere. “The economic effects are drastic, but that’s more reversible than bringing people back to life.” https://youtu.be/Xe8fIjxicoo

Gary Liu, CEO of South China Morning Post, on March 25: What if we were to learn from Hong Kong’s example of the selflessness of their citizens (they have a social memory of SARS)? “My hope is that the citizens of the US take this seriously.” He said it doesn’t matter if you’re not sick, young, don’t fear dire consequences of death, if you’re possibly an asymptomatic carrier that’s enough to keep you at home. https://youtu.be/KIh2-S2jXls

Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance, on March 26: What if we prioritize health and support scientists and applaud politicians who are making tough decisions and doing good? With a united world and financial backing, science and technology can stop this and prepare for the next one. It typically takes 10-15 years to generate a vaccine and they are trying to accelerate this in 18 months. https://www.ted.com/talks/seth_berkley_the_quest_for_the_coronavirus_vaccine?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

Priya Parker, Author The Art of Gathering, on March 27: What if we make meaningful gatherings within our family, social circles, community, our businesses and through our legislature (think of the purpose of town hall) now that we’re physically apart? If we decide what is essential now and think about how we gather, it will change from day to day and week to week, it will be contagious. Others will do this, too. We can do this. “We can shape our collective reality together.”

The pre-recorded video isn’t available at the time of this writing so I’m sending you to her website instead: https://www.priyaparker.com

So we played the what if game today, there’s something about March 27 that made us do it. We looked at the past and imagined if Wilt had stayed to play for the 76ers, the world would have played out a lot differently. And now we’re playing the game again on the same day in 2020. What if people actually listen to the experts and be the members of the community that we are meant to be?

What if…it’s a great game.

A Muse 4 You: All of these what ifs came to being because we imagined what if Wilt had lived out his career as a 76er? They would have kept their wonderful team united and won a lot more championships. What if we don’t treat this coronavirus as one of the worst trades in sports history and we stay together this time around? What championships might we be able to win?

The Peter Pan Syndrome

Here’s Dad from Grandma’s scrapbook, even then he was trying to escape boredom

With all entertainment taken away from us (except good, old fashioned board games, books, puzzles and walks around the neighborhood), we still have technology, American Idol, video games for some and my blog posts. This shutdown gives us a great excuse to delve into a topic that is so very difficult to address when life is going on as usual.

Here’s Dad trying to give up the ball, albeit for a foul shot when he was playing for UNC-Chapel Hill. Another great photo from Grandma’s scrapbook.

I had heard my Dad talk about it a lot, the hardest thing about basketball was giving it up. I also always heard how he didn’t have a choice but to leave, he had an injury, which ruined his career. (The same injury my dog has, incidentally).

I was in first grade and I remember Sr. Mary in the front of the class, saying, “Mr. Cunningham is in the hospital. He had an injury. Today we’re going to write him a letter, but we need to learn how.” I remember realizing whatever had happened to him must have been really serious because why else were we taking our class time to write him a letter?

I didn’t process the pain he had to endure both physically and mentally, not until later. A sports photographer had captured Dad lying on the court, writhing in pain. Any time the injury would come up, Mom would go on a tirade about how she hated that picture. Somehow, as much as she despised it, she did save one in the newspaper stash in the basement, but I know better than to post it here.

On the black board was a sample letter which read: “Dear Mr. Cunningham, I hope you get better soon. Sincerely, Your name.”

And so I got out my pencil and paper (we weren’t allowed to write in pen those days) and I addressed it exactly as the teacher had taught us: “Dear Mr. Cunningham”. My parents must have gotten a big kick out of that. I wish in all our saved papers, I could have found that letter. But you’ll just have to take my word for it.

His career ended abruptly, just like all these players (and all of Broadway and all of these community theaters and non-essential businesses who are all closed right now, at least in our neck of the woods, and most likely in yours, too).

But as we’ve seen from this forced shut down, it’s not easy to give up something that you love so much. It brings me back to the paper that I wrote in college, The Peter Pan Syndrome, that I alluded to when I wrote Dare To Be Great. https://stephanieortiz.com/2020/02/28/dare-to-be-great/ I wrote that paper hoping to pinpoint this very real phenomenon that hits professional athletes, and now that we have felt it so acutely in our own lives, we can all somehow better relate.

After graduation, I did rewrite the paper and tried publishing it. I changed the name to No Time Left. I like Peter Pan Syndrome better and should have just stuck with that, but it didn’t get published anyway, so it didn’t matter. But more on that later. So here’s the article. I’ll spare you all the typos, thank goodness for modern amenities like spell check, and I stop periodically to add my current day comments. There has to be something new to say after 30 years…

No Time Left, 00:00

Basketball stars aren’t able to stay in Never Never Land and never grow up like Peter Pan did, so they need to learn to look beyond their dream and plan for their future.

“Today you will see the Michael Jordan’s doing really well and being successful off the basketball court, but you have to look beyond the success stories to others,” said Ron Sayers of Professional Athletes’ Career Enterprises (PACE), a San Diego human research development company for professional and elite-amateur athletes.

PACE doesn’t exist anymore, but trying to find it 30 years later, brings me back to the very kind rejection letter I received from Pat McLoone, The Sports Editor of The Philadelphia Daily News, on January 13, 1992. I had asked for any feedback and here’s point number two: what kind of organization is PACE Sports? Sadly, I found one mention of them in an article from 1992 in Black Enterprises.


But even if PACE doesn’t exist anymore, it doesn’t diminish what Ron Sayer said back in 1990.

“There are other players who have a sense of denial which I call the Peter Pan Syndrome. I don’t want to grow up, I want to play forever.”

In high school athletes can get addicted to all the attention they receive. “The halo that you come to class with when you have done really well is put there by everybody. Teachers forget that you are a student and administrators can let you float.”

The transition from athlete to ex-athlete isn’t smooth or glamorous–no more pampering, competition and cheering fans in packed buildings. No more media hounding at your feet, no people pulling on your coattails and no autograph seekers. And for processionals, no more money.”

But Dad reiterated yesterday that “it’s not about the money, it’s about the realization: what am I going to do with the rest of my life?…For me it was easy, I had no other options to hang around and continue my career because of the fear of what to do.”

When the dream-come-true comes to an end, the veteran athlete must face a sobering reality with a deflated ego.

Former 76ers coach and player Bill Cunningham said, “By the age of 35 if you stick with a job, that’s when the job starts getting good whereas with the professional athlete it’s the complete reversal. At the age of 35, the athlete’s got to go through that learning process that others have already done.”

Sports Psychologist Christina Versari of PACE sports studied Brazil’s 1987 Olympic Judo team and found that the older the athlete, the harder the transition and the more depression felt. She said that older athletes haven’t faced enough transitions. She plans to do a similar study on basketball players and she believes she will find similar results.

I tried contacting Christina Versari as a quick google search led me to find her and she is still a Sport Psychology Consultant working with NBA players helping them prepare for their second careers. But since she is also Director of the Sports Psychology Program at San Diego University, with all that’s going on in the world, I didn’t expect she’d have any time on her hands to reminisce.

However, I was so happy to hear from Dad that this topic lives on with today’s players when he shared with me that Milwaukee Buck player Pat Connaughton tweeted that current affairs is a realization of what it would be like when the game’s over. He all ready has established a second career to ease the transition when his playing days are over as highlighted in the New York Times article published on February 13, 2020.

It’s wonderful to see how he’s preparing himself for the end of the road as an athlete.

He has a landing page and a website and is vocal about it on Twitter.

@pconnaughton Random thought – this is like a simulation of retirement for pro athletes. What are we gonna focus on when our careers end? What’s our day to day schedule look like? Interesting time to think about it and experiment with different ideas… Strive to be more than an athlete!
8:49 PM · Mar 17, 2020

With 78 comments, 225 retweets and 4.6K hearts, he got his point across. Although CJ McCollum who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers joked back, @CJMcCollum “Only difference is that we will be traveling and actually able to take the kids to school lol.”

We’re all looking forward to the day we’ll be back to traveling and taking the kids to school again, but meanwhile, whether the game forces an athlete to say goodbye or the athlete chooses to say goodbye first, it’s not an easy road.

Former 76ers player Julius Erving faced his retirement eight years in advance, he said in a telephone interview. He said he was inspired and obsessed to find a life outside of basketball because of the stories he heard about athletes who couldn’t find happiness for five to 10 years after retiring. “I wanted to be happy the day after I stopped playing. I didn’t want to wait that long.”

Erving’s key to success after 16 years on the court was simple. “I knew it would take more than one thing to fill the void.” Golf took care of his competitive nature and multiple businesses let him use his mind and creativity. He also used the time to catch up with his family.

He said he thinks the transition was toughest on his wife and four children who couldn’t plan for the end.

They knew one particular lifestyle and one particular life circumstance. They were the ones who had to deal with a more dramatic change, and I was the dictator of that change.”

Back to Pat McLoone’s kind rejection letter. To be fair, he said, “I enjoyed the piece you wrote. It was an interesting subject and your thorough research is evident. The pace of your writing was fine as well. But since you asked, here are three mild criticisms.” Here’s point number three: “As a reader I would like to know more specifics about Julius’ business interests.”

I wonder what I felt when I read this letter. I don’t remember it, honestly. It makes me laugh now because to me that seemed so irrelevant to the story. Nowadays I could have just done a quick search and could fill in the gaps so easily, but back then it would have meant calling Mr. Erving up and asking him to elaborate on his multiple businesses.

We definitely didn’t have the resources available to us that we do today. Yes, that’s a dot matrix printer and a floppy diskette.

Senator Bill Bradley, a Rhodes Scholar who played professional basketball in the 60s, wrote in his book “Life On The Run” that the athlete approaches the end of his playing days the way an old person approaches death.

“He puts his finances in order. He reminisces easily. He offers advice to the young. But an athlete differs from an old person in that he must continue living.”

Cunningham said in a telephone interview that his knee injury, which put an end to his eleven-year career, was a blessing in disguise.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Yes, some stories never change, and just like Bill Bradley wrote in his book, “he offers advice to the young”–if that isn’t Dad in a nutshell, although Dad went into much more depth about this in 1990.

“Initially when I hurt my knee, I tried to prove the doctor’s wrong. But when I look back on it, I never had to look in the mirror and think about whether I was getting too old, or if my skills were eroding. I never had to say: it’s the coach, it’s the system, if I could just play more time, I’d be as productive as I ever was. And I never had to be in the position where a coach had to say, you’re through.”

“That was the toughest thing as a coach–to tell a young man that his dream had come to an end,” Cunningham said from his memories of coaching the 76ers. “They would sit there and just cry; they would beg for just one more try.”

Sayers said that coaches, administrators and others can stress academics and the odds of success only so much. In the end, a good transition, and a healthy transition, starts with the family and the high school system that integrates the athlete.

UNC-Chapel Hill Coach Dean E. Smith said in an interview, “The athletes of some sports are put on a pedestal…if they get too much attention early from family and friends, it slows their maturity.”

Seeing that quote brought dear Dean Smith back to life for a moment. What an adored coach he was for UNC-Chapel Hill and such a supportive and loving friend to the family; we miss him so. A beautiful pause in his memory. Oh, and Sayers is up next.

Sayers said that many athletes need to learn that their skills apply to the business world so they can communicate that they are real people with goals while they are playing.

“When society sees athletes making decisions with leather balls in their hands, they don’t see that this can be applied directly to a work setting.” According to a PACE study, the athlete has nine out of 10 qualities of successful California business people.

“Magic Johnson has not just lived off his recognition, but he has found relationships. The people around him are really helping him,” Sayers said.

As a part owner of the Miami Heat, Cunningham said he gets at least one resume every two weeks from retired players, who are willing to do anything that is basketball-related.

Sayers said, “While the guys are active they are influential and highly visible, they are able to use their opportunities. But once the doors close, they lock. The hands that patted them on the back, really are waving good-bye.”

Let’s face it, it’s a multi-million dollar business out there and everyone wants a piece of the pie. We need to cut the umbilical cord very quickly-not when they leave college.”

I sobered up when I read Dad saying the guys would cry begging him for one more chance. It was amazing to re-read this and to think that Bill Bradley is now a former US Senator and that Dean Smith is no longer with us. It’s also fascinating to read the feedback about what I needed to work on.

My number one criticism, drum roll please, “I would not have quoted your father. He is a very valid subject for the piece; he is, after all, a perfect example of an athlete who has succeeded after his playing days were over. For any other writer, his words would be valid. For you, though, it really isn’t proper. He’s too close to you, so your objectivity would have to be affected.”

I love it, the number one reason why I should have just waited 30 years to write a blog instead!

But seriously, McLoone’s still going strong as a sports editor. Here’s an article he just wrote.

. https://www.inquirer.com/sports/coronavirus-covid-19-sports-readers-20200317.html?__vfz=medium%3Dsharebar

So there you have it, some things never change, and some things would have blown our minds away had we been able to look into the future and see thirty years forward.

In 6th Grade Mom had a ball boy uniform made for me for Halloween. We’d gather in a semicircle and one-by-one we’d go up and get judged. I won first prize that year.

And as I mentioned, I did get an A+ on my paper for my journalism class. People always did like when I let them in on a secret or two about my Dad. Here are the teacher’s remarks, “Stephanie, I wish you had done this level of work consistently and early in the semester. But I’m grateful that you will build a successful career on the strength of this story. The semester grade will go up to an A-. Come to see me next semester if you need me.”

Well, my college teacher’s prediction did come true, I did build something off of that paper. It only took a 30 year quarantine before it saw the light of day and became a blog post. Funny I was so worried about writing Dad in my letter in first grade and then to learn at 21 years old that I shouldn’t be quoting him. No wonder why it took me another 30 years to finally come out with it already. But I think both my teachers would be proud, if I could maintain my objectivity in first grade (I knew enough to write Mr. Cunningham and not Dad), I can do it again now. And writing these posts are fun and a lot easier with all our new technology. I’m finally doing something with that A!

Here’s the pants I wore for Halloween in 6th Grade. Since my daughter who looks like me is in 6th Grade now I thought it would be fun to take a picture of her wearing them, only they look like floods on her, plus we can’t find the jacket. And did I mention how itchy they are?

A Muse 4 You: Has the Peter Pan Syndrome ever happened to you? What have you had to give up that you loved and how might you be able to use your story to motivate others who are going through something similar?


Quarantines, Travel Restrictions & Scammers

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See how Holly’s favoring her left hip? It hasn’t seemed to have stopped her! She’s still waiting by the door ready for her three-legged walk.

All this talk about quarantining, stockpiling, social distancing, travel restrictions, remote schooling, canceling games, parades and large gatherings, oh my! I’m not going to let the, ahem, dare I say it?, let’s just stick with international pandemic, weigh me down. I’m not going to live my life out of mass hysteria. But even now my calendar is reminding me that I was supposed to be going to see Come From Away tomorrow on Broadway. We had planned a group trip and we had to postpone it. It reminds me of when you lose electricity and your routine is upended and you do stupid things like forget to brush your teeth. All these sweeping reforms in our lives have put us all over the edge, even the most well-intentioned of us.

But all I need to know I can learn from my three-legged dog. And before you think she’s that smart, I’ll remind you she did some soft tissue damage to her hip while she was outside chasing the deer–on the other side of the fence. Putting aside why she did it, take away one leg and she hobbles around expertly on three. She feels no need to curtail her walks because she loves them so. I’m the one pulling her to come back home. If only I could keep living my life, too, and not make decisions based off of fear but off of love.

But I had no decisions to worry about. I wasn’t one of those poor people stuck quarantined on a cruise ship. And luckily we hadn’t made travel plans for spring break to have them canceled. We were going to be in Twelfth Night instead. I was grateful that I wasn’t impacted in the least.

When we tried out for Twelfth Night in November it was the same time we started planning to take our local community groups to Broadway to see Come From Away. Both were to come to fruition in March. And here we are, it’s March, and both events are postponed.

What makes it all the worse is you can’t look backwards or forward with this thing. If we had a crystal ball back in November and it showed us life right now, we would have laughed ourselves silly. Do we still even believe it’s happening? And if we look into the future, it just seems so grim.

Even last week I wouldn’t have believed that my kids would be home today because the governor ordered all schools in our county to be closed. I couldn’t have even made up the buzz words of today: “remote schooling” and “Google classroom”.

We’d shake our heads in disbelief that colleges would be doing the same thing. That this thing would be shaking us up and down and right and left, on a micro and a macro level. And, never, ever, ever, ever would we imagine that there’d be no NBA, no NHL and no NCAA. It couldn’t possibly happen to me let alone them, too?

How did we get sent to our rooms and grounded and have all our sources of entertainment taken away from us? But that’s not the worst part, we’re not allowed to hug anyone or shake hands and we have to keep our social distance.

How did life turn upside down in the blink of an eye? We didn’t even have a chance to argue our point. It just happened. Decisions just started making themselves for us.

There was Twelfth Night, it was just Monday night and we were at our last practice, unbeknownst to us, and we had reached that stage when you don’t think you can possibly get good enough to pull it off. Every show has that moment. A good director uses it as that turning point where everyone realizes they have serious work to do; they shift into first gear. It plays particularly well with the dread of embarrassment. Get your act together. We had committed to doing a double practice this Sunday. And then, early Tuesday morning we got the notice that the school, where we rent the auditorium, had canceled our show. They even canceled their own show. It’s merely a postponement, but it hit so hard because how do you stop jumping in mid-air?

It all seemed so ridiculous. Why would they cancel? Maybe they hadn’t done enough deep cleaning or special spray aerosol? There was still plenty of hope because, thank goodness, we could still go see Come From Away this Saturday. It could lift our spirits. Broadway never closes unless the government makes them do so. They had only ever closed for 9/11.

We didn’t think of ourselves as the ones who had to make a decision. We had our group of 54. It’s not like we had anything to worry about. We’d have minimal exposure. We’d be on the bus, then we’d be in the broadway rehearsal space and then we’d walk (not take the subway) to the restaurant (we’d bring our disinfectant wipes and use them there) and then we’d be right across the street to the theater.

We were beginning to field questions from people who were leery of going so we told everyone as a group if Broadway was open, we’d be going, but we understand that money is not worth your health and if you feel you cannot go, honor that inner voice.

We had nothing to worry about, right? Ok, we were beginning to worry. Was it fear based? We were too close to tell.

Some schools were already streaming concerts without audiences. Could you imagine having a play without an audience? It seemed like the kiss of death. But this was life before the NCAA announced they’d play the game without fans and a lifetime before they canceled the games altogether.

It was Wednesday night and the NCAA made the announcement they’d play without fans. It seemed like a slap in the face. All the energy comes from the fans. Without fans, was it really even worth playing? It was painful to even think about, but less painful than thinking of them not playing at all, we couldn’t go there yet. It was only Wednesday, remember? We still had to mourn the loss of the fans. Think of the stadium near empty. Hear the talking in the stands among the family members who’d be the only ones allowed to attend.

We had to start sobering up to the idea that life isn’t really the same. It’s not what it was and it’s not what we expect it to be. Somehow it’s different, whether we’re fearful or not.

And I woke up Thursday morning and it was all starting to feel surreal. I was the person in the dream who had to make a decision to get me out of it only once I made that decision I was still going to be in that dream. People were advised not to go on our trip, people were getting scared. I knew beyond a doubt that we had to call the box office as soon as they opened and beg to get our trip postponed, so the group wouldn’t be out any money.

The three of us group leaders had already agreed to do that the night before, so it’s not like it was a new idea, only by Thursday the idea was screaming at me so insanely loud it had to be dealt with. I no longer had time to feel sorry because life was somehow so drastically different than I wanted it to be.

The mayor of NYC had spoken that morning and said they didn’t want to shut down Broadway and they’d be taking more careful measures. That was great, but what measures were we taking to ensure everyone’s money didn’t get lost in the shuffle? We had a duty to preserve everyone’s money and not sit around and act like sitting ducks waiting for Broadway to make a decision. We had to make our trip still worth something, even to the people over 60 who could be severely compromised if they went. Fear or not, we had to postpone. So one of our group leaders made the call. I told him I had faith in him, he had been the one who had made the contact, it was best if he did it alone. If they refused him, I’d try calling as backup only. It wasn’t hard for him; he didn’t have to convince the dear man on the other end of the call at all. He arranged it so that everyone lost nothing.

I never came closer to understanding how hard a decision it is to make these tough calls. But somehow you just have to come to that place where you rise above the crowd, to that place where there are no fans, and in that quiet, you finally know what you have to do because the quiet will be replaced by a ruckus inside of you is far greater than anything going on in the external world.

I was disappointed about it and couldn’t shake it even though so many in the group wrote and supported our decision and thanked us for saving their money. It was a choice that made itself. If I had my way, it wouldn’t have been what I would have wanted and that’s what I was grappling with: the loss, everyone’s losses. What we all have had to endure because life is somehow different now and we don’t understand why.

And hours later Broadway went dark. How do the curtains close on Broadway? And think of the difficult decision they had to make. But then it happened in sports and on our very own small stage and in our schools. It’s happening not just in my corner of the world, it’s happening everywhere.

And in the midst of all this craziness, there was hope. Another kind of hope. You see, even with quarantines and travel restrictions and mass confusion and trying to make sense of this surreal world, there’s always scammers. Even while we’ve lost our footing and don’t know which way is up, they haven’t lost their game. But if ever there’s a story of hope, here it is.

Our dear friend, she’s worked for the family so long she is one of the family, she knows better than anyone who calls the house. She picked it up and it was this voice she’d heard before. Usually the person says, “Grandma” and she says, “You have the wrong number” and she hangs up. But on this particular day, she decided she’d play with him.

So when he said, “Grandma”, she said, “Yes, how are you?”

He said, “Don’t be upset, I was in a car accident.” So she laid it on thick, “What? You were in a car accident? When?”

He must have been thinking how easy could this be when he said, “Now” and she then asked with such concern she was even fooling me, “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I just broke my nose.” She said he didn’t sound like he had broken his nose because he would have been talking funny, but she stayed her course of the non suspecting Grandma, “But what happened?”

So he said, “I had been to my friend’s funeral over in Jersey and I got in a car accident, I broke my nose, but I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.”

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” she said. Her voice was practically piercing; it had gone up an octave. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, but someone else was involved.”

“Oh God,” she said. Near hysteria, but the sarcasm cannot be lost. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Oh God.”

“I hit them, but it was a pregnant woman.”

She continued saying “Oh God” this time only twice. She sounded so concerned as if it really was her grandson.

“Grandma,” he said. Maybe even touched by the love she had for him. “It’s okay. It’s okay. But the police came and they locked me up.”

“Why would they lock you up?” She asked incredulously even though she remembered the exact story from the news a few nights back. A lawyer had gotten nearly scammed with the same story; but with him they had found a way to mimic his son’s voice and he actually believed he was talking to his son.

“At the funeral, I had a couple of drinks so they gave me a breathalizer. Of course, I had the alcohol on my breath so they took me to jail.” He was playing on her emotions, he could have come up with any story here and if she was truly worked up to a point of hysteria she would have believed him.

“What? Oh God. What do I need to do?” She had him like putty in her hand, while he thought it was the other way around.

“Grandma, calm down. Calm down. Calm down. They’re gonna need money to let me out.”

“What kind of money?”

“They’re setting the bail for $10,000.”

“You mean I have to give you $10,000?” but she paused, as if she was quickly doing the math. “You mean, 10% of the $10,000?” This should have set him off guard that this was no ordinary Grandma. But she did the math wrong because she was thinking about the lawyers numbers and calculated 10% of $10,000 as being $2,000 not $1,000 but her mistake would be in his favor.

He’d take that, “Yes, $2,000.”

“How am I supposed to get this to you?” She sounded flustered.

“Grandma, this guy is going to call you.”

“He’s going to call me? But where are you calling from?” Ah, again, he should have detected how smart of a question that was.

“Oh, it’s a pay phone, but he’s going to call you back on this number.”

She had never even looked to see if the number said scam on it when she answered it. It most likely had. “Ok, but you know what,” she said in her high-pitched voice, “This is the best scam of all because I just heard this two days ago.”

So then he started calling her names that I don’t need to repeat here and she answered back, so calmly, so matter of fact, “Your mother.”

And that’s when he screamed at her, “Why’d you keep saying Oh my God? Why’d you keep saying Oh my God?”

Kind of like the role reversal at the end of a mystery when the detective solves the case and the bad guy who’s been caught finally falls out of character and asks the questions. We never laughed so hard, but finally when she could speak again, a bit hoarse, but that’s when she got serious. “It’s not a game what they’re doing to unsuspecting people. They’re playing with people’s lives.”

She also acknowledged that for her performance she should have won an Academy Award.

So just when we’re thinking all the fun and games are cancelled, we’re going stir crazy because it seems like all our entertainment has been taken away from us, there’s always a game we can play. And we don’t always need to have a stage just so someone can act. We don’t have to be ruled by fear but we do need to play within the rules because the people making those rules are making them in our best interests.

Let’s take it from Holly, when we get knocked off of one leg, there’s always three more!

Our three-legged dog!
A Muse 4 You: How do you find your grounding, even if you feel like you’re grounded, and still manage to have your fun anyway?

“Oh, Mother! That’s Part Of The Game”

Here’s Mom, I mean Mother, handling the ball with Southern style (notice her hair perfectly coiffed and hair sprayed into place).

Mom was born and bred a southern belle and she had it wrapped around her finger as evidenced by the one time she played basketball. (The picture that I don’t show has her primping before the game). She believed it was her responsibility to look good and speak with a proper southern accent when the opportunity arose.

As for us kids, she wanted us to call her Mother. Sort of like we called blush, rouge. Or how Mom called everybody “honey” or “sweetheart” or “darling”. These were standards, only, we didn’t like the Mother thing. Even after Mom asked us, “Why don’t you call me mother?” I remember curling up my nose and saying, “Ewe. You’re not a mother; you’re my mom.” Or maybe I didn’t say it so eloquently, but that was the gist of where I was coming from. There’ll be more about this later, trust me…

Meanwhile, this week I went to the Carolina’s both physically and mentally. We had a family wedding in South Carolina, which was good timing, as I had been stuck in North Carolina ever since last week’s blog post when I mentioned that I went to UNC-Chapel Hill. And since Mom is the quintessential southerner from Greensboro, what better way to keep Carolina alive than to talk about Mom.

“If God isn’t a Tarheel, why’s the sky Carolina blue?” We grew up hearing about how great Carolina was. I was allowed to pick any college “east of the Mississippi,” Mom said, “but when you go to Carolina you’re going to love it.”

Carolina’s my other half and it was a glorious place to be for four years. I thought I’d love it, both my parents went there. I thought I’d meet the guy I was going to marry there because that’s where my parents met. I had heard so many stories about it, it seemed to be a magical place. Only, I had to go to a frat party once. I towered over all the guys, except the athletes. I never thought of myself as tall before I went to UNC.

It’s not like I had a thing against height, but there was the added fact I was from the north and would throw on a baseball cap and run to my 8am class. if need be, sleep always won out over beauty. I was no southern belle (just think of mom primping for her game); I was a transplanted northerner like my Dad.

Mom knew way more than how to look good; she could work a room with her innate charm.

See what I mean? She’s a southern belle trapped in a little girl’s body.

She’d tell us stories about how she really could have had her pick with the boys, “but there was something about your father.” For me, there was never a time when she wasn’t with him. It’s like they grew up in their parallel universes just waiting until that fated day they were to meet at Carolina.

Everybody she spoke of had a first and last name, so I got to know them, too. She had her beach trips, bible study and her friends in the neighborhood and her cousins in Asheville that meant everything to her because she was an only child and hated going it alone. Even when we went to Italy last year, we’d leave her in a coffee bar because she couldn’t walk on the cobblestone and when we returned she had stories of all the people she talked to.

She wasn’t one to suffer from low self-esteem and sometimes I’d marvel at how she could entertain us and tell us just what we needed to hear at the time we needed to hear it. And her southern accent would come alive whenever she’d be pulled over by a cop or needed to remind someone that she was just a southern girl. Her sayings would come alive particularly when she went home or talked to her Mother, too, or she’d have a desire for black-eyed peas the way her Daddy always made them.

When I ran for student council in High School, she encouraged me to come up with a strong campaign the way she did when she ran for secretary. Did she have the magic touch or what?

See what I mean? Of course she won!

So when I found an article about Mom in her high school newspaper from September 18, 1959, it was so much fun to read, “DAR Chooses Childress for Best Citizen Award” and see why Mom was chosen for the award.

“1. Dependability which includes truthfulness, loyalty and punctuality.

2. Service, which includes vo-operation, courtesy and consideration of others.

3. Leadership, which includes personality, self-control and ability to assume responsibility.

4. Patriotism, which includes unselfish interest in family, school and nation.”

Mom was even better than the stories she told!

Mom was all of these things and more. No wonder she won the award. These strengths exemplify Mom. She was always involved in everything. She volunteered with so many organizations if I listed them she’d only say, “You forgot Wheels or Junior League, oh, and…” She was involved with Public Relations long before she got her PR agency and she was forever the 2nd Grade teacher of the gifted boys and girls that she adored. I was looking through her college yearbook and on the Alpha Delta Pi page there were two candid pictures of a few women getting dressed that could have been Mom so when I asked her she said, “That’s also me in the top photo getting dressed for a Hawaiian themed Rush Party! Remember I was Rush chairman.” But I’m jumping ahead, before she went to Carolina, she went to Sullins College for women.

At Sullins, she joined a group called The Cotton Pickers and she played the spoons. I loved to watch her get out the tablespoons from the kitchen drawer and wow us with her instrumental ability.

Here’s the album cover of Sullins College’s 1961-1962 Cotton Pickers with Mom on the far right. On the back cover her abilities are fleshed out:
SONDRA CHILDRESS of Greensboro, North Carolina will always be remembered for her educated fingers. With her fingers, Sondra brings forth the rippling sounds of the spoons with a jazzed-up xylophone effect. We not only appreciated Sondra’s contribution to the Pickers but also the cafeteria’s contribution to Sondra.

The Cotton Pickers played a set of instruments that made them look like “refugees from a hardware store.” The band consisted of “a washboard, a drum, a set of spoons, a pair of ‘clickers’, shakers, a tambourine, and a washtub with a broom attached–better known as a ‘gut-bucket’…and a number of ukeleles.”

Mom had a life beyond her stories before coming to Carolina her Junior Year. Back then women weren’t allowed to go to Carolina for four years unless they majored in nursing or journalism. But she came in with gusto and made the most of her two-year stint. She found Dad and that is where the story always took on a new life for me.

She’s been a staunch supporter of him ever since and she has applied herself to so many organizations and fundraisers, she never stopped giving of her personality, dedication, leadership, and charm.

But the best of all had to be when I was reading this article posted in The Sunday Bulletin on November 20, 1977. It was called “Topsy-Turvy World For This Sporting Wife”. Dad had just been named coach of the 76ers several weeks prior.

“It’s a typical afternoon at the Billy Cunningham residence, and havoc is breaking loose. Four-year-old Heather, having just fallen off the kitchen counter, is bawling her eyes out and rubbing a lump on her forehead. The family’s bumbling yellow Labrador puppy, sauntering through, has overturned a soda glass on the coffee table and is watching the liquid ooze into the carpet. Older daughter, Stephanie should be home from school but isn’t…And meanwhile, the telephone is ringing…and ringing…and ringing.”

Here’s Mom answering the phone. It always rang and we always had to “Get the phone!” We didn’t have answering machines back then so how else were you going to know who called? Plus, since her desk also served as the makeshift eating area come dinner, she could answer the phone while eating.

I’m glad the phone rang for that reporter because it always rang for us. No matter where we were or what we were doing, we had to jump up and answer it.

Another important responsibility was to make Dad a poster or a sign when he needed a pick-me-up. Mom always seemed to know when that was. Maybe it was the second-grade school teacher that would come out in her (which also came out around the holidays–no one decorated like Mom) but we loved this job more than any. It was always fun coming up with what to say next.

At the time of this interview, we had taped to the sliding glass door a crayoned sign that read, “We love you, Coach Cunningham.”

Mom was always loyal and protective of Dad, but she always cared just as much about us, too. I got teary-eyed to think my parents had asked me what I thought about Dad’s decision to start coaching.

If I ever find myself getting selfish and feeling sorry for myself, I’ll just have to remember what Stephanie told me…(when) I asked her what she thought of her daddy’s being coach since he might not be at home as much as he used to.”

I couldn’t imagine what I might have said when I was only eight years old…

“And she just looked up at me and said, ‘Oh Mother! That’s just part of the game.'”

And I had to laugh. Mom had worked her magic with that reporter and put her southern twist on my words. Kind of like the lemon Grandma would put in her homemade southern tea. If you recall, I never called her Mother.

It couldn’t have hurt me to call her Mother, especially since it meant so much to her, I now know how hard it was for me when the kids stopped calling me Mommy. In case you missed it, here was that post: https://stephanieortiz.com/2019/12/05/goodbye-mommyhood/

Only I probably didn’t explain it to her that love is not formal like that. We had too close of a relationship for her to be anything other than Mom.

So she didn’t get to be called Mother, but she got her second wish, I did go to Carolina. It wasn’t a bad compromise. In fact, we all won in the end.

And she got her family, the one that she always felt was too small when she was little. She has grandchildren now and all her nieces and their children. We were at my cousin’s wedding and someone yelled out, “We’re together and it’s not a funeral.” And what a glorious recognition that was. It was like finding a pocket filled with joy.

Mom taught me to find those pockets of joy. Be kind to everyone and gather a story or two from those you’ve met along the way. And she taught that no matter where you live, she’s lived in the north the majority of her life now, the cliche really is true: home is where the heart is.

And when your homesick, just put on Mom’s favorite song by James Taylor “Carolina in my Mind”. I’m listening to it today in honor of Mom. I want to be reminded of Carolina (and the greatest of southern belles) today of all days because today is Mom’s birthday.

James Taylor can take you anywhere you need to go.

And after James Taylor has spoken, I have one last gift for you. Know that I’m saying this only because I love you from the bottom of my heart, and I know how much it means to you. Ok, here it goes…Happy birthday dear Mother!

A Muse 4 You: Was there ever a time you had to make a compromise in the name of love?

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Dare To Be Great

I’m not sure how one dunk alone could qualify as the dunk of the season, there were just so many to choose! But here’s a highlighted dunk of Mr. Erving (No. 6) from the scrapbook that I made Dad when the 76ers won the World Championship.

February 22, 2020 Julius Erving turned 70 years old! What a perfect way to pay tribute to dear Mr. Erving than to dedicate this post to him. He filled so many of us with inspiration that even now those magic tricks he performed in the air with his big hands and artistic dunks linger in my imagination.

In 1983, life left a lot to the imagination. We looked up to people and made them our heroes. The best ones acted with integrity and respect and Mr. Erving was right along with that camp. In the April 16, 1987 Philadelphia Inquirer, an entire insert was dedicated to Julius Erving. I saved it and found it in among my college papers which got shoved into a plastic bin after the fire in my parent’s house. I was lucky enough to unearth it while I was writing this article.

It brought me back to that time when I read that he wanted to be remembered as “The player who dared to be great.” That was an expression he used a lot in his career. And, funny enough, it’s exactly what comes to mind when I think of Mr. Erving.

Fans only idolized the greats. But once someone became their idol, they were hungry to know everything about them. I didn’t play favorites. In fact, most people would find out who my Dad was (he coached the 76ers Championship team) and they’d want to know most importantly, “Who’s your favorite player?” And then when they got my disappointing answer, “I don’t have one”, they’d want to know, “Do you go to the players houses or do they come to yours?”

I was an NBA basketball coach’s daughter at heart and I learned from a young age that you don’t play favoritism. You love all of the players equally. I got an early glimpse into the concept that you really can love all of your children the same and for different reasons.

While I went a bit overboard on that lesson, I always had friends who could pick just one and sometimes it would most definitely be, “Dr. J was my favorite.” And, yes, it’s okay to honor your children individually. So let’s use this glorious moment to honor Mr. Erving, I hope to capture the essence of the great captain of the 1983 team that he was both on and off the court.

Does that hug say it all?

So in answer to the question about going to the players houses, we went to Julius Erving’s house one time that I recall (he only lived 10 minutes from us) but Dad didn’t believe his job allowed him to hang out and socialize with the players. I came home and found myself fixated on his coke dispensing machine. Yes, full-sized and you didn’t even need to put money in it. I didn’t like Coke, or Pepsi the rival even, so this was just a kid moment here. And I remember leaving and announcing as soon as we got in the car, “How cool was that Coke machine?” Mom said, “Endorsements, Stephanie.” And I just remember getting real quiet and thinking things through: Mr. Erving could teach Dad a thing or two about getting endorsements.

Dad had endorsements of his own, he was with Nike, but I was a kid, you know, you’re on vacation and you emphatically need to know where we’re going next…Dad’s endorsement with Nike paled in comparison to the coolness factor going on at Mr. Erving’s house. Just saying.

He was always Mr. Erving to me. It was a way to show him respect, although he was known as Dr. J to everyone else. I never wondered why he got that nickname. (Kids don’t question things like that). But as an adult I most definitely wanted to know. There it was, an entire article devoted to the evolution of the name, “From Julius to the ‘Doctor’ to ‘Dr. J'”.

And so the story goes, in high school, Erving called his friend and Roosevelt High teammate who used to lecture everybody on the court ‘The Professor.’ So his friend said well then you’ll be ‘the Doctor.'” Erving stuck with that nickname when he needed one in college. But when he needed a nickname once more when he went to play for an ABA team in Norfolk, VA, there was some confusion as to who was the ‘Doc’? Was it Erving or the physician? So the physician became Dr. M and Erving became Dr. J.

What I remember is Dave Zinkoff, the PA announcer, who would exaggerate the introduction of everybody’s name from 1963 until his death in 1985, with the exception of one season. His voice would sound electric as he would zing (a cross between sing and Zink) into the microphone. With Zink, when he made his introductions, no one needed a nickname. It was always, “Julius Errrrrrrrrving.”

If you want to take a trip down memory lane with this, here’s a great clip with Zink introducing the entire lineup.

Zink was so loved his microphone got retired into the James Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

I wondered what Zink would do with the microphone when he knew it was someone’s birthday, I couldn’t remember, though Dad said that Zink never made note of that publically. But privately, he’d have sent Mr. Erving a birthday card. Zink never forgot a birthday.

Mr. Erving had a special place in the hearts of fans and players. Just as Michael Jordan wished that he could be like Dr. J when he grew up, Dad remembers Julius was also the hero of Magic Johnson. “Magic had just won the National Championship in college in 1979 and within a few days he came to our practice to see Julius.”

Unlike Magic, Mr. Erving once told me he didn’t know he was going to play in the pros until after his second year in college. He didn’t have time as a youngster to daydream about who he was going to be when he grew up. In fact, he didn’t realize that would happen until he was already an adult at 20 or so.

He didn’t dream that he would one day be the spokesperson for the NBA. Dad said, “From 76-80 Julius was the marquee person in the NBA. The person who would fill the house wherever we went. The patience and the time that he had to talk to a High School boy or to the New York Times…He knew what his responsibilities were to make himself available to sell the NBA.”

Here’s Mr. Erving at the 50th Reunion giving a speech to his teammates.

Dad laughed at how responsibly Julius took his job. He remembered sitting on the bus “forever” for Julius to finish talking after the game so they finally go to the point where they would rent cars just so he could drive himself back.

I’ll never forget the time I went to the Billy Joel concert at the Spectrum and we got the opportunity to meet Billy Joel beforehand along with Julius Erving. But I remember it as the time Billy Joel met Julius Erving. It was an unbelievable moment to see two people who were so enamored with the talents of one another. I’ll never forget how tall Mr. Erving was compared to how short Billy Joel was (sorry if you’re reading this Billy). And when they shook hands Billy Joel looked like a little kid. And then they exchanged the same words I’d heard hundreds of times before, “I’m a big fan of yours.” And, “I could never do what you do.” It was a remarkable moment which taught me you’re always looking up. You can never be so great that you don’t strive to do more. Hence Mr. Erving’s quote really does carry such weight.

Here’s such a cute moment: the players are signing each other’s basketballs. It just goes to show, not only are we always looking up, there’s a lot to see if you look sideways!

Initially, Mr. Erving played on a team that everybody wanted to be a star so it wasn’t his personality to push and be aggressive so Dad created a situation where it could become Julius’ team. As Dad said, “I’m always amazed coaching him for eight years, he had to listen to me talk close to a thousand games and practices. He could have made my job difficult, but he didn’t. He was so cooperative; and the stars set the stage in the locker room.”

Here’s my scrapbook again.
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Here’s my crinkled insert of Julius Erving making another dunk.

I remembered Mr. Erving being the captain of the World Championship team and I wondered if he had always been the captain? Dad said, “He might not have had the title of captain of the team the way he did when they won the World Championship, but he was always the captain in the locker room.”

As far as saying if he was better than somebody else or who was the best, it’s unfair to compare different generations of basketball players. The game has changed, the money, the travel. But Dad said, “There was nothing stand-offish about Julius. Rookies would come to Philadelphia and he’d invite them to come and stay with him until they got settled.”

Though I never played favorites, I knew Mr. Erving the most and he had such finesse and class that he made everyone feel like they were the most important person in the world. He truly had love in his heart for everybody, including me. I’ll never forget when he granted me a phone interview in December 1991, when I was still in college.

I was suffering through Journalism School while on a deeper level I was struggling to find my voice amongst all the greatness that I had experienced and inexplicably felt like I had lost. I wound up choosing a topic for my final Journalism paper which was ironically entitled The Peter Pan Syndrome. I explored how hard it is for professional athletes to give up the sport. How ironic that I was grappling with the emotions of having to graduate college; it was the very same dilemma, but on a smaller scale. This paper meant so much to me on so many levels and the grade was the least of my worries (though in hindsight it really could have mattered more). And there was Dad, “just call up Mr. Erving. He’ll give you an interview. Here’s his number.”

I treated the research I did for that paper like I was a professional journalist (oh, I could have used spell check). Next blog post, for fun, I’m going to publish it (only without the typos), but meanwhile here’s what Mr. Erving said to me that December 1991 conversation.

“Probably the greatest inspiration was the stories I heard about athletes (they were so successful until they stopped playing). They seemed they weren’t prepared…The controversial stories you’d hear, it took them 5 or 10 years to find happiness. I wanted to be happy the day after I stopped playing. I didn’t want to wait that long.”

“Thinking about what I was going to do became an obsession. I was in a state of preparation for eight years or so…Physically I started playing golf and that sort of compensated for the competitive time of my life. Business filled in the rest (using my mind) and trying to catch up with family…I knew it would take more than one thing to fill the void.”

“The adjustment I felt was tougher on my wife and my children than it was on me (they only knew the time I played) from beginning to end that’s all they knew…They were the ones who had to deal with a more dramatic change. I was the dictator of that change. The adjustment for the family is greater than it is for the individual.”

Reflecting on that interview and the subsequent article I wrote (I ended up getting an A+ on that paper, by the way), I realize that Mr. Erving had helped me begin to find my voice. It had been lost in those glory days of basketball that I was having a hard time letting go of.

The hardest thing for me about life is growing through the adjustments that are forced upon us gracefully. Maybe that’s the case with others, too, and that’s why we were all searching for that hero. We all needed to learn how to have such finesse that we could make all our efforts seem so smooth, effortless and polished. And if ever there was someone who was able to teach us that grace, both on and off the court, it was Mr. Erving.

Whether they call him the Doctor or Dr. J or Julius, he will always be Mr. Erving to me, and I call him that out of respect for the great man that he has always been. He dared to be great, he was all that, and so much more, and by the way, he still is. Happy 70th dear Mr. Erving!

Though this picture comes from the World Champions 50th reunion, it shows you just what these guys were made of and the love that unites them. Our hearts are united in Philly 1983 forever!

A Muse 4 You: How might you dare to be great? (Here’s a hint: your greatness will be a team effort; don’t dare to be great alone).

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On Becoming

Act As If

Here I am making the victory pose in order to grow into my height. Photo courtesy of my youngest daughter.

Dad used to say to me, “When you’re tall, you have to grow into your height.” You don’t come automatically coordinated or with an instruction manual.

I never put any thought into those words–that maybe he was talking from experience–or if I did, I quickly brushed it off. “Dad? He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

I had Grandma’s stories to remind me that Dad could dribble the ball everywhere, even to take out the trash. How’d he do that if he was uncoordinated? Or how the older kids in the school yard wouldn’t let Dad play basketball with them so Grandpa bought Dad a ball one Christmas and Grandma marched down to the school yard and told them, “Here’s a ball you could play with, just let Bill play some.”

We all start somewhere, and we all have to act as if while we’re making our way through the growing pains.

It’s a heck of a lot easier to imagine those growing pains happening when we are young and awkward anyway, but truth be told, we’re acting our way through life no matter how old we are and no matter what we may have accomplished in another area of our life. We are always honing our skill of starting over, no matter what we might feel about it.

Yes, even if we’re feeling bad about ourselves, we can act as if. Just take one of my top five favorite TED Talk’s with Amy Cuddy delivering her speech, “Your body language may shape who you are.”

She claims that our body language can change our minds, our behavior and our outcomes. All we need to do is stand in the victory pose (with both hands in the air forming a “v”) for two minutes, somewhere private. (It’s instinctual, even blind people do the victory pose when faced with success even though they haven’t seen an athlete do it when they win a game).

The isn’t the classic victory pose, but I couldn’t pass up this great picture of Dad and Moses personalizing their victory after winning the 1983 world championship.

I’m not doing justice to Amy’s TED Talk as she so beautifully drives her point home, “Don’t fake it ’til you make it, fake it ’til you become it”. If you want to hear her powerful story about this, do so. It’s an oldie, but goodie and the 21 minutes you lose in viewing time will mean nothing to what it will make you become.


Let’s face it, it’s hard to start over. We need help and thanks to power posing, we can act as if, especially when we feel insecure.

When I told the kids about power posing, however, they laughed, just like I sneered at my Dad when he tried to tell me about growing into your height.

It’s impossible to believe someone when we haven’t experienced it ourselves.

Kids haven’t grown into their heights yet. They most likely feel horribly awkward about it. My youngest found a half of a golf ball this week, which sums this idea up perfectly. Talk about feeling less than whole.

Only we adults know better, kids, athletes (and golf balls) aren’t the only ones who need to grow into their height. Everyone must do so, including me, and every time I start over, I feel insecure, it’s not something that just happened to me as a kid.

Just because I’m a writer who feels like half a golf ball, I’m not exempt, I have to write anyway. So when I’m not power posing, I do what community theater got me to do last year: I get outside of myself and act, even when I don’t feel good enough, I act as if.

It’s a lot easier to act in a group. It’s like power posing on steroids. I don’t feel nearly as self-conscious. So I had no problem being one of the organizers for a bus trip to go see Come From Away on Broadway. It’s a group of 54 of us from three different community theaters.

I also had no problem tracking down Joel Hatch when I heard at Sunday’s practice that my community theater group, Jenkintown Music Theater (JMT), had connections to the actor from Come From Away. It wasn’t his resume that mattered to me, though it was incredibly cool that he was in “The Untouchables”, I cannot lie, but it was the passing fact that he was the son-in-law of one of the founders of our community theater group.

I didn’t even have to do a power pose before searching for him. And to be perfectly honest, I had another motive, in community theater when we’re not in shows, we are going to one another’s shows. We’re a family that way. How cool would it be to know someone in Come From Away?

I found him on Twitter, but he doesn’t accept personal tweets so I had to make this public. Only, while I’m telling truths, it’s not like I’ve ever done anything great with Twitter, it makes me feel like half a golf ball (while we’re on the subject). Since I wasn’t contacting him for myself, it was for my group, I lost my inhibitions and I tweeted him that we were coming to the show and I had to point out the great part of the story, “To think we’re all connected to Dolly.”

He responded within no time that he would be away visiting family and he won’t be in that particular show.

I tweeted him back to say I was bummed but to have a great time off!

Then I slept on it, and I still wasn’t able to let this go. Maybe if I could just tweet him once more and ask him for a nugget that I could share with the group on the bus ride to the show.

He tweeted back, and this was a big deal because nine out of ten people don’t tweet me back, and that includes people I know who are on Twitter. (Sorry Joel to disappoint you if you hoped I could do more for your career due to my Twitter reputation).

Joel Hatch tweeted: “I grew up on a farm in Minnesota near a town of about 800 people, so I don’t share the kind of background that you’ve experienced at JMT.”

Unbeknownst to me, my reporter instincts were kicking up their heels. I was faking it until I made it. I had to know more. This had nothing to do with my group. This was personal. One tweet was not enough. Do you think he’d answer another question?

I tweeted back, half of me wanted him to know I was a real person and the other half of me just wanted to know he was real, too. “Thanks for sharing. Our roots are there to ground us. The metaphor of the farm, though unintended on your part, reminds me of us being the cows on that farm of yours. Maybe that came to mind because I wrote a blog post about cows, but did you aspire to act when you were a kid?”

And, in case you didn’t know that about me, that yes, I wrote a blog post about cows, it’s true. And if you read it, it will help you understand the golf ball reference that’s yet to come. Here’s the link in case you didn’t read it. https://stephanieortiz.com/2020/02/06/finding-a-cow-my-golf-ball-game/

But I’m side tracking now like I did then. I thought about Dad and how he didn’t know as a kid he wanted to play basketball the way Grandma seemed to have known he was destined for it. He actually excelled in baseball and football, too.

Joel Hatch tweeted back that he didn’t know as a kid either. “No, not until college, my senior year, I studied British Lit in England for a semester and saw a lot of theatre. I later applied to graduate school to get some formal training in theatre at the University of Minnesota.”

I find these tweets most endearing because they were old fashioned. The way we used to have a conversation. He never abbreviated anything. There were no hashtags. And, most special was how he used the proper English spelling of theatre. I would write it that way myself but then you’d say, “Now Stephanie, I get this act as if thing, but now you’re just taking it too far. I mean now you expect me to believe with that bad attempt of an accent to believe your British?” But at least I get to quote his proper spelling of the word.

I thought about all that acting, all that training, all those years he felt like half a golf ball but acted as if anyway.

A half of a golf ball must do a lot to Act As If!

No wonder why he is where he is today. But he’s not just an actor. So I tweeted back. “When did you realize you could also sing? (You sing my girl’s favorite song in Come From Away).”

And while the girls were still complaining that I said that, they take anything I say about them publicly very seriously, as they should, but sometimes I have to talk them off the ledge, by explaining it’s okay to pay someone a compliment. But I shooshed them because I had an incoming tweet.

Joel Hatch tweeted: “I always sang in church choir and in college choir. In graduate school I did more straight theatre, but I got my first professional work singing in the chorus of the Minnesota Opera and Children’s Theatre. I moved to Chicago and was able to do both.”

I started to feel bad that I had contacted him without really knowing anything about him, yet I acted as if I knew him. I hoped he didn’t think bad of me. So I tweeted back hoping to understand, “Is it true that you never acted for JMT, you married into it?”

Joel Hatch tweeted that indeed he had married into it. His wife acted in Chicago theatre for 30 years. She did musicals at JMT since her childhood.

There were so many more questions I would have asked, but tweeting kept the interview brief (good thing considering I’m so long-winded). Now that I had gotten to know him, I truly was sad that he wasn’t going to be on that stage! So I told him so and I added, “My daughters think you might be one of the last of the orginal cast members. It reminds me of when I met this girl who was the last of the Babylonians…It seems epic in some way, or maybe, it’s just an epic tweet? Thanks for sharing!”

The girls were furious over that one. Suppose they had their fact wrong? But if I was more interested in remembering the matter of the last of the Babylonians. This guy Alex once worked with dated her. She was tall and smart and exactly the stereotype you might have if you were to typecast the last of the Babylonians. When he broke up with her I wanted him to know he had broken up with history! But there was no time to reminisce.

Joel Hatch tweeted back, “You will see Astrid, Petrina, Caesar, Chad, Sharon and maybe Q. All original members.”

To think Come From Away is dark on Monday, and he spent the greater portion of his day tweeting with me (maybe his replies didn’t take up nearly as many brain cells as my questions). I felt honored in some weird way that we just had a Twitter interview–talk about faking it until you make it. As public as it was, no one commented, liked or commented on our conversation, yet, we had made a real connection. So I asked if I could use our interview; it started as a nugget as you might recall.

“Mind if I write a blog post around our tweets? I’m thinking of calling it “Act As If” referring to those times when I’m not feeling so great about myself (feeling like that cow) and I have to act my way through it. What a congenial mid-story you’ve provided…if you’re game.”

And there my permission was tweeted back to me, Joel Hatch tweeted, “Write your story. Have fun.”

And that’s the great fun about writing these blog posts. I don’t have to be a published writer, or even feel like one, I just need to write. I don’t need to approach a publicist to set up an interview, I just need to Tweet. And I never even needed to do my power pose, not this time, anyway, although it’s there when I need it.

I think back about what Dad had to teach me when I was growing up but I didn’t think he knew what he was talking about.

I want to explore this topic about growing into your height next blog post, too, because it’s a great topic to continue exploring, and personally, because I’m by no means there yet. But meanwhile, if you’re like me and you need help envisioning what you can do when you grow into your height, here’s one I found in Grandma’s scrapbook she made of Dad’s career. (There’s so much more to sift through than the newspapers in the basement).

Dad’s the one in outer space, according to The Sporting News 2/22/1964. No wonder why they called him the Kangaroo Kid (& why I didn’t believe him when he said he had to grow into his height).

Meanwhile, back to earth, no more dreaming of finding that instruction manual about how to grow into my height, I’ll just start growing already. It all starts with the victory pose. and if I continue to act as if I’m a writer, (I did score a Twitter interview with Joel Hatch), what heights will I soar to?

Taking Dad’s statement, “You have to grow into your height”…to new heights Photo courtesy of my youngest daughter.
A Muse 4 You: What heights might you soar to if you apply the victory pose in your life?

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