Tag Archives: basketball

Basketball downtown = Complaints

The day my roll-away rim fell through my car’s windshield, it had to go.

I got the rim for free using Freecycle.org
I could not believe my luck the day I saw the availability listed in my inbox “subject” line. I had recently moved, and I didn’t have a rim nearby. I will grow to be the size of a house if I don’t play a couple of times per week. It was a victorious moment getting this behemoth out of the lady’s driveway and into Phog Lounge’s truck. It was the most dangerous drive I’ve ever taken, as it wanted to tumble out of the truck bed at the slightest degree change in direction. Turning a corner was almost impossible. It was so traumatic, getting it to my house, I think I blocked out most of the trip.

I do remember the woman who gave it to me, when she said, “We have to get rid of it, it fell and almost went through my neighbour’s kitchen window. There was a wind storm.”

Fast forward to the decision to bring this basketball hoop to Phog. It had to leave my house. Dreaming of having it somewhere close to (attached to) Phog was something I thought unfathomable. Why?
But, when I dragged it downtown (literally dragging it out the back of my minivan, scraping the road at every minor dip) Frank really didn’t say a thing. It was a bit of a miracle. I always hoped I would catch him shooting hoops when driving downtown one day, but it never happened.
Getting the rim to Phog was harder than getting it to my house. I had to stop twice, as it was falling out of the back of my van. These things are shaped like very tall esses. Like the letter “s” only thin and tall. No matter how you place it, it stays virtually the same shape. It was hell. I had to drive with one hand on the wheel, and one hand pulling ceaselessly on the hoop.
Unloading it was like finishing a major home renovation. I was making something new!

Customers could shoot a few hoops, joining my love for the game with their love for beer and music. People would play before we opened, while we were open, and after we closed. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before from the music community.

“Hey, wanna go shoot some hoops? Yeah? Hey Tom, can we get the ball?” became something I was beginning to hear more and more. I enjoyed hearing it more and more often. Even better was hearing the basketball (extremely faint) bouncing in the alley that I had swept clean for the first time in five years of business. The grit, the garbage, the homeless disjectamenta, bottle-caps from proprietors passed were all push-broomed out of sight, all for the sake of the game.

I played every chance I got. When I wasn’t biking to work, AND when I was, I would arrive and shoot baskets alone, until inevitably, a passerby would stop and say, “Can I get a shot?”

Of course, I gave them a shot, which turned into 20 shots. Yes, there were some people who actually could play, and there were screwballs wanting to show off for their young sons. There were shirtless weasels and weasels of another kind…lawyers heading to their parked cars. Normally, this trek consisted of a slight realization that they were standing next to the Capitol Theatre. Especially before Dave Kant added his giant artwork to the south end of the alley-wall of Phog. Now there was a reason to engage someone they had never met.

The dry cleaner across the street is a Chinese man. Metro Dry Cleaners. I’ve never said a word to him. Never needed to. I don’t dry clean anything. But when he saw me shooting one day, he meandered over University Avenue and nodded at me. We simply exclaimed how great it was to have the rim out there. Did I bring it from home? Yes, I told him. Great idea, he said. He took a shot. Just one. I invited him to shoot any time he wanted.

My main worry was that it would get torn down by local assholes out on Friday or Saturday night. I fully expected it to be vandalized, like many other good things downtown can be. Surprisingly, it is one of the only pieces of property that isn’t festooned with a god damn Denial sticker. Sorry Dan, but give me a break already.

Local and touring bands have found energy-inducing fun with this rim’s short life. You Say Party, We Say Die! and members of Winter Gloves had a two-on-two battle with myself included.
Here’s some video evidence.

Andrew MacLeod and I had an epic one-on-one game, after he had played on a Saturday evening and was liberally lubricated to the point that I could actually win the game. We played in what we had on. I in my Chuck Taylors, and he in his sandals. Jeans and corduroys were our uniforms. George Manury, a southpaw, shot baskets with me one afternoon after he planned to do so. It was a chance to talk to him without the usual social distractions I face when talking with him during business hours. It was great.

If you want to understand downtown Windsor on a weekend, imagine Mardi Gras. There might be more American kids between 19 and 21 than there are on Bourbon Street. It is a throng of alcohol-fueled hormonal outbursts, speckled with violence, drowned in stupidity. Imagine the sound of that. Imagine how loud, how overtly raucous this would be every weekend. Got it? Okay, I’ll continue.

After a show, one Saturday night, a couple of the customers want to shoot some hoops while I’m closing the bar. They take the ball and shoot around. When I finish my duties, I exit the building to get the ball, but I take a few shots first. I think I remember Ryan Fields making a shot from the street (!) which is almost 40 feet away. Nice! I also remember seeing the flashing lights of an ambulance down the alley toward the North. Not unusual. Someone pummeled someone else for looking at them the wrong way. So macho. People are screaming and yelling at each other as the bars empty.
“Hey bitch! Where you goin’?”
“Fuck you, dude!”
“Wait up!!”
“Stop!! Cabbie!! Stop! Fuck!”

This is the language and tone of the streets of Windsor on the weekend. Living downtown would be awful for this reason. Alas, if you choose to live downtown, you’re kind of up shit’s creek without a paddle because you chose to live in the city-centre where activity is encouraged. I suppose if I didn’t want to experience this I would live on the outskirts of downtown, rather than on ground zero.

As we are playing, a police car approaches.
“Shut it down fellas. We got a noise complaint.”
We looked at each other, frozen, wondering how anyone could actually complain about a bouncing ball with the most ridiculous noise happening steadily for the previous 10 years, let alone the previous 20 minutes.
We stopped.
We went home.

A couple of weeks later, an un-uniformed police officer comes into Phog. Nice guy. He tells me that if we get another complaint about the basketball, it will be bad. Very bad. Very costly. Someone in the Victoria Park Place apartments has complained. I asked if it was possible for someone else to complain, without just cause, was I still culpable and punishable?
“Just don’t play anymore,” he said.
“Like, I can still play during the day, right, the noise bylaw is after 11pm, right?”
“Nope,” he said, pulling out an official piece of paper, “your license says that you have to abide by the noise bylaw 24 hours a day.”
I remember shaking my head a little, like a cartoon character shaking away the cobwebs after a fall.
“Okay,” I said reluctantly.

Since then, it got cold, then it snowed. No b-ball.
But when it warms up, I might just have to draft a letter to the residents of that building.
I might have to inform them of our willingness to play only before a certain time of night.
They need to know what petty complaints are going to do to a small community. A community of people began engaging one another in a way that was absent before the installation of the hoop. That engagement will dissolve.
And yes, I have a problem with someone sitting in their castle balcony, making phone calls about noise (in a place where noise is environmentally apt) adversely affecting a community-at-large.

This is a classic Windsor thing, where someone makes noise complaints on a night when there is such a din, you can’t tell one sound from another.
It’s like choosing to live at the end of an airport runway, and then calling to file a noise complaint, to ground all future flights. Consider your surroundings before you decide to move in and reign supreme over your dominion.
There is more at stake than you can see from your perch.


Me and the Olympian: Scott Russell

Well, I saw film tonight, getting ready to sleep, of Scott Russell (Windsor boy) screaming or howling and growling after throwing a javelin. Yes, in Beijing. It was bizarre to see, because I had never seen him in action since he left Windsor to go to Kansas University in the US. I knew he was doing shot-put, maybe even discus, and now I see a guy with a reddish beard post-fling, and I’m thinking, “Was that dude in red and white? That might have been Scotty.”

So I go online and I find the image and story above of Scott, which was extremely uplifting. A proud moment. Yeah, I know, I see the Olympics for what it is to the people running the show, but I still appreciate the skill, finesse, strength, ability and dedication it takes to be an elite athlete. And to see Mr. Russell there, representing Windsor and Canada was awesome.

How do I know Scott. Simple. He and his brother were twin towers in sports (basketball of course) at F. J. Brennan High School. I had to play against him. It wasn’t fun, because the guy is massive, and skilled.

Flash forward to the summer of grade 10, when I make the Ontario travel basketball team (Riverside) that tons of great players tried out for, all hoping to be among all-stars. John Mastromattei, and Bill Davis, and I (all from Catholic Central High School) make the team. We are now shoulder to shoulder with the guys we despise all year long. Of course we formed a friendship with one another, which was shocking at first due to the vitriol we had for one another all season, but it was a majorly rewarding experience.

Ron Crumb, J.R. Bias, Ron Andriash (spelling?), John Fletcher, Marvin Caston, and several others joined Scott Russell, knowing him as the huge guy (6’9”) in the middle…not so much as the future Olympian who weighs 269 pounds and throws a spear over 80 meters! The story of his trials and tribulations to get to the Olympics can be read HERE.

We roomed together, and we got along quite well, as he was an extremely quiet guy, and a dedicated athlete when on the court.

Having come home tonight from playing with some pretty wicked basketball players (at the University of Windsor Student Centre gym) and some great kids who make up the Windsor Filipino team who will be traveling and competing, I felt it was a good time to remember Scott in this blog. Tonight, playing with guys who I haven’t seen/played with in YEARS AND YEARS brought up the nostalgia of what it means to be on a team of extremely talented guys.

And after I saw Scotty on the TV I thought, “Shit, shouldn’t I know he’s there? I mean, I like this guy, and I want him to medal…so I gotta see how he’s doing.” From what I can tell, he’s still in the running, and I encourage you to follow his quest for a medal.

Good luck Scott!


Today, after shooting baskets in my driveway for about thirty minutes, I think I had a hypoglycemic episode which sent me teetering into the house to scarf on an orange and a banana. When I was done those, I was still craving something, so I quickly brewed some coffee and grabbed for some “Dad’s Oatmeal Cookies” to dip. Being half-cognitive, I simply sat on the floor waiting for the hot water. When it was done, I sat on the floor in my bedroom, reading a book I was trying to make some progress on (Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington). I realized that the only sound was the breeze billowing in from the living room window, down the hall. The TV was off (which it almost always is when I’m home alone), the radio was silent, and my iPod was downstairs (jettisoned there from when I stormed wobbly into the house from the driveway). I sat, sweating profusely down the bridge of my nose, akin to the image of my father I have seen many times growing up. The sweat could roll down my cheeks, but it finds its way to my Lucier nose and makes its merry way to my ski-jump schnoz-tip and leaps onto my soaked t-shirt. My dad used to pour sweat down his face in the summer when digging holes or hammering planks or painting a room…and here I was, carrying on the genetic run-off style my father had perfected for as long as I could remember. While reading, I dipped the first cookie into the coffee and thought I heard the ocean. It was so off-putting and strange that I lowered the book to see where the sound was coming from. Perhaps an approaching downpour of rain, creeping up the street? On my second cookie, I realized what the noise was. The sound was the cookie sopping up the coffee, like my shirt was slurping my perspiration. It occurred to me that I am finding myself in much more hectic times than I ever wanted. I don’t mind hustle and bustle, but I always figured that I’d know enough to just stop, turn everything off, light a candle or something, and just sit. But I don’t do that. I don’t. Sitting there in enough silence to hear, to actually hear the sponging of my cookie, I was reminded of the simplest of pleasures. Simplicity. Silence. Not even meditative. In fact, when you are finally sequestered by silence by some strange alignment of the heavens, you become meditative without trying. It’d be like a bird or a squirrel or another neighbourhood animal, even a pet when the entire power grid gets knocked out for an hour or two. They must soak up that silence, that lack of constant vibration and purring like my oatmeal cookie. I know I did.