One of the top reasons older buds come to Best Day is because they want to improve their own writing. It's pretty common for someone to already have an idea for a memoir or history they want to publish and to read a chapter of it aloud. Norman's one such older bud. I'll let him explain below:
Norman Cain07.16.2020Prologue to A Brief Introduction of Afro-American Basketball in PhiladelphiaYeah, I can go next. I will probably not read all of it, because it’s rather long. So maybe I’ll read some and just move along with it. And it deals with a story that I told and that you were gracious enough to write several weeks ago about my experiences at the camp up in the Pocono Mountains. And I was on the basketball team at the camp, and there was a fellow there. He was on the basketball team, he became a sociologist, and he was published several times. And I saw him several times as a referee at what was known as the Charles Baker League, which is Sonny Hill Basketball League, which was famous in Philadelphia, was a part of. So it’s very, very long and I don’t think I’m going to do it all right now because I’m really going to have to work on it. Because I did a lot of research, one thing led to another, and my research basically deals with Afro-American basketball history in Philadelphia. And as a matter of fact, I think I’m going to ad lib because when I first came to 509, my purpose was to use the computer lab which was in the basement. And I was doing a historical thing on a history of African Americans in basketball from 1897 when it began, I believe, up until 1970. I haven’t worked on that project for years, but I still have that material. I stopped that project because I felt that if I was going to write, that I needed experiences getting actually back into the mechanics of writing, where Best Day came in. This is about, uh let me just start here…Norman Cain07.16.2020A Brief Introduction of Afro-American Basketball in Philadelphia
In 1960, William Randolph Hall, who was commonly and fondly known as Sonny Hill founded Charles Baker professional basketball league in Philadelphia. Throughout the fifties and sixties the National Basketball association had a player (by nationality) quota system. Only a limited amount of Afro Americans could be retained on their rosters. As a result many pro level Afro Americans were denied the opportunity to play at a professional level. AS a result of that quota system many professional level African Americans found themselves on the outside of the fortified walls of the NBA. Thanks to the great organizing ability of Sonny Hill many Afro American professional level basketball players embraced a platform that allowed them to exhibit their skills. Initially the games were played on playgrounds throughout the city, specifically Moylan Center, a recreation center at 25th and Diamond Street. Eventually games were held inside of the Moylan Center thanks to Charles Baker, a basketball enthusiast and city commissioner who pulled some strings to have the center gym opened. Mr. Baker’s intervention was appreciated and just instilled to Charles Baker a basketball league. By the late sixties the league found a home in the Bright Hope Baptist church at 12th and Columbia Avenue, now Cecil B. Moore Avenue. The professional contingency that played there was the Charles Baker League. The Sonny Hill sectors included three divisions: the Bill Cosby Future Division, which was middle schoolers, the Walt Chamberlain High School Division and the Hank Gathers College Division. Games were played in the summer four days a week, beginning in the afternoon starting with the various levels; the middle school first and ending with the professionals whose teams were sponsored by Philadelphia area businesses like Gatton’s Real Estate, Duckie’s Dasherie, Tim Bates’ Rebar, Nate Ben Reliable and Spike Trophies. While the various levels of teams had players from outside of and beyond Philadelphia, the college and pros sectors had players who would migrate from areas throughout the country. Their player base was fast and filled with spell-bounding athletic feats and dribbled with flow that made spectators scream. Some of the greatest players in the nation showed their skills, all Americans filled the bench while playground players shined. The Baker-Sonny Hill games were carnivals, extraordinary; after the games the bars and clubs thrived and house parties blossomed. Eventually the league played their games at Temple University McGonigle Hall until 10 or 15 years ago. I would be remiss if I did not mention that they eventually added a female component. Rev. Sol Murphy, who was a co-worker of mine at the West Philadelphia Boys Club at 35th and Haverford Avenue, was the commentator. He is the best sports commentator that I have ever heard. On 7-22-2017, a filmmaker Tony Paris debuted his film “The Baker League Story” and I was there and I got a chance to see all of these older basketball players my age, and their sons who many of whom became pro basketball players and coaches. And that’s just a story that really has to be written about, and it has been, but I think at another level. One of the things that I’ll say about Mr. Sonny Hill is that he kept basketball alive in the city of Philadelphia. He’s not that tall, I saw him play in his youth but he was a great basketball player. He was twenty-eight years old before Detroit called him up and I guess he was too short and a little bit too old, but he was amongst the best that I’ve seen. Outside of being a basketball player he was color commentator for the 76ers between 1973 and 1970, and he was also a color commentator I think for NBC for quite a few years. And even though he never played professional basketball on the courts, he did receive in the basketball Hall of Fame because of his input in the game. So here I go again, I guess I’ll have to go to my storage and pull out the old papers and start reigniting my old project. Now see, what’s been happening, I just wanted to do a short thing, and I kept going, and I kept going, and I kept going. And it’s been taking a lot of time, a lot of positive time.
Norman Cain07.16.2020Epilogue to A Brief Introduction of Afro-American Basketball in Philadelphia
I used to play. I got into the game late because when I was coming up, I was baseball and football, too thin for football. But then I discovered basketball in the 7th grade, made the junior high school team, made junior varsity in high school, didn’t make my college team but when I got into the Army I played at a very high level and for at least a third of my Army career, I was on like a traveling team. So it kept me out of trouble, and I love it. I coached twice at a Boy’s Club in North Philly and the one in West Philadelphia. Then I had a neighborhood team, and these kids were abroad, they didn’t understand but they had the ability and they paid attention to me. And they took the championship. And the important thing about that was that years later when these kids got to be like forty-five and forty-six, and they would see me with their sons and they would say, “This is my coach.” They called me coach, and I saw the power and giving back. When I came up, there was that kind of giving back, you see. Because we had a coach—I don’t want to take up too much time, and I have to mention him—he, no matter what you did, the fellows in the neighborhood, if you were a boxer, if you were a singer, he was a part of that. And YMCA, he was a coach for a couple years, and then what he would do, if you got in any trouble, he would actually come to your house. Then later on in life, he lived in my neighborhood and I was able to, you know, talk to him each and every day. There has to be a completion, it has to go one generation to the next generation. That’s the way it used to be.
Norman's been with Best Day since the very beginning, and he's provided us with incredible stories of summer vacations, school trouble, military service, neighborhood "standoffs," and sports, sports and more sports. He has a wonderful voice, an easygoing demeanor, and he can make friends with anyone. He's a staple of Drexel University's Writers Room, and had his own chatbook published by The Head & The Hand. I've heard people talking about how they're going to use the lockdowns and quarantines to write their next great book, and I know Norman will write that book by the end of the pandemic. More updates as his stories develop.
You can help share our older buds future histories, biographies, and memoirs by donating to Best Day, subscribing to our newsletter, sending a note to our older buds, or following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you want to volunteer yourself, then email us at email@example.com. And if you know older buds with stories, then you or they can submit them through our portal right here. We're especially interested to stories from Black older buds, but we're always looking for stories from older buds of color, older buds with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ older buds, older buds of any gender or sex, older buds of any religion, and older buds who just plain break the mold.
And don't forget to maintain contact with the older buds in your life. If you can't be there in person, please call them, email them, or message them on social media. And if they're using teleconferencing or remote events for the first time, give them a call and help them set things up. Check in on them to see how well they're getting used to these programs. Buy them a computer or an internet package if they don't have one of their own. It's a human right, after all.
Curated by Caitlin Cieri