I hope you know a Rudy.
You know, there's a gift some people possess, no matter how often they share it. I mean, you can share money and things until you’re broke. But some people, share endlessly and they never run out of that thing, that thing that just makes others feel better.
You can’t put your finger on it but when you see them, you just feel better. I don’t know if there’s a better thing a human can possess.
Some people have an on/off switch and can light up a room and it’s a gift, for sure. But, funny enough, the ones I’m talking about, they don’t even try. They just do. First off, they look happy to see you. They remember your name, ask about your family. Make a little joke. You wish there were more people like this.
And I met someone like this through basketball. I’ve said before I think basketball is the greatest game. I can trace every close relationship, every deep friendship, to the ball and the hoop. Basketball is six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Whether you’ve ever touched a basketball, if I know you, I can explain how basketball links us. But that’s another column.
One of my lucky links came through the Graybeards and the Harlem Magic Masters, a basketball entertainment group. About fifteen years ago, The Graybeards hired the Magic Masters to put on a show for families and kids. The MC, the guy who got the crowd fired up, was a guy named Rudy. The show was so good the Magic Masters were invited back every year. Rudy didn’t just come back every year, he started coming back all the time. He liked the whole Rockaway – Graybeards thing so much he’d come to games and other events.
Eventually, he joined the Graybeards basketball league and everyone knew at once the guy had game. He could shoot, pass, he could do it all. But I’d say his top skill was being a great teammate. He’d offer constant encouragement to his guys, all the while busting his ass out there.
The guy’s not a saint. If you were on the opposing team, he’d hack and hold you all game long. (I’m just speaking from experience). You didn’t want to play against him, but you’d want him on your team. Or better, you’d want to be on his team.
And though lots of guys wanted to be on his team, even more guys wanted to be his friend. And why not? He’d make you feel better.
The league is on hold as gym time and other matters sort themselves out in the post-pandemic era so we’re still working on memories. And I remember…
Rudy made the rounds after games asking guys if they’d want water or a beer. He’d be the one making sure the gym wasn’t left a mess. He’d rebound for kids who wanted to take some shots after the games were done. I biked into Brownsville a couple years back to check out a tournament he was helping run. He’d just turned 60 or 61 and was out there reffing games all damn day in a hot July sun. Doing good, in plain sight, while no one was looking.
Rudy grew up in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy and so, it happens, did my father-in-law, Bob, a generation before. At Graybeard games, Bob, in his early 80s, would sit, to the side, often by himself just to watch the games. Without fail, Rudy would take a seat next to him and they’d talk about Bed-Stuy and this street and that street. And where good games were played. And they’d talk a little about life, too. Sometimes Rudy would call him on the phone just to say hello and see how things were going.
When Bob died a few years ago, Rudy came to the funeral. And then he took the ride to the cemetery on Long Island. At the conclusion of the burial site service, I looked over to see Rudy extending his arm so he could assist Bob’s wife, Joan, back to the limousine.
Joan said goodbye to her husband Bob and took Rudy’s arm and they walked solemnly, beautifully, back to the waiting car. That’s one you don’t forget. And get this, he’ll call Joan from time to time to check in on her.
Now it turns out, the guy who makes everyone else feel good is not feeling too good, himself. I hope he knows he’s got a lot of guys on his team who love him and need him back.
Rudy, get well. We got one more game.
By Kevin BoyleBLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS