Basketball Curly Neal Mark R. Elsis

Thank You Curly Neal by Mark R. Elsis

It was February of 1970, and I had just turned twelve years old a month earlier. I lived and breathed basketball since before my first Intramural game, which didn’t happen when scheduled on November 9, 1965, because that was the evening of the Great Northeast Blackout.
Since it was the dead of winter, I was playing basketball indoors at the Lost Battalion Hall in Rego Park, Queens. I was by myself, late in the afternoon, working on just playing left-handed. I used to play predominantly right-handed, yet I was considerably ambidextrous both playing hockey left-handed and was a switch hitter when batting at baseball.
I understood through the insistence of my helpful coach at the time Mr. Kidell, that if I could become almost as good left-handed with dribbling and shooting, then the defense couldn’t overplay me on my right side. I had been working hard on left-handed playing for some time, and it started becoming more natural.
I was diligently and repetitively practicing left-handed when I heard a voice from behind tell me, hey kid, you’re great. I looked behind me, and to my utter astonishment, it was the greatest ball handler in the world, the superstar of the Harlem Globetrotters, Curly Neal. I said thank you. He then told me, I’ve been watching you, and you’re right-handed, yet you’re playing entirely with your left hand.
I said yes, I used to play almost exclusively right-handed, but a few months ago, my coach told me he realized that I was ambidextrous and told me to start working diligently on developing my left-handed play. He said if you get proficient playing left-handed, whoever defends you could never be able to overplay you on the right side. That’s why I was working on my left-handed play. I’m trying to become the best basketball player I can be. He immediately understood and told me I had an intelligent coach.
He then said with a big smile on his face what is your name, and can I shoot around with you? I told him my name is Mark, and I’m a big fan of yours, so yes, please, shoot around with me. So we shot hoops and talked basketball for about fifteen minutes. During this time, he also taught me some maneuvers to handle and dribble the basketball more efficiently. Curly then asked if I wanted to play him in a pickup game, just him and I, one-on-one. Of course, I couldn’t say yes quickly enough.
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