Order On The Court

by Steve Bernstein

After an early dinner at Anthony’s apartment, we walked over to the basketball court in the projects. It was a warm early spring evening, April 4th 1968, still light out and the park was jumping.

Anthony knew a couple of the guys and started talking us up. They looked over at me, the little white kid, snickered, looked at Anthony, and then came back with some cash to lay the bet.

It had been a few months since me and Anthony had done our basketball hustle. After no less than two minutes into the game, we were back. Same as before, maybe better. Our plays were flowing to perfection. We were up by three, then five, and then it was ten to four ours, point game.

The sounds of Motown filled the air. A transistor radio, coat hangered to the chain link fence, was blaring Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, and the Temptations. As I was about to take the ball out at the foul line to finish these guys off, the music stopped.

After a second or two the announcer came on and said, “The Reverend Martin Luther King was shot and killed today in Memphis by a white man.”

The park turned eerily silent. The basketballs stopped bouncing. It seemed like even the busses and cars out on University Avenue and the Cross Bronx Expressway stopped. The ball players stood still, intently listening to that radio hung on the chain link fence.

As usual, I was the only white kid on the court. I saw the faces of the other kids go from shock, comprehension, sadness and, finally, to rage.

Anthony processed it all. Then he got busy. He took the ball from me and coolly placed it on the foul line. Without revealing any panic, he firmly grabbed my arm and calmly walked me side-by-side out the park gate, down the walkway to University Avenue.

As we left the court, we heard a chant rising, “Whitey killed the king, whitey killed the king.”

In less than five minutes, we got to Anthony’s apartment. We barged in and collapsed on the living room floor. Everybody was home. Ma, all the kids, and the dads were crowded around the staticky black and white TV. They were crying. On the TV, Walter Cronkite, just about in tears himself, was relating to the whole world what happened to Martin Luther King.

The family stared at us, startled, eyes unfocused. When they realized it was us, they jumped off the sofas and chairs and got up off the floor and, all together, reached out to us in one big family embrace. It lasted a long time.

Finally, Anthony said, “Ma, we’re gonna’ keep Steve here for a while, until things die down and it’s safe on the street, safe enough for him to go home.”

One of the dads slowly backed out of the circle and walked over to the apartment door behind me. I heard him lock the door. Click. Click.

""Steve Bernstein is a retired plumber who for over three decades has been a teacher and mentor for at-risk-teens as wall as an animal rights activist and humane educator. He recently self-published STORIES FROM THE STOOP, seven adventure stories from his colorful childhood growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s. He can be reached at stevebernsteinauthor@gmail.com.

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