by Nick Cataldi
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|Nick Cataldi, radio D.J. for WBCB1490 AM|
My parents were divorcing and we had just moved to a place called Liddonfield in the Holmesburg section of Philadelphia. I was only 10 years old and I knew we were never rich people by any means, but moving here told me that the best days were behind us financially, at least for the time being. I looked outside on a cold, damp February morning and saw my first sign of life - my next door neighbor. She smiled and said hi and little did I know that a lifelong friendship had just started. I went outside to look around. The neighborhood had a lonely look to it. Small wonder - everybody was in school or working! I hadn't started school yet. I had some settling in to do and would hit school tomorrow. This wasn't a new experience for me. It was another move, another school and another scary and lonely feeling.
I settled into school and after a few days it warmed up a bit. I ventured outside of my house. I could see the basketball court. It was where everyone of all shapes, sizes & colors seemed to congregate. The energy I felt around me was incredible! Sports at that time were the biggest common denominator among the guys in the project. Even those who weren't very good would be playing. Baseball & football were popular, but only when in season. Basketball, however, was a year 'round thing in Liddonfield. It almost defined you among some of the guys. How good you were, that is. Of course, there were other criteria, but how you played basketball was one of the top ones. Why, I never knew. I wasn't very good. At first, that is. One guy told me, "Kid, I've seen some lousy basketball players in my life, but you take the cake!” (Strange, considering he was only about fourteen, himself. How many players could he have seen, right?) I laughed about it, but deep down I felt bad. That was due to change.
As the days went by, I saw that my new friends were very interested in a game that I had never paid too much attention to. Bit by bit, I was gaining interest until I found myself consumed by the sport. I would watch others with a new found enthusiasm. Rarely did I experience such a feeling, if ever. One guy named Joe really had my attention. He, along with the standard repertoire of shots, created some new ones that used to bring back memories when I saw later day pros doing them . Years later, I would think, 'Joe did that years ago'. I would shoot baskets with him on a regular basis. I would never try to copy him, per se’. This I was learning while playing on a sport team that was made up of individual talent. Almost like an artist's work. I spent hours at this game. I even shoveled the snow off the court one time. (I had read that Boston Celtic Great Bob Cousy, as a youngster, had done the same thing. So, good for Bob! Good for me!) I figured that greatness was just down the road! Thinking and talking basketball became the norm for me, a way to connect with friends, as well as a way to enjoy a certain solitude and dream of someday playing pro ball while I perfected my game.
Unfortunately, after a few years we were to move and not for a good reason. I took with me the love of the game but my new neighborhood did not have a court very close to home. I had to walk a good distance to find one. Often, almost daily, I would return to the project where I was and always would be accepted. Ironically, for all the stories about poor kids from the project who continuously get into trouble with the law, that wasn't to happen to me until after I had moved to a nearby suburb. Now, I hadn't been an angel while I lived in Liddonfield but it did get much worse after I moved away. I didn't seem to have the sport as a good diversion. While I still played sports, I was mixing the wrong things into it. I made friends elsewhere of course, but we were all taking wrong turns in life. Why I'll never know. It did occur to me years later that I was lacking the emotional support I had always gotten from my adult neighbors in the project. These were good people from very working class backgrounds. A great many of us lived in fatherless homes. Almost as many had no contact with our fathers. Getting older, making poor and often unchecked decisions. There were consequences. Prices would have to be paid. Some of us were heading someplace, not sure at the time but it was in a good direction. Others had no idea what they were going to do or how to steer into the skid they had gotten into. Some had gotten married & moved away. Others married and hung around for a while, then moved.