Monday, July 28, 2014 in Puerto Rico 2014 or How I [almost] gave Chris Mullin the Business

7:45 AM La Playa...Isla Verde
July 26, 2014

Lahh Woods at La Perla Courts, Old San Juan

The sweet intensity of the morning sun kisses my face, 
as the calm Caribbean sea dances beneath the soles of 
my feet.  My morning workout has ended as diligent 
hotel workers drag out colorful beach chairs and wrinkled, 
hung over, umbrellas.  I reward my mornings efforts with 
a quick dip into the gentle waters.  It is game day and quite 
an early morning after successfully defending me Familia 
Freestyle Dance Title [55 Years and Counting] on the 
ballroom floor the night before, at the El San Juan Hotel 
and Casino.  I take a quick inventory after running my 
miles, push-ups and stretching on the beach...Arms ok?
...check....Back ok?...check...Most importantly...Legs 
OK? Check...After showering and breakfast at the ESJ 
Towers, it's time for the 
business of the day.  I need to check my phone 
messages for a very important call from Senior Luis 
Vargas [Me Balocesto Compadre de Puerto Rico] 
for game today's location and time.    The only info 
I have from my mans and them, James Payne, out 
in California is that, "Senior Vargas will be calling 
you about a Masters Game in San Juan...Bring your 
tennis shoes and your A game."  Fortunately, my 
"A Game" is the only game I have.  I turn on my 
phone to see if there are any messages or text...Nada.  
No need to panic. Things are a little layed back here
..."Mira Hermano, Dame un frio cerveza y dos 
empanadas,  Por Favor".  I take a quick nap at 
poolside and enjoy the view...Welcome to Puerto Rico.

2:45 PM Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico
July 26, 2014

I'm flying k-solo, un-seatbelted,  in the back seat of a fast moving  
caro publico [Taxi] as we cross over the Teodoro Moscoso bridge. 
The beaming afternoon sunlight rebounds off the sparkling river
water and swishes into my squinting eyelids.  I'm kicking it with
me hermano  Reuben, the taxi driver, who is also a local baller.
He also confesses that baseball is his first love. He's telling
me how popular basketball has become in Puerto Rico and
how, when, and where him and his friends get it on.  

As we pass busy tree lined boulevards and small
businesses Reuben reflects, "Yeah, we all play a couple of times a
week at different places...If I'm not bruised up after the game I don't
feel like I really played at all... I played some when I was younger, but
basketball injuries are more common than I had to stop
playing back then to protect my scholarship."  Reuben attended
college in Maryland, majored is Biz Admin and played NCAA Baseball. 
            I told him that I played ball, basically, my whole life and that I
was heading to play at an event for Master's Age [40 & Over] ballers,
that would include  many of the Puerto Rican Professional Legends
de Balocesto Superior...Famous players like Mario “Quijote” Morales,
George Torres [Not to be confused with Georgie Torres], Andres Gilbert,
Polaco Yantin, Richie Decklet, Mulero, Willie Quinonnez, Mario Sanchez,
Bobby Rios, my contact Luis Vargas...and more! I also told him
that I was under the impression that we [The Puerto Rican Masters
Players] would be playing against a Masters team from the States
that included the former NBA player Chris Mullin.

I told Reuben emphatically, "I could not pass on an opportunity to play
against Chris Mullin and to have the personal bonus of representing Puerto Rico
at the same time!  Are you kidding me?! Vacation time or no vacation time...My
ancestors, elders, and family in Toa Baja, La Pearla and the states would be proud
of me."  I'm talking loud in the cab and going on and 
on how I'm looking forward to giving Chris Mullin  
"The Business" this and I'm gonna put Mullin  on
"SMASH" that..and how Mitch Richman better not show up, etc, etc, etc...
And I'm getting myself pretty worked up back there, when I see that Reuben
is getting as hyped up as I am. He has a strange look coming across his face.
Reuben looks up, wide eyed, into the mirror and exclaims, "Hey wait a minute...
Oh my God! This is amazing?!!...Is that you?! Oh Wow! I heard about you!  I
know all about you!  WOW!! I can't believe this!" OK...Now I'm looking around for
the hidden cameras and microphones in this taxi.  I am not about to be "Punked!"
without putting up a good fight.  Reuben explains,"No, No what happened was I
was dropping some family off at the Barcardi Tour this morning and when they
were in my cab they we saying how crazy you were about playing basketball,
even while you were on vacation. [What else would I be doing on vacation in
Puerto Rico?] I wasn't really listening but the two ladies seemed very upset with
you, about you going to play ball while they were going on a tour...They said,
"That's Crazy!  What do you mean you have a game today?"  Don't say anything
to them, but they were definitely talking about you."  Don't worry Reuben, your
secret's safe with me.  I won't mentioned a word to anyone...Especially not a
word to my two loving daughters, my cousin, and my son in law.

      As we arrive at the Coliseo Ruben Zayas Montanez Arena, I see a
long, slow moving, line wrapped around the modern, stylish,white building. 
Many attendees in suits and ties...Ladies in fine dresses.  Looks more like
quinse-anos celebration than a
basketball game. I pay Reuben [my mans and them] and I tip him handsomely
for the family intel.  I crossover and side step people in the crowd and swiftly
knock on the closed, glass, coliseum door.  The door opens and I lead with my
game bag and a beautiful woman dressed in black smiles and ask, "Tu eres un jugador Si?"
[I'm not a player I just ball a lot] 
I respond confidently in my heaviest Latino accent, "Si Gracias" and I stepped 
past security and a line of corporate tables with exhibitors of various products 
and services that I could not make out at a glance.  [P.R. Wheel Chair Basketball/] 
There are food and beverage vendors doing a thriving business, with that official arroz
con pollo, and empanadas smell hovering in the air. I make my way
down to the coliseum floor as the security guards open the swinging
doors.  I see a good sized arena with a lower level that is almost filled. 
Overhead colored spot lights swing back and fourth, as a concert styled
sound system is kicking some serious, Salsa and Reggaeton with the volume
way past ten.  I feel very much at home...This is all so familiar to me. 
This is the "Big Time" "The Pros"...No it's not the NBA...It's bigger than
that...This is Balocesto Superior de Puerto Rico...In a serious sense of
Time and Space this all came about 34 years late.

8:35 PM El Barrio, Harlem, NY
March 1980

The year is 1980 and that winter In El Barrio, NYC my team has won
the National Hispanic Basketball League Championship aka The Schaeffer League.  The National Hispanic League was one of the best organized, and competitive leagues in New York City under the direction of Mr. Ralph Cora.
The Public School  building is now called the Tito Puente Education Complex M117.
I believe Mr. Cora's league assistant's name was Efran, and together with a great
staff they ran that league for several years.  I started in the back-court with Chicky Burgos,
we had a tall brother named Sandy, and an elder warrior named "Pops" that no one could
guard in the low post.   We battled against St Edwards, Goya, The Dominican
All-Stars, Carvel, to name a few clubs. The team I played on was named San
German and I got on the team when my Cousin Julio Vigoreaux introduced
me to a Mr. Carlos Martinez.  I had a tryout for the team under the
Cross-Bronx Expressway.  [He brought his own basketball rim and bolts to
the vacant location]  In this league, we played against the best players available
in the city at that time...Billy Goodwin, David Crosby, Pete Aguilar, Billy Santos,
Curtis Cornbread Phauls, Charlie Cotto, and many great players whose names I
have forgotten, but I will never forget their talent, their attitudes, and their
abilities. Part of the reason why so many National Hispanic League players
played so hard, physical, and even desperate at times was  because many
were attempting to get a shot overseas...they were hoping to get a look en
La Isla Bonita...Sometimes literally clawing at each others throats for
some kind of crabs in a barrel manifesting tough comp.

    In that league many of the elite players were recruited to play in
Balocesto Superior de Puerto Rico and had established careers as
professional and semi-professional athletes on the beautiful shores and
mountains of  PR.  Some of those players were childhood friends of mine, who
I played street-ball or Juniors/Seniors Division ball with...We all played
ball at P.S. 18 Center and other tournaments together where we were coached
at one time or another by Tiny Archibald, Myles Dorch, Bill Hill [RIP] and or
Mr. Floyd Layne. Players like Carmelo Rosa, Angel Cruz and George Torres.
All three had neighborhood nicknames...We called them, respectively, "Melo",
"Monchito" and "Pretty Boy"...By the time they were teenagers they already
had citywide reps from playing with PS 18 coaches [BX], The Boys of
Yesteryear League [Manhattan], and eventually laying the foundation
for the first successful New York City Gauchos Team.

We were mostly from Patterson Projects in the Bronx, and I felt that as talented as they
were I would some day have an opportunity to play with, or against, them again in PR.

This situation, or this opportunity dictated by Time/Space and Determination
becomes a small, tough, window of opportunity. [And I have the stitches to
prove it.]  Especially when you are maturing 22 year old with a beautiful
one year old child and a wife to be standing in the wings saying, "That's crazy!
What do you mean you have a game today?"  I was playing Mookie...
 and she really was Tina [Rosey Perez] so I had to Do the Right Thing.

Young adults have to maximize every opportunity that is presented
to them.  One must properly research the complete situation.  One
must write letters of inquiry and introduction, make the phone calls,
and knock on the doors necessary to make things happen for oneself.
Sitting back and waiting for the phone to ring, or waiting for a contact
or friend to "hook you up" is not the way to go.  Take ownership of your
careers.  Take ownership of your education and cultural development...
Take ownership of the direction of your life. Practice often and
accept the wise counsel of coaches and elders...They've been there.
Don't Drink.  Don't Smoke. Don't Sleep Around. Stay disciplined.
"Keep your eyes on the prize."

 We also played in the O.U.B. Tournament [United Organizations
of the Bronx] that was held at St Mary's Gymnasium uptown, that was
ran by a man named Moserat Flores.  It was a league that was modeled
somewhat after the National Hispanic League, however you were allowed
several more Americans [None Latinos] than the two American rule in the
National Hispanic League.  We won that league also and the prize for the
champs was...[1] A team trophy...[2] A purple and white plastic windbreaker
jacket with large white letters O.U.B. on the back...[3] A trip to tour and play
several games in Puerto Rico.  It was a great time in my life, and it was an
even greater opportunity, if only one had recognized that.

5:45  Coliseo Ruben Zayas Montanez Arena
July 26, 2014

We've had speeches by men in fine tailored suits.  We've 
had product testimonials. We've had an impressive and 
comedic performance from a bilingual mime/improve 
group...We've had water, the distribution of jerseys, 
cold cerveza and many fans and friends snapping 
photos with tightly held cell-phones and cameras of 
all sizes and colors...It is almost 6 PM and the one 
thing we have not had was a basketball game. I call 
my cousins back in Isla Verde and the music is so 
loud at the rented beach cabana that we cannot 
properly communicate...Un grande fiesta de familia
...Family members pass the phone around the beach 
to anyone within reach who doesn't have two drinks
in their hands, "Hello....Hello Lahh...Where are you?"
"We can't hear you!"  "How's the game going? You're 
missing a great party bro!"  "Get your A## over here!"
"Primo? Primo? Donde Estas?" Click.

            The broader magnitude of this event is finally 
hitting me.  Today's event is many things. This is a 
business and personal health opportunity for many 
in attendance who are introduced to the products 
of   Not only are the use of 
dietary supplement potentially of significant 
physical value to those that choose to take them
...There are also financial rewards to those who 
choose to distribute them.  So today's event is 
to rally and uplift the dedicated sales and 
distribution members of the Puerto Rican 
Regional Associates.  So many of the 
speeches in Spanish was also to introduce and 
explain the products and business concepts to 
those who were invited to the arena.  It was 
apparent to me, by this time, that Mr. Mullin 
was a supporter or spokesperson for the products...And it was my intention 
to test Mr. Mullins retention of his NBA skills, 
whether he used these fine products or not.

                 But before our game, there was a remarkable 
        display of athleticism.  There was a wheelchair basketball 
        game played by members of the Federation de Baloncesto
        En Silla De Ruedas. 
        They moved on remarkably on wheelchairs with strength, 
        balance, grace and speed. They ran their offense, set picks, 
        played "D", with numerous fast breaks and passing skills
        that would shame many a ballplayer throughout the US.
        The Federation has many talented male and female athletes 
        with strong understanding of the game.  They worked very 
        hard and were extremely disciplined and nice with the rock.

                FEBASIRUPR Wheelchair Game Highlights below...      

            Dilka Benitez, Hector Perez and Carlos Soto have 
           done a remarkable job at developing a phenomenal 
           program for the wheelchair athletes of Puerto Rico.  
          Any support or exposure opportunities for their athletes 
          and program would be greatly appreciated.  Even Chris 
          Mullen got into the wheelchair game, pushing himself 
          in the chair, attempting to keep up with the rolling 
          veterans, who swiftly danced past him on their way to 
          the basket.  To Chris's credit, great effort, good assists
          and if I'm correct I do believe he scored a basket or two.  
         At halftime of that game he flipped his jersey over and 
         rocked with the visiting team.  That was a great gesture 
         and a great game to witness.

                                  FEDERATION DE BALOCESTOS EN SILLA DE RUEDAS
                                      FEDERATION OF WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL IN
                                                               PUERTO RICO 2014

 6:55  Coliseo Ruben Zayas Montanez Arena 
Game Two the LEGENDS GAME 
Finally we get what appears to be our final warm-up 
for the game.  Both teams are shooting at their baskets 
and I notice two things.  [1] Most of these athletes are 
anchored around the three point line, while I feed the 
players trying to determine who the shooters
are. [2] When we started to do lay-ups Chris Mullin, 
the person I'm all psyched up to play against...The guy 
that I'm supposed to put on "SMASH"...The one I'm 
supposed to be guarding and "Giving the Business" 
is on the same layup line as myself!

Before the game begins, I was stretching again when a man about my age comes
over and asks me in Spanish, "Who are you? This is a Puerto Rican Legends game
and who are you? I've never seen you before."  I explained to him, slowly, 
in my best Spanglish..."Mira Hermano...Yo Soy Borinqua.  Me Madre Dia es Puertorriqueno. Si? De uhhh, pueblo 
de me familia es Toa Baja...Tu sabe Toa Baja?
Y ahora me playing aqui..pero ahoro me playing in de Legends de Balocestos
Superior!  Tambien?  He laughs loudly, looks at me sideways and shakes his head
as he slowly walks away...He glances back at me when he reaches his friends
and family to report his findings.  They curiously and nervously look my way with
frowns on their faces...They are not smiling...and neither am I.
Now I've been hyped for the last day or so to play against Mullin, who
is now on the layup line 3 players behind me.  Well maybe all is not lost
because in the wheelchair game [Game One] he flipped his jersey over at
half-time.  So all is not lost...In the immortal words of Gerald Henderson
[VCU/Celtics] and Marvin Gaye, "Let's Get It On!"
Now at this point Mr Mullin is being besieged by people wanting to take a picture
with him.  Old ladies, young men, active players, retired players.  I'm not going over
there to get a picture.  I'm not asking for his autograph.  As a matter of fact, I'm
still in uptown, attack, mode...Cause maybe in the second half, I'm going to
have to guard him...And he's going to have to try and guard me... 
"I came to bury Caesar, not to Praise him!"

Where I grew up, we didn't run up on people and ask for their autographs
and pictures...That was not cool.  What would I look like asking a grown
A## man for an autograph.  Hell! No! Now maybe if it was Michael Jackson,
or Michael Jordan...or...Uhh-err...Hell No! Are you kidding me? Hell no! Not
even MJ! [Pick One] I'm not waiting in line for none of these guys to take a
picture or to sign my year book or do anything. Never. Ever. Never.  Am I clear?
Not even Mr. Cooper [My fam took a flick with Mark Curry at the airport] 
Nah man, I'm from the Bronx, I got my pride.  I am not a Groupie.
**However, after everything is said and done...What will
anyone have at the end of the day?..Yes, we will have memories
we treasure...In retrospect, I guess a snap-shot or two with a well
known personality is not bad thing to have, to show the grandkids.

 The Greatest signs autographs for children in Florida

My brother, Whimp Ransom, met Mohammed Ali many,
many years ago as a teen. "The Champ" asked Whimp, "Do you
want my autograph young man?" Whimp quickly responded,
"No.  Do you want mine?"
Now that's some Bronx/Harlem SH## for you.

 LUIS VARGAS and CHRIS MULLIN at EVENT    Puerto Rico 2014
Now I've played in many of these single game, let's be happy, reunion,
old timers, 'We are the World", alumni, get together games...and
now we come down to the nitty-gritty..."Who is going to Play?" I'm OK
with not starting [we go up 5, Chris is on a roll]...I'm Ok with not being
subbed into the first Quarter of the game. [Chris and the other two
shooters on our team are draining 3 balls with ease...We are up 9] 
I'm a little concerned when I'm not looked at on the bench for the
duration of the second quarter. [Not only are the Puerto Rican Legends
and Chris having good games the Executive, who was on the
bench besides me is having a great run...You know you are in trouble
when "The Suits" are getting burn before you]   I quickly  scan the arena
to see if any of my famo are in attendance.  I cannot tell.  Too many
people in here.  Too many strobe lights.  I take a sigh of relief thinking
at least there are no witnesses here to see me riding the Latino pine.
I laugh to myself as I think I can go back and tell them I had 40.  We
are now  up bout 10-15 points and the crowd is having a wonderful time,
they scream, chant and OOhh and AAhh with every steal, block shot,
great pass or bucket. These are great fans and a great people.
From the flow of the game you can recognize the specialty, or roll,
of each of these veteran players.  They come from an industrial
basketball time, where player positions became numbered 1-5,
like interchangeable parts of a used car, or a jigsaw puzzle, and teams
were assembled like pasteles in PR or economy cars in Motown.
You could plainly see what coaches and scouts were looking for 35
years ago...The shooters, not to be confused with the scorers, the
rebounding big men and strong outlet pass men...The big enforcer
types that banged and proudly fouled players on the baseline or
even at mid-court right next to the colorful logos. But where were the
lightning fast play makers, under 5'11", who could barely make a
shot and who dished the ball well and played defense like their
lives depended on it.  Nowhere to be found...I guess there
was no number created for that position.

Chris is having a good game...Several assist, long range buckets from
downtown and he's running the floor very good for a middle-aged,
retired man.   Now it's half-time and I'm concerned.  Is Chris going
to flip his jersey over and allow me to step into Masters Basketball
history with a classic match-up?  Forget that!...I've got a more
pressing concern that I am dealing with...Am I going to even
get into the game?  At this point, there is some lively
discussion en espanol about who is coming out the game and who
is not...Chris steps in and translates for everyone within listening distance, "If
you have not played in the first half, you are STARTING! THAT'S IT!"
At this point I am El Presidente of the Chris Mullin in Puerto Rico Fan Club.
I am glad that Chris is my teammate.  I've always appreciated
his game, all the way back when he was shooting around
at Goucho's Gym in the Bronx. I never had any harsh feelings towards
Chris Mullin.  At this point, I never wanted to give him the
business.  I never wanted to put him on SMASH...That was Reuben the
taxi driver talking trash...As a matter of fact, I always wanted to play with Mullin...
You heard Chris, "Lahh is starting and that's that!"
Chris is a NBA Great.  He's Top 50 All Time.  He was on the
Dream Team...He's not flipping over his jersey and
Lahh Woods is starting in the back-court with him. Bueno.

             A rebound bounces high after a missed shot, I begin to fade
down court as our big man safely secures the rebound.  He pitches
wide right to Chris...Chris spots me almost at half-court...He hits
me in stride, and I dribble to the middle of the court...around the 
hash mark a trailer crosses behind me, to the right, as a couple of
defenders retreat into the paint.  I can hear and feel the buzz of the
crowd, and the quick beating of my heart, and it feels good.  In my
peripheral vision I see a sniper squaring up in the far left corner
pocket. For a brief moment I think where is NBA Chris?  I do the
calculus and unless he's got nuclear rockets for feet he cannot be
anywhere near the epicenter of this play cause we are moving fast.
I look quickly to my left and hit the tall wing-man with his right
hand up and he drains the 3 ball...The crowd screams.  It feels good. 
               They push the ball to me at half-court after an in-bounds
pass.  I see Chris paralell to me, on the left side close to the hash
mark, and I don't look ahead to check the defense or even glance
to my right. Instead I try to hit NBA Chris with the pass. The defender
is over playing him in the passing lane [The same way I was planning
to guard him].  Good thing I threw a decent, strong, pass 'cause
the defender almost gets his hand on the ball and I think to myself,
"Yo Lahh, Just play ball and don't be a groupie!" Several plays 
               later, we play decent defense for a moment and they score a basket. 
I come back for the ball and slowly bring it up with no backcourt 
pressure. I feed Mullin to my far left, just past half, and I start towards 
him to set a pick.  [STOP!] I think to myself and I hear Coach Floyd Layne's 
strong voice, "What the hell are you doing?...Get the hell out the way. 
Go weak-side and set a pick. 
So I listen to Coach Layne, in my mind, and I go weak-side and set a pick. 
The offensive player curls towards the top of the key.  I flare out towards
the right baseline as one of the horses [forwards] is now on the left
baseline dribbling with the ball. He is being doubled down on, and I
smile, and put both of my hands up, in catching position...non-verbally
communicating to him that,"Yes, I can comfortably hit this shot. If you
need me."  As the defense collapses on him, he smiles back at me
and looks around, then looks back at me.  He hesitates before he
hits me off.  What he has said, non-verbally is that, " I've never played
with you before. I don't know if you can hit this shot.  I'm in a bit of a
jam here.  I could force a shot up, but I'm going to take a chance and
pass you the rock."  I elevate in rhythm and follow through and hit
the open shot on the baseline and it feels good.  As we run down-
court on defense, I point [Thank You] to my large teammate with the
big smile.  We are both laughing in a language and code that only
ball-players and jazz musicians truly understand.
                I'm flying down-court...I've eluded a defender or two
and it seems like no one is moving as fast as I am.  It's like
they all are moving extra slow.  I realized later that these
are the "Star Players, The Elite." These are the 45 or 55 year
old guys who haven't left the game from jump-street. I'm in
good shape and I have fresh legs...and it shows.  On one play
I get into the paint and I've got a notion to throw up the floater,
the big man defender commits two steps towards me and I see a
small crease open for one of my big men on the baseline.  I
shuffle a pass to him under the arm of the defender and anticipate
the roar of the crowd when he scores.  I hear nothing but the
refs whistle...It's off his hands and out of bounds.  He runs down-
court and points "My bad. Good pass" to me. I tense the corners of
my mouth and frown and think,"Que Paso?   For the moment, I
don't feel good.  You have to bury those plays and play on. 
         I cross half-court at top speed, if I slow down a little
looks like a three on one...We can get anything we want...
however, I speed up and now it's a two one.  My teammate
is kind of too deep on the left side and I can either pull-up
at the foul line...slow down and hit [Chris or whoever is trailing
to my right]  Or I can try to be a hero and lay this 6'8" dude
standing under the basket.  What do I do?  Well, first I got
excited.  Then I got brave.  Then I lost my mind, and tried a
shot I have not tried since I played biddy ball at PS 18
After-School Center.. a running one-hander...half-hook...
from the foul-line.  As the ball is released from my hand,
I could see the PS 18 Center Director, Myles Dorch looking
at me with his hands up in the air saying, 'What the Hell
kind of crazy shot was that?!?" The shot almost went in. 
It hit the backboard, went around the rim and hit the backboard
again.  The crowd OOooed and AAaahhed...Thank God
somebody got a rebound and the play quickly resumed going
the other way.   I'm sure the NBA star probably gave me a
LLL Pass..."Local Loco Legend Pass" I still cant believe I
shot that...CRAZY shot... At that point, I don't feel good,
but I had to have fun and laugh it off.
   I run quickly to the top of the key and receive a pass
from the left sideline. I ball fake into the post, the defense
reacts, and Chris get a solid pass from me behind the 3-Ball
line.  What follows is a quick, strong lease with a high arching
trajectory.  Nothing but Net.  We are up a bundle as the quarter
ends and I slowly jog to the sideline.  After numerous high fives
butt slaps, and hand shakes...I am un-ceremonially removed
from the game.  It was fast and furious.  I am tired. I need a vitamin supplement about now, but I settle for some
bottled water.  I glance up at the scoreboard and then into the
cheering crowd.  There are children dancing, and elders with
hope in the corners of their eyes...The colored , swirling,
spotlights cross the coliseum logo at half-court and then passes
 across my jersey and face ...And it feels good to be in Puerto Rico.
Peace and  Blessings. Te Veo.  LW

Some of my game minutes on Youtube link below
thanks to Mr. A Gonzalez...

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