Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Fairfax County Supervisor John Cook.
Much of the urban folklore in the Washington region comes not from the halls of Congress or the hustle of K Street, but from its high school gymnasiums and playground blacktops. Basketball is inextricable from the area’s identity and its history — and throughout it all, the region developed a reputation as one of the country’s greatest hotbeds of talent. We explore the area’s history through one of its signature sports, and learn about a few local legends along the way.
- Kermit Washington Former NBA All-Star; Former player Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, San Diego Clippers, Portland Trailblazers, Golden State Warriors; Former player, American University; Former player Calvin Coolidge High School (Washington, D.C.)
- Gary Mays Former basketball, baseball player, Armstrong Tech; Former basketball player, College of Idaho
- Anthony "Jo Jo" Hunter Former player, University of Maryland, University of Colorado; former player, Mackin Catholic High School
- Dave McKenna Sports Writer; Former "Cheap Seats" Columnist, Washington City Paper
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThere's a history to the Washington region you're not likely to find in textbooks or scribbled on to the monuments on the mall, a history that's played not out in the halls of Congress but in public parks, on blacktop courts and in high school gyms. Basketball is at the core of the area's past and of its modern identity. From the days of segregated schools when giants like Elgin Baylor ruled the city's courts to the present, an era in which this region lies claim to some of the biggest stars in the basketball universe.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis hour, we're exploring the corners of that history that's survived as urban folklore, stories that involve everything from a one-armed man who shot down one of the District's biggest legends in a championship game to a can't-miss kid from a Catholic school who ended up in prison instead of the NBA Hall of Fame but whose myth still lingers in courts across the city. Sitting in studio with us is Dave McKenna. He's a sports writer based in Washington, D.C. He's the former "Cheap Seats" columnist for the Washington City Paper. Dave McKenna, good to see you again. We miss "Cheap Seats."
MR. DAVE MCKENNAWell, thank you so much. Great to be missed.
NNAMDIGood to have you aboard. Gary Mays played basketball and baseball for Armstrong Tech in Washington, D.C. He also played sports at the College of Idaho. Gary Mays, thank you so much for joining us. Great to meet you.
MR. GARY MAYSThank you. You're welcome.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Anthony or Jo Jo Hunter. He played basketball for Mackin Catholic High School in Washington, D.C. He's also played for the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado. I've been hearing about you for years, Jo Jo Hunter. So glad to meet you.
MR. ANTHONY "JO JO" HUNTERA pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Joining us by phone from California is Kermit Washington. He played basketball for Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C. and for American University. He played for several NBA teams and was an NBA All-Star. He serves as a representative for the NBA Players Association. Kermit, what are you doing out there in California? I thought you lived here.
MR. KERMIT WASHINGTONWell, I did until I was transferred. It was an opening on the Lakers and the Clippers, and so they thought I can kill two birds with one stone by being in L.A. and because I played for both of those teams I can come out here and represent them and it's easier. And it's -- let me just be honest with you. It's a whole lot nicer going to the Lakers and the Clipper games as opposed to the Wizards games every night. So I don't...
NNAMDIHey, hey, hey. But we missed you at the A.U. We missed you at the A.U. games. That's where we miss you.
WASHINGTONWell, you know what, I do miss those games.
WASHINGTONBut, you know, American University has done well. It's changed a little bit. It doesn't play the caliber of players that we played when I was there. But, you know, Washington, D.C.'s basketball is legendary, as you said.
NNAMDIDave McKenna, basketball is woven into the fabric of so much of this area's history. When the District's Spingarn High School is closed later this year, we'll be closing the door on a school that was producing Hall of Fame basketball talent way back when the city schools were still segregated. But a lot of stories from those days are not necessarily a part of the city's documented history.
NNAMDIYou are sitting next to a man who once shut down Spingarn's best player, Elgin Baylor, arguably the greatest player in the history of this area while he was playing with one arm for Armstrong Tech. How'd you learn about Gary Mays?
MCKENNAWell, all throughout my years in the City Paper, like -- and it was a wonderful job getting to tell all these stories that had never been told before for all the wrong reasons. And the Elgin Baylor story was one that -- I'm from -- I grew up in Falls Church, Va. and moved into the city in '86 and have always been fascinated with the D.C. sports history because of its racial history. You can't really separate it.
MCKENNAI mean, Elgin Baylor, who, I think, is a civil rights hero, actually, because timing and ability combined -- in 1954 was his senior year in high school, the last segregated year D.C. public schools. The Brown v. Board of Education was passed right after -- at the end of his senior year. And that last segregated tournament, whites and blacks didn't play each other. It was when this team, clearly the best team in the city of Spingarn, was undefeated. Yet pretty much...
NNAMDIThey call it Division II because that -- those were the black schools.
MCKENNARight. Division I, Division II and never the two ends shall meet. They were totally separate. And that last tournament, Gary Mays shut down Elgin. And this is also a time when high school sports, you know, you could draw 50,000 for a football game. High school sports were really big in the city. And Gary, when he shut him down, he became a legend that people still talk about.
MCKENNAYou ask John Thompson. You ask anyone of his age, you know, his era, you know, do you know the Bandit? Do you know, the One-Armed Bandit and everyone -- everybody knows Gary Mays, yet no one ever wrote the stories. I mean, it's a sidelight, but he's also -- he was the best baseball player in D.C., a catcher who threw out every base runner who tried to steal.
MCKENNAAnd, I mean, Gary's stories, you know, like, when you hear people tell them --'cause Gary won't talk about himself much, but you hear people saying, that didn't happen. And that's my reaction. That didn't happen. He's got the clips. He's got the -- it happened. It's...
NNAMDIAnd in the two games that season in which Spingarn had played Armstrong Tech, Baylor had scored 45 and 44 points respectively. How were you able to limit him to 18 points in that game, Gary?
MAYSWell, my coach, Mr. Baltimore, he set up a defense box-and-one, and we'd never played it, never practiced it. And he told me, he said, everybody else will be man-to-man, and I want you to be on Baylor. You check Baylor. And I said, what? He said, yeah, come here. I want to tell you something. When he goes to the bathroom, I want you to be there with him.
MAYSI said, what you mean, coach? He said, I want you to be that close to him. So the game started out. And I didn't know Elgin was finicky about my nub, so I rubbed him on his butt. And he started swinging. But it was a myth. It was something that only God could do, is to check him, and he was with me all the way.
NNAMDIWhat was Baylor's reputation like at that point at the street level throughout this community?
NNAMDIAnd you changed all of that. It's my understanding that you lost your arm as a young child. At what point did you start playing and excelling at sports despite only being able to play with your right arm?
MAYSWhen I was 12, my first organized game was at Parkside with Logan Elementary. My coach was a lady named Ms. Dickerson. And it was a school -- you know, and I played with the school, Logan Elementary Recreation. And that's when I started playing. I was playing centerfield. And a guy hit a ball to centerfield, and I caught the ball, flipped it and threw him out going home and got -- a boy named Bop the Pop Queen dropped the ball, you know, but that's how it got started.
NNAMDIWell, it is my understanding that -- and, Dave McKenna, you can back me up on this, that Gary lays claim to having his a homerun from Banneker Field all the way out on to Georgia Avenue.
MCKENNAWhen -- you were really young then.
MAYSI was 13.
MCKENNAHe was 13, yeah.
NNAMDIYou were 13 when you did that?
MAYSYeah, I hit one into Georgia Avenue and the other in the water fountain in centerfield, and George Washington saw it. Not the father of our country, but baseball George Washington. He was on the team.
NNAMDIHe saw it so he could bear witness to...
MCKENNAWell, Gary, also -- like, in -- back then, the Washington Senators, the original Washington Senators, used to hold an annual tryout camp, like every year. And Gary got MVP. He hit a homerun. He's only got to hit a homerun over the two-day tryout. It was two-day trial and hit a homerun. And again, this is all documentable. And he was -- he won the MVP, yet didn't get any offers. And Chuck Hinton came out of that -- within that same camp, was he not?
MAYSYeah, he was.
MAYSYeah. And Chuck Hinton, who recently passed...
NNAMDIAt this point, it's hard to imagine a Washington region that was not attracting college recruiters like flies to honey. But in your day, Gary, very few colleges recruited from D.C.'s black schools. You, Elgin Baylor and Warren Williams all ended up going out of the College of Idaho together. How did that come about?
MAYSYou see, Warren was out there. Then he brought Elgin. And then they came home Christmas. And I had a team, a recreation team that played in the recreational league, Simpson's restaurant. And we played them at Turner's Arena and Elgin and Warren said, man, why don't you come on back out here and finish the season with us, 'cause I'd graduated in January of '55. So I did. I went back out there. I didn't play much. Their team was already set, you know, and Warren was the -- Warren Williams was the one that started it all.
NNAMDIBut you played baseball out there too?
MAYSYes. I did.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. And we're talking with Dave McKenna, Gary Mays, Anthony "Jo Jo" Hunter and Kermit Washington about looking at the history of Washington through basketball. 800-433-8850, where do you think sports fit in to the local folklore of a place like the Washington region? Are there sport stories or basketball stories that you think are part of the essential history of the area that you may want to share with us? Give us a call, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIKermit Washington, you came up in Washington in the '50s and '60s and played your college ball right here at American University. When you were growing up, what were the kinds of stories that you were surrounded by when it came to legends like -- people like Elgin Baylor and, of course, Gary Mays, who's in studio with us? Baylor was a guy who was so good that Wilt Chamberlain himself, we understand, came here to play against him on playground courts, Kermit.
WASHINGTONWell, you know what? That's a little bit before my time, to be honest with you.
NNAMDII'll let Dave talk about that when you're done.
WASHINGTONWell, the thing is -- the thing about D.C., and I have to be very, very honest. I was very fortunate to live two blocks away from the playground where every single great player would come Monday through Thursday, and that was Rudolph Playground, 2nd and Hamilton. Now, you have to realize that people would drive all over on certain days. Like, nobody played basketball on Friday.
WASHINGTONI don't know why, but nobody would play basketball on Friday. But Saturday and Sunday, they'd play at Luzon, Rose Park, Turkey Thicket, and everybody knew where to could go. They would go from playground to playground. But the legends for me, you know, like the Austin Carrs, the Bernie Williams or Fatty Taylors -- John Thompson would be out there playing and bullying people all the time 'cause he was big and beat us up.
NNAMDIStill does that.
WASHINGTONAnd we weigh 160 pounds, and he is 300. And he says we (word?) him. But, you know, Rudolph Playground, one thing I would just tell people, would be 100 people down there, 200 people down there watching the games. And if you got into the game -- as all the guys here listening know, if you lost, you didn't get back on the court.
WASHINGTONBut if you were Austin Carr or Sid Catlett or Collis Jones or Bernie Williams, Fatty Taylor or, you know, you even had guys like Billy Gaskins there to get back on. But you just had to keep winning. And, you know, when the game went to 30 points and it was 28 up, somebody's going to get fouled. Somebody's going to get fouled.
WASHINGTONI mean, that's just the way it was on the playgrounds. But you'd have people with their -- where -- they had lights on the playgrounds in D.C. back then where they wanted to keep us out of trouble, so they'd have the lights on, keep it there until 11 o'clock at night. So they might feel safe till 11:00, I don't know, people in the city.
WASHINGTONBut you know, you'd have people out there drinking, partying, listening. And I'm telling you, the greatest games, I'd have the greatest excitement walking down to the playground and seeing the lights on and seeing everybody there and everybody oohing and ahhing. And it was just one...
NNAMDIA lot of people were later oohing and ahhing over Jo Jo Hunter. Jo Jo, people did not have cell phones back then. They didn't have the Internet when you were coming up some time after in the '70s. But word of mouth would bring hordes of people to watch games. Stu Vetter, who eventually coached Kevin Durant, told Dave McKenna that people would fill gyms to watch you, Jo Jo, play in the winter, in the summer. How much did word of mouth matter, and where there people that you would travel to go watch when you were coming up?
HUNTERWell, Kermit was one that I used to go and watch him play. Fatty Taylor, a number of guys, Adrian Dantley, Eddie Jordan, I mean, it's a long list of players. At that time, I was just small and lean, as Kermit said, and I just watched. And some time, I got a chance to get out there and play. But during them times, getting a chance to see them guys play made me think if I wanted to be a basketball player or not.
NNAMDIWell, he is being humble, Dave McKenna. Tell us about Jo Jo Hunter's game and how people felt about him then.
MCKENNAWell, it's similar like the -- we got two guys from two different generations. But the similar reaction if you -- like everybody who grew up in Jo Jo's generation remembers people he doesn't know exist. They know all about him. They went, we go watch him play. He was a legend. He was -- well, he was recruited by the NBA at the time when nobody was recruited by the NBA, no guard had ever been recruited before.
MCKENNAAnd again, Mike Pepper, who was one of Stu Vetters players, went on to be captain in North Carolina, told me, you know, he'd kill to be as good as Jo Jo Hunter. You know, he just loved watching him, and Stu would come down, he said, that's the game he wanted was Jo Jo's game. And these stories, like, again, you asked me about the writing for the city paper, the best stories are the ones that you're thinking the whole time you're working on, you know, this could be a movie.
MCKENNAAnd these two guys, I mean, it's like, why -- they could be movies. The story -- Jo Jo's story of, you know, young stardom and redemption later in life and Gary's of -- just an amazing tale of him with going out to Idaho, three guys from D.C. going up Cladwell, Idaho, taking over this program. I can't imagine anything about whiteness in Caldwell, Idaho in 1955. And...
NNAMDIGary's shaking his head, yes.
MCKENNAAnd they takeover this program that had never been anything, and they win. They go undefeated in the league. And it must have been like, you know, Mars.
NNAMDIThere's a lot of people who want to talk about this. Stu Vetter used to bring people over to Mackin to watch Jo Jo Hunter play. And a lot of people tried imitate Jo Jo Hunter's style of playing, things that he won't state right now. But I bet you Pete Strickland in Philadelphia, Pa., is going to have something to say about that. Pete, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETE STRICKLANDWell, it's quite a joy and such a great topic of conversation. Yep. I also, my roots hail from D.C. I grew up in Rockville. I was on the periphery but ended up going to DeMatha and playing for Morgan. Later, I came back and coached with Morgan, and now I'm the assistant at GW. So -- and I've recruited the D.C. area for the last, I think, 81 years. So it's been a pleasure.
PETE STRICKLANDI remember -- I want to say this, if anybody questions whether Kermit is one of the greatest guys to ever play the game, then you have to just think of his comments he just made about, well, you know, everybody plays from Mondays through Thursday, and nobody played on Friday. I really don't know why. You know, Kermit, people go out on Friday night.
PETE STRICKLANDPeople tend to party on Friday night, Kermit. And I got Jo Jo on the line. Jo Jo, I graduated -- Hawkeye was my teammate. And, of course, the memory that everybody has -- and Dave will remember this -- of Jo Jo, was the legendary game. I was already in my freshman year at Pitt at the time. But the legendary game was the night that Jo Jo and Hawkeye had a gun fight at the OK Corral. It was like Dominique Wilkins and Larry Bird on the national stage. And it was almost as if the other four teammates of each team were just bystanders.
NNAMDITalk a little bit, Dave McKenna, about that game.
MCKENNAWell, it's one of those, you know, before the Internet -- before -- it wasn't memorialized except in a couple of Washington Post stories. And you go back in the archives at The Post, you see how big high school sports were at the time. They wrote previews like Ali-Frazier were, you know, were going to meet each other. It's Hawkeye versus Jo Jo.
MCKENNAAnd they were vying for, like, the Catholic League championship, and the Catholic League was the strongest league in the country then and now, prep league. And it was a snowy night, apparently -- much like tonight -- and just -- there was so much anticipation. And what I think -- I think Hawkeye got the better. He had like 41, and you had 38 or something like that. And...
HUNTERThirty-nine. We just spoke about that on "Butch McAdams Show" just the other day. Me and Hawkeye, you know, talked about the game.
MCKENNAYeah, well, like that won't -- will that ever happen again? I mean, will a game -- a high school -- regular season high school basketball game be remembered 40 years down the road?
NNAMDII missed it. I only caught up with Hawkeye when he was at North Carolina State. Jo Jo, it's my understanding that you used to watch Kermit Washington workout when he was playing his college ball here in D.C. at American University. Why were you so fascinated watching him? What did you learn from watching him?
HUNTERHe had great work ethic. Eddie Myers who was a mentor of mine -- he also went to AU. Used to take me up and he was fascinated with Kermit's game at that time as far as his work ethic. He practiced, and when practice was over, he continued to work on his game which led him to have a great career, you know, at American U and on to the NBA.
NNAMDIKermit, what exactly was you regime at American University, and why were you so determined and disciplined at that point in your life?
WASHINGTONWell, real quickly, in high school of course I played football and basketball and baseball. But I didn't play basketball till really my senior year. And Glenn Price was a very good player at Coolidge. He was my best friend. He said, why don't you try out for the team? So I had played a little bit of JV the year before because the football coach was a JV coach, so I wanted just to please him. So I didn't really care about playing basketball.
WASHINGTONBut I went up for the basketball team just to please Glenn Price who must've averaged about 35 points a game his senior year. And some of the guys got cut off the team because of academics, and so they put in the game. And really, to be honest with you, I really wasn't interested getting into the game. I just want to ride home and ride to school and be around my friend. But also, I embarrassed myself so much, I said, let me, you know, let me, you know, start practicing.
WASHINGTONSo, yeah, James Brown was the best player in D.C. James Brown (unintelligible) or Randy Milan at McKinley Tech were the best players. And I read that James Brown jumped rope. So I bought me a jump rope. Then I read that Spencer Haywood had a weight vest, so I bought me a weight vest. And from averaging about five points and five rebounds my senior year, I grew four inches in about four or five months. And I started jumping rope.
NNAMDIWith the weight vest.
WASHINGTONStarted off with a couple of -- with the weight vest, and I got to 10,000 times a night every night. I don't think I missed a night for maybe three years. And so it was -- became fanatical. And then I went to college. They started me lifting weights because I really had never played basketball, and I played the center position which is not a very -- you don't have to see so skillful. All you have to be able to do is jump, put the ball in the hole. You don't have to do a lot of dribbling, not a lot of movements.
WASHINGTONSo I succeeded because the coaches made me lift weights. I gained 80 pounds in college from lifting weights and jumping rope and running. So work ethic is that, you know, it just -- it got me where I was. I mean, I didn't have a lot of skill because I wish I had played early but I never played. And -- but, you know, one thing you learn is what you're saying, if you really -- if you have the athletic ability, first of all, you know, you can't say you can be anything you want to be in this world.
WASHINGTONIt's not true. You can improve yourself. But if you have the ability to be a good ball player and you put the effort in this like everybody is on your panel there, you have to put the effort in and believe in yourself because a lot of...
NNAMDIGary Mays, how much effort did you have to put in being one-armed?
NNAMDIYeah, to do -- you knew that from the time you were 12 years old?
NNAMDIThat you'd have to work twice as hard as everybody else?
MAYSRight. I practice after practice after practice.
NNAMDIAfter practice after practice after practice. Pete Strickland, thank you for your call. Here is Jessie in Washington, D.C. Jessie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSIEYes. Greetings to my teammate Jo Jo Hunter, and greetings to Gary Mays and Dave McKenna. I just want to let everyone know that Jo Jo still has it. We have the greatest 50 and over league in the District being played at Langdon Recreation Center at Langdon Park on Saturdays from 10 to four. And many times, Jo Jo -- he is our first option, of course. And sometimes he scores 35 by half.
MCKENNAThat's why I wrote a story about Jo Jo for Grantland a few months ago. And I get calls every couple of weeks from someone saying, yeah, I saw Jo Jo out of such and such center. He had 56 points the other night. And these are the sane guys who are used to get 56 points against at 1974. It is a -- it's a really fun deal these guys, these 50 and over league.
NNAMDIPlaying in the 50 and over league. But, Jo Jo, the high school you ended up ended in Washington was a veritable basketball factory. Mackin High no longer exist, but before it closed, it was producing future college and pro-players who ran the gamut from Austin Carr to Johnny Dawkins. You were basically recruited to play there out of middle school. What sense did you have then that basketball was going to be your ticket?
HUNTERI wasn't sure at that time. I played all sports. And basketball presented a part of the game where you could play defense and be on offense. Football, I think, you kind of designate they'd be on the offense and -- or play defense. Baseball, pretty much the same. And I think it was a game where you could be seen. I think football, you all covered up, you really don't know who's in that uniform. So I kind of gravitated to basketball. And then everybody in the neighborhood that I grew up in pretty much chose basketball.
NNAMDIHow did you react when NBA teams started taking notice of you as a high school player?
HUNTERIt was humbling. It kind of enhanced what I was doing at that time. Like I said, I watched Kermit and James Brown, Adrian Dantley, how they worked hard at the game, and it enhanced what I was doing at that time. It made me a better player, and it made me more perceptive of getting my education.
NNAMDIOn now to James in Washington, D.C. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, James. James, I think, is listening to us on the radio. James, here's what you need to do: Turn down your radio and listen to us on the telephone. OK. I'm going to put James on hold. We're going to take a short break. Our call screener will have a little chat with James so that when we come back, he will be on the line.
NNAMDIIf you have called -- and there are several of you waiting on the line -- hold on. We will get to your calls. The number is 800-433-8850. We're looking at the history of Washington through basketball. 800-433-8850. What do you think accounts for the staggering amount of basketball talent that the Washington region has produced over the years? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the history of Washington through sports with Dave McKenna. He's a sportswriter based here. He's the former "Cheap Seats" columnist for Washington Paper, and he brought much of this, the stories you're hearing today, to our attention. He's joined in studio by Gary Mays, who played basketball and baseball for Armstrong Tech in Washington, D.C. He also played sports at the College of Idaho. How did you get to Idaho?
MAYSYeah. Warren Williams came home that Christmas, and I was graduating next January, and he told me, said, man, would you come on out to Idaho with us? Elgin -- he and Elgin and R.C. Owens was on that team. And he said, come on out. So I talked to the coach, and he sent me -- told me to come on 'cause I was headed for Tennessee with McLendon, John McLendon.
NNAMDIWhat airline did you use to get out of there?
MAYSThe B&O, and the city of Portland was -- I forget the name.
MAYSYeah, the railroad. We traveled by rail.
NNAMDIHow long did it take?
NNAMDIFifty-four hours to get out of there. Also in studio with us is Anthony "Jo Jo" Hunter. He played basketball for Mackin Catholic High School in Washington. He also played for the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado. Kermit Washington played basketball for Coolidge High School in Washington and for American University. He played for several NBA teams and was an NBA All-Star. He joins us by telephone from California.
NNAMDIDave McKenna, you wrote -- there was a profile that Thomas Boswell wrote in 1976, a profile of Jo Jo Hunter, in which he said that Jo Jo's high school coach, Harry Rest, said that kids across the city changed the way they shot, to shoot like Jo Jo, that everybody wanted to be like him. But The Washington Post Tom Boswell wrote in that 1976 profile that most of the people around you, Jo Jo, feared you'd end up in reform school, in a hospital, in a -- or in a morgue. Life was difficult for you in those days. Where did you think that you were going?
HUNTERI speak at some churches, and I'm looking forward to speak at some of the receiving homes now. At that time, I think I was full of uncertainty, like most kids are today. And sports at that time was a way, as we said back then, a way out of the ghetto, and we used sports to -- it was our answer, you know? And from that time to now, we can use education. And I think now we need to send that message, and that's the message that I try to preach through talking to kids now.
NNAMDIDave, you wrote that it's doubtful that The Post would ever run a profile of a schoolboy athlete now, like the one that Thomas Boswell wrote about Jo Jo in 1976. Why is that?
MCKENNAWell, high school -- again, this goes back to the -- how -- the popularity of high school sports. There was no baseball here then. It was limited. The Washington Capitals were brand-new, very niche organization, really, then. And high school sports were huge, and basketball was a massive part of the community. And Tom Boswell -- it shows The Post had several writers on the high school beat, including guys who went on to -- you know, Tom Boswell was on D.C. beat for six years and John Feinstein, and they took it very seriously, the reporting.
MCKENNAAnd he -- and the story on Jo Jo was very in-depth. They wrote about him constantly. You look in the archives, I mean, he was a huge celebrity in this town as a high school kid. And I don't -- I mean, we're -- for any number of reasons, people don't care about high school sports as much as -- there's so much more sporting opportunities. I mean, it's not covered as much. If you look at the coverage of recent huge tournaments, they get almost no coverage at all.
NNAMDIHere's James again in Washington, D.C. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMESYeah. Hi. I just have a comment. You know, all the guys that you're talking about, I had a chance to play against. But my story is I remember when I was...
NNAMDIWhat's your last name, James?
JAMESJames Bennett. They used to call me Blue.
JAMESAnd when I was in elementary school, I worked -- I built a playground called Slow Playground, and I never will forget Dave Bing came over to the playground. And I had never seen anybody that was that big that could play that well. You know, every playground has his local hero, and Dave Bing took them to the cleaners. So the point I'm making, there are tons and tons of stories about the guys on your panel and stories that the guys haven't told, and, yes, somebody should make a documentary about D.C. -- basketball in D.C. back during the '60s. I'm done.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, James. Kermit Washington, your ticket ultimately did take you to the NBA, where you played a long career and became an All-Star. Growing up in D.C., did you have that -- at what point did you have that ambition to get into the NBA? And did you always have dreams outside of basketball? I knew you wanted to get into politics at one point.
WASHINGTONWell, first of all, I was growing up in D.C. back in the '60s, and really we only had really the Redskins. So we all wanted to be Washington Redskins football players. My brother played pro football for the Cardinals, and he was older than me. But when we were little kids, we would sit in our rooms, and I would pull out -- I would cut out every Sports Illustrated cover and put it on my wall and would say to my brother, one day we're going to be a pro athlete.
WASHINGTONNow, I can't 'cause I'm making probably 100,000-to-1, but we didn't know that. Nobody told us that. So we just dreamed of always, you know, playing basketball. One thing that we learned, my brother and I, though, most people won't work that hard. They want something, and they say they want to work hard, but they're not willing to work that hard. And what everybody is saying on your panel is, back in those days, we had everything to gain and nothing to lose 'cause we didn't have anything.
WASHINGTONSo we weren't afraid of failure 'cause our lives were kind of a failure in a sense by living where we live and the conditions where we live. So we just -- you know, when you go after something, like all the guys who are on the panel talking about, you know, you're not afraid to fail, and that's the biggest thing. Now these kids now have so many things to do.
WASHINGTONThey don't want to work hard. They want a car. They want, you know, all the different things they want. But all we wanted basically back then was to be a good ball player. So whatever it took to do it, we were willing to pay the price, and that's the bottom line, I think, you know, the idea that...
NNAMDIOn to Tim in Washington, D.C. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMThis is to Gary. First of all, congratulations on a baseball Hall of Fame with my uncle (unintelligible). I remember watching you as a kid with my godfather, and you was a big inspiration to me. You always were and always will be. I'm sorry that the baseball league that you used to have back then are not still available.
TIMTo Jo Jo, who is also like family, I watched you for many years as a young boy coming up. You were, how you say it, an inspiration also. And I'm just sorry that you never got to the point where you wanted to go. But to both of you all, you have been a great inspiration to a lot of kids here in D.C., and I hope that you continue to be.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. That allows me to move on to Arlene in Springdale, Md. Arlene, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ARLENEHi, Kojo. Excuse me. Great show. I want to give a shout out, well, to all the guys but especially to Gary Mays. This is Arlene of the Dent family. And I didn't see Gary play basketball, but I did see him play baseball. And to see him catch that ball under that knob, pull it out the other hand and throw them in out from way out in the field, it was just fascinating, amazing. And Gary was around when both of my brothers played Minor League Baseball.
ARLENEAnd I think Gary played a little sandlot baseball in the suburbs, country back then, Forest Hill where I grew up. And there were all kinds of towns around up at Marlboro and Bowie and Vista and every place that everybody had sandlot baseball team. And, of course, my brother also who went to try out with the Senators, when you talked about segregation, was told by Calvin Griffith that, well, you're good, but I got my quota of black ball players. And Chuck Hinton and -- who just passed recently, of course, you know...
ARLENE...Fred Valentine and Bennie Daniels, who was the pitcher for the Senators from the Southern California. And so those players and Gary, they all console my brother Arthur. He went out with the Cleveland Indians team.
NNAMDISee, there's so many stories to be told here.
NNAMDIArlene, we're running out of time. I don't know if Gary wants to comment at all.
MAYSI miss big mama's cooking.
NNAMDIEverything she said is true. Arlene, thank you for your call. Here is Mark Plotkin in Washington. Mark, good to hear from you. You're on the air, Mark. Go ahead, please.
MARK PLOTKINWell, first of all, I miss Dave McKenna and reading Cheap Seats. That was a great column. Second, Kojo, you're familiar with the Kevin Chavous-Dave Bing story. I wish you'd tell that.
NNAMDII'll tell that story, I will.
PLOTKINAnd, third, when they talk about the play in Rose Park, which is in the heart of Georgetown, used to be a black neighborhood, and I've been here since 1964. I saw some great basketball played in that college setting in Rose Park and Georgetown.
NNAMDIYou played in Rose Park, Jo Jo?
HUNTERYeah, I've been there before.
NNAMDIOf course, yeah. He has played on every court in this city.
NNAMDIMark, thank you for sharing that. Kevin Chavous was the Ward 7 councilmember of the District of Columbia. When he was first running for office, he was going around with a little portfolio of photos of him. He played high school basketball in Indiana, and he was All-State in Indiana. And he went to the home of this elderly woman. And she was looking at his portfolio, and she said, oh, you played basketball. My son played too.
NNAMDIAnd Kevin said, you know, I was tired of people. Their kids probably sat on the end of the bench in high school or junior high school some place, and they want to talk about how their kids could play. So I was simply humoring her and I said, oh, really? Yes, I played basketball, too. Where did he play? She said, oh, he played here at Spingarn High School.
NNAMDIHe said, what was his name? She said, Dave Bing. He said, I folded up my portfolio and excused myself from that woman's house. But that's the kind of story you hear in Washington. Long after Jo Jo's playing career was over, he spent time in jail for robbery. You completed that time last year, Jo Jo. The man you famously went toe-to-toe with in a high school game that was described as an Ali-Frazier moment in D.C. sports, DeMatha's Hawkeye Whitney. He followed an eerily similar path.
NNAMDIHe did jail time after he was caught in the robbery of Bill Clinton's special counsel here on Washington. What do you think of now when people pair the two of you together and the path that you both took and then came back from?
HUNTERI think that basketball was a path that everybody remembered, and that's a good thing. I think both of us have to use our lives as examples to kind of help the kids today, and that's been my plight since I've been home. David wrote some great articles about me, and the basketball has been good to me, you know? I think Hawkeye has done a good job. He's been out here five years more than I have. I think he's done a good job with the work he has done doing.
HUNTERI'm looking forward to talking to all the high schools, whether it's football, basketball or baseball. I went to Coolidge and Roosevelt championship game. And the game has kind of -- I think it kind of went down a little bit, you know, because when we played, it was a little more folklore involved, fans participation and so forth and so on. But I think we need to use people, like myself and Hawkeye, to kind of keep the kids on the right track. And I have a program, stay on the right path, that I'm using that to try to give back to the community.
NNAMDIKermit, you were among the many people who signed on to an effort to push for Jo Jo's release, writing to the chair of the U.S. Parole Commission Ike Fulwood, who used to be D.C.'s chief of police. Kermit, why did you feel so strongly about helping Jo Jo out at that point in his life?
WASHINGTONWell, you know, what I'm saying, I think everybody needs a second chance. And what he brought to the D.C. area and what he's saying is that back then, basketball players and high school basketball players were legends. They could walk down the street in D.C. and every knew who they were, just like the Washington Redskins are now. But now, in what he was saying, things had changed. Basketball is not as big as it used to be, but it meant so much to all of us.
WASHINGTONI mean, those were our idols, and we looked up to people. Austin Carr. I mean, he was really the only college player that was on television. But when we saw him scored with 64 points in an NCAA game or 58, whatever it was, I said, oh, I want to be like him. And just like Jo Jo, everybody wanted to be like him. And so we all make mistakes, but what he brought to a lot of kids was hope. And that's what he can still bring to a lot of people, hope, because he made it. And that's the most important thing.
NNAMDIIndeed. Here is what Lewis in Washington, D.C., wants to say. Lewis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEWISHow you doing there? Kojo, I'm glad to be here. I had Jo Jo Hunter at my church a couple of weeks ago, and he is a great guy. The question I like to ask him is, how is your story going to be impactful not just for children but for all people considering what he's had to go through not only through basketball but his time in prison and the choices he has made? And I just want to ask, sort of, ask him...
NNAMDIOK. We're running out of time. Allow me to have Jo Jo answer. You got about 30 seconds.
HUNTEROK. Like I said, I have a program where I like to talk to kids and some adults about choices, circumstances, situations and decisions, and we all face them every day in life. And I use my experiences from basketball and my experiences from being away to engage in anybody that lives with uncertainty. And I think if we can compound these things with good positive people being around and God in you life, I think we can overcome anything.
NNAMDIDave McKenna, Mackin shut its doors decades ago. Spingarn is about to do the same. What concerns do you have about whether the history that took place in those buildings and those gyms will live on in the future? Is this a part of the city's history that can survive as folklore or from word of mouth alone, or do you plan on changing that?
MCKENNAWell, I mean, I really believe that Elgin Baylor should get something named after him for any -- he stands for something bigger than Elgin Baylor. He was the first -- he changed the way the rest of the country looked at Washington, D.C. basketball. I mean, he was recruited by nobody but one historically black college out of Virginia, and he was the best basketball payer in the country. And he was ignored.
MCKENNAThen he goes to Seattle after leaving Idaho 'cause that program broke up for -- after one year and takes the team to the final four, and he's -- everyone -- that opened the floodgates, from Bing to everybody else, to Jo Jo, everyone starts looking. So, I mean, the history -- the Internet of -- because of the Internet, all these stories will be preserved.
NNAMDIGot to get out of here, but Dave McKenna is going to keep writing about this stuff.
MCKENNAI'll keep talking too.
NNAMDIDave McKenna, Gary Mays, Jo Jo Hunter, Kermit Washington, thank you all for joining us. Good luck to all of you. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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