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Yale 62

Budding Basketball Entrepreneur
By Lee V. Bakunin

imagined by Copilot (AI)

At the Jewish Community Center in Bridgeport, I played basketball around age 11-12 on a team called the “Cilco Slivers” sponsored by a local lumber company. Several years later, I formed a team, “Stratoes,” in the teenage 15- and 16-year-old league. Got to name the team, find a sponsor, design the jersey, recruit the players and even had a high school basketball coach. Mr. Carpenter. At 5’8”, I was the starting center. A forerunner of things to come.

Still have both jerseys and fond memories.

When the Stratoes won our JCC League Championship in 1955, Harry Gallatin, Star forward for the New York Knicks, spoke at our league banquet where we received sweaters. I was voted most liked player by the teams in attendance.

Our victory in that championship game was documented in my book, Power of Creative Genius, and is reprinted here:

Basketball… Saturday night live, 1955, Jewish Community Center, Bridgeport, Connecticut. I’m 15 and my team, the “Stratoes” is playing our arch rival, the “Wolves,” for the championship.

Our team was great, the only mixed religious team in the league. We had all the bases covered: Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and… Paul Berger, a strapping Jewish kid. A star of our team, he was as intense, outspoken and controversial as he was talented.

However, on that night, however, our recipe for victory was as flat as a fallen soufflé.

At the end of the third quarter, we are down by what seemed like 20 points. Tired, beaten, whipped, we drag ourselves to the bench. Forget the championship! Quarters are 8 minutes, no shot clock, no 3-point baskets. 8 minutes to go, 20 points down.

Then, it happens…

A booming voice, so everyone in the audience can hear.

“Lord’s Prayer. . . Everybody down for the Lord’s Prayer.”

It’s Paul. He grabs my shoulder. “Bakunin, Lord’s Prayer… down for the Lord’s Prayer.”

The Lord’s Prayer? In the middle of a basketball game at the Jewish Community Center? To my unenlightened mind at the time, what kind of hokey is this!

But, if you ever had an intense, outspoken, controversial and talented person on your team who would not take no for an answer, you knew what you were going to do!

Instinctively, our entire team, including our coach, is down on one knee, heads bowed, hands clasped as Paul leads us in prayer.

“Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name,” as the audience and the “Wolves” watch in awe.

I’ll never forget that scene, our mixture of cultures and religions, Jewish and Christian together, and Paul’s booming voice.

Paul Berger, the least likely candidate for sainthood, had become our inspirational teacher.

The outcome? We play that 4th quarter like a dream team possessed and win by 4 points. We’re league champs, but more important, lucky people whose creative genius was sparked by an unlikely teacher.

Even today, when I’m down and all seems lost, I think about Paul and recite the Lord’s Prayer.

That experience is indelibly stamped in my memory. It was my super bowl, Stanley Cup or winning the World Series moment. A feeling of accomplishment, defying the odds and exceeding expectations. A life lesson to never quit and to believe in your ability to succeed despite the obstacles in your path.

Post Stratoes and into high school, I lacked the talent to be on the varsity other than the tennis team, so I became involved as student manager in football and basketball

I earned Varsity Letters as student manager for football and basketball plus #3 on the tennis team. Earned $2 per game reporting the basketball scores and stats to the local newspaper and was a spotter for the radio broadcast of Bassick’s Thanksgiving Football Game.

Again valuable training for what was to come later.

So, would my sandlot days and high school experiences prepare me for entré into the professional sports world?


We welcome your comments below.