I went to the Boys & Girls Club of Manchester expecting to meet an amazing dude. Instead, I met two.
Ball-spinning, 35-foot-shot-draining, trick-making, awe-inspiring, shiny-red-warmup-wearing, Harlem Globetrotter-representing Anthony “Buckets” Blakes was the featured attraction during my brief visit to the club on March 17 — correct, that is St. Patty’s Day. Mr. Blakes, a Phoenix resident and No. 15 on your Globetrotters roster, was in town doing advanced promotions for the March 19 game at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, and one of his stops was to help the Hoops For Heroes cause with a little rebounding.
The Boys & Girls Club was all but empty when I arrived, as much of the staff was off site at a conference for the day, but there to greet me was club program director Dennis Stone, a guy who’s been doing his thing at the club for 30 years. That’s right, 30 years.
And whereas Buckets helps to inspire kids by the hundreds from his daily place on the hardwood, Dennis’s path is considerably more arduous. While the two of us waited, I asked him about, you know, kids today … as compared to kids throughout the three decades he’s been working with them. His answer didn’t surprise me, and it won’t surprise you. It’s tougher. They’ve got more excuses. They are less likely to be disciplined at home, so it’s difficult to hold them accountable outside of the home. Their parents are more likely to blame an authority figure than the child.
This is not unique to the Boys & Girls Club of Manchester, of course. And it’s not unique to urban areas. There is a gaping and growing responsibility gap everywhere … in less affluent neighborhoods, in more affluent neighborhoods, and in all places in between. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that 30 or so years ago, if my behavior — or that of anyone else in my elementary or middle or high school — prompted a call home from the principal, we the troublemakers were in serious trouble at home. Today? There’s a good chance there’s going to be a finger pointed back at the school.
“What did you do to my kid?”
Didn’t expect to be on a soap box. Sorry about that.
Anyway, Dennis Stone recognizes that things are different. Yes, harder.
“So how do you not just give up?” I asked him.
“I just try to help one kid a day,” he said.
And then Buckets Blakes arrived.
Wow, I loved that warmup gear. Wow, I loved those sparkling new Reeboks. And most of all, Wow, I LOVED that basketball. Kinda like my old red, white and blue ABA Spalding, the one we started with, except not quite as, well, bald and brown. See photo above. I think you can tell which one is which.
We didn’t have much time, so we got rolling, with Buckets under the bucket and Dennis to my right. About 21 minutes later, we had our 500 in the books, and Buckets had counted the misses. There were 27 of them, for a solid shooting percentage of 94.9.
“You wanna go hustle in Phoenix?” he said.
We then got a little show …
… and before we left, Buckets was gracious enough to give Dennis his cell phone number and told him to call on the morning of game day, so that Buckets could know whether or not to leave tickets, and how many, at the will-call window.
He’s the real deal, Buckets Blakes.
And one kid at a time, Dennis Stone is, too.