Sonny and Jimmy

Saturday presented another new mystery.  The night before I’d found in the pile of stuff emptied from a box of Vicksburg memorabilia a manila folder containing press clippings describing the horrific 1968 accident that had killed 2 friends and classmates of mine plus 3 older boys.  I was so excited by the contents, I did not look at the folder itself.  By Saturday morning’s light I made out two unusual features.  First, stuck to it like a lamprey was a white envelope “Enclosed is the United Nations Charter”, containing not only a white parchment copy of said charter, but also “aged” parchment replicas of colonial scrip, and – for good measure – 2 copies of my 6th grade picture, complete with Safety Patrol strap (I eventually made captain).  The curiouser feature was in the upper left corner, where two people had signed their names.

I immediately fired off an e-mail to my old friend Forrest, thinking these two might be from some now-forgotten rockers we had gone to see in high school: “Sonny Dove” and “Jimmy Walker”.  I don’t think that Jimmy Walker, Mr. Dy-no-mite, was around in ’68-9 when this folder as created.

I didn’t want to hit send before I’d put in some effort on the problem, and I think Google has given me the answers, with that information jogging additional memories – good ones – about the night I got the autographs.  Sonny Dove, born in Brooklyn to a full Narranganset father and Mashpee Wampanoag mother, and was the “Big Indian” who starred at St. Johns till ’67 then played 2 years in Detroit after being drafted by the Pistons then went to the Nets of the ABA till ’72.  He died young 11 years later when the taxi he was driving skidded from a partially open bridge into the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.

Jimmy Walker was a sweet guard from Providence whom the Pistons drafted in ’67.   He never stuck longer than a year with anybody, with 2 stints each with the Pistons and Rockets, and 3 with various Kansas City iterations.  He was twice an NBA All-Star.  Oh, and he sired Jalen Rose.  Jimmy died of lung cancer in ’07, having never met his also sweet son. 

So I remember it pretty well now.  The Pistons came to Kalamazoo (I forget the venue) to play an exhibition against the Knicks.  Had to be fall of ’67.   Cazzie Russell was playing for the Knicks and he was the star attraction for us.  Cazzie transformed Michigan basketball when he came here from Chicago’s Carver High in ‘63.  Tall, strong fast with incredible hands, he provided joy every time he touched the ball.  A Cazzie steal followed by a full court race to the bucket where he smashed it through was a thing of release for this skinny teenager as well as most everyone else lucky enough to be watching. He took the star-laden Wolverines to final fours in ’64 and ’65, but never grabbed the brass ring, falling to Duke in the ’64 semis then getting oh so close the year later smashing Bill Bradley’s Princeton only to fall to John Wooden’s smooth Gail Goodrich-led UCLA Bruins. In ’66 he couldn’t get the team past Kentucky in the regionals but was named College Basketball Player of the Year.  Cazzie’s legacy at Michigan extends beyond all the memories, trophies, and banners he left.  The outpouring of enthusiasm and support for Cazzie’s roundballers convinced the Regents to find $7.2 million to build Crisler Arena, which opened the year after Cazzie left and will forever be known as “The House that Cazzie Built”.  Cazzie was the number one overall pick in the NBA draft but never achieved pro stardom at the level he’d attained in college.  He made the ’67 all-rookie team and his Knicks won the NBA championship in ’70.  Golden State traded legend Jerry Lucas to get him and the next season he was an all-star.  He made stops with the Lakers and the Bulls, leaving the NBA after 12 seasons, playing in minor leagues for 3 more years.  He coached successfully at some small schools and was mentioned as a candidate for every U of M opening after Steve Fisher.  He still stops by his “House” from time to time, always getting a warm standing ovation. So you can understand why it might be exciting to see him again up close, an opportunity the Pistons-Knicks contest provided.  Dad took me and we had good seats.  I had with me several 8X10 black-and-white glossies of Michigan Cazzie in action, given to me by a guy in my dad’s office.  Here they are:

Before the game we ventured courtside and met Cazzie. He liked the pictures and signed them on the back.

Pistons’ rookies Walker and Dove came over and signed the manila folder I had holding Cazzie’s pics.  I don’t how the game turned out, but even before tipoff I’d and a pretty good night.

Published by rike52

I retired from the Rheumatology division of Michigan Medicine end of June '19 after 36 years there. Upon hitting Ann Arbor for the second time (I went to school here) it took me almost 8 months to meet Kathy, 17 months to buy her a house (on Harbal, where we still live), and 37 months to marry her. Kids never came, but we've been blessed with a crowd of colleagues, friends, neighbors and family that continues to grow. Lots of them are going to show up in this log eventually. Stay tuned.

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