I thought I wanted to be a boy. As I understand gender identity today, I realize I didn’t really want to be a boy. I just wanted the rights and privileges of being a boy. I wanted to play like boys played. I wanted to have the same responsibilities around the house as my brothers (read: very little). I wanted to talk about the stuff boys talked about, sports and politics.
Title IX came too late for me. The mindset about girls and sports was just beginning to change. In my time girls who played ball were suspect — that is, of being a lesbian. The only real time I got to play any kind of ball, unless you count punch ball during recess, was in gym class, when we weren’t dancing or doing calisthenics.
Growing up with two brothers and two uncles who were like big brothers, I was obsessed with sports. I loved the big three: baseball, basketball and football. I loved watching them, but I wanted to play them, too. Occasionally I would be allowed to join the boys for touch football. Uncle Terry taught me to watch my defender’s feet and when they crossed, I should make my cut inside to catch the pass. Mostly though I was the official scorer when they played softball.
One weekend in 1972 when I was 12 or 13, I was sleeping over at my cousin’s house in Port Washington. My aunt, who knew of my love for sports, offered me a book to read while I was there. It was The Open Man by Dave DeBusschere (the forward on the Knicks). I read the book in one sitting. I was officially hooked on basketball.
This was a case where my timing was perfect. To root for the Knicks in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was sublime. After reading the book, I became obsessed with Dave DeBusschere. He represented everything good to me. He was a hard-nosed, relentless defensive specialist, a team player, smart about the game, and he was, in my opinion, really good-looking. Some girls my age followed David Cassidy or Bobby Sherman, not me. DeBusschere’s picture hung on my bedroom wall.
This was the picture that hung on my wall.
I took my passion for him and sports and put all my energy into rooting for the Knicks. I religiously read the sports section of the four New York newspapers (the Post, the Daily News, the Times and the Long Island Press). I listened to every Knick game on the radio, living and dying by Marv Albert’s call. It was a ritual for me. I sat on my bed, in my closet-sized room, only the light of the fish tank on and I listened. Marv Albert would describe the game so that I could visualize Walt Frazier bringing the ball upcourt. I dreamed of being a sportswriter. I wrote my own article about each game and kept stats – some that I invented.
I didn’t share my obsession with many people for fear of being judged a nutcase. My immediate family knew and one friend, Deborah. Lucky for me, Deborah, one of my two friends on the block, shared my love for the Knicks. I don’t think she was quite as nutty as I was, but we would talk about the most recent game as we took one of our frequent walks to Lofts, the stationary store in the shopping center that sold candy and magazines. We would peruse the magazines until Bea, the owner, invited us to buy something or leave. Sometimes, if we had the money, we’d buy Tiger Beat, even though we loved our Knicks more than any Hollywood heartthrob.
There were so many instances where my love for the Knicks and DeBusschere, in particular, bordered on insanity. Aunt Clair took me to a charity tennis tournament at Forest Hills. Rather than watch Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith play right in front of me, I had my binoculars trained on the stands where Dave DeBusschere was sitting watching the match! Once when I was invited to a party in junior high school, I took my transistor radio so I could listen to the Knick game. It was the only way I would go to the party. Clearly, I had issues.
I couldn’t wait to actually play the game myself. When I got to high school I tried out for the girls basketball team. I made it and I actually started, which tells you more about the quality of the team than the quality of my play. I was pretty terrible. Unless you are extraordinary you can’t start learning to dribble a basketball at 14 and be good at it. There was one girl on our team who was motivated and fearless enough to force her way onto the playground courts with the guys; she grew up playing. She had skills. Most of us were just awkward. I don’t remember if we ever won a game.
I started formally writing about sports in high school. First, I wrote for the school newspaper, then for the local papers (The Canarsie Digest, Kings Courier, Bay News and Flatbush Life). When I got to college I was given the women’s tennis team to cover for the school paper.
Somewhere along the way in college I lost my passion for sports. It just didn’t seem important any more. Not when compared with Three Mile Island, the Iran hostage crisis and my social life. I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm for the Knicks, Yankees, or Giants. I still watched the Yankees in the World Series in the dorm lounge, but I wasn’t invested in it. It was time to move on. I didn’t have space for the obsession any more, plus Dave DeBusschere retired and the Knicks were never as good (at least not yet).