Wednesday, December 9th, 2009 at 1:00 pm  |  33 responses

A Party from Heaven

An era lives on.

by Ben Osborne

heaveninviteSLAM’s history with Rick Telander’s book, Heaven is a Playground, has been well-documented in our magazine and on this site. If a magazine can have a favorite book, than SLAM’s is Heaven.

One thing I’d never documented before was the chain of events that unfolded after we ran the excerpt in issue 122 and then the subsequent pieces online. The short version is that Rick’s publisher, Nebraska Press, realized that the book warranted a new printing (its sixth in total, and third from Nebraska).

In the wake of that great news, Rick reached out to me to see if maybe there was a shoe company that would help him celebrate the new release, and all the book stands for. A Heaven shoe? A tee-shirt? A party? All seemed possible; Rick just needed a partner.

SLAM publisher Dennis Page and I talked about Rick’s request and in looking back through Rick’s pictures, there was only one company that made sense: Converse! The most popular shoe on the playgrounds in the Heaven days were Converse Chuck Taylors. Sure, no one thinks of those as basketball shoes any longer, but Chucks are still around, and Converse is still around, quietly carrying around as rich a basketball legacy as any company in the game. Dennis and I hit up are people at Converse and their ad agency, Anomaly, and while it took MANY emails and phone calls, with the determined help of Anomaly’s Stanley Lumax, a connection was made. Converse was down, and Stanley set out to build an event.

Rick and Stanley got amazing photos from Rick’s time in Brooklyn blown up, Stanley lined up Converse’s “Energy Space” in Manhattan’s Lower East Side as the venus and got Bobbito Garcia to host and Rich Medina to spin, and let Rick and I invite all the folks that we thought mattered (Rick handled the Subway Stars, I took care of the extended SLAM family).

flyalbertThe date was set for last night, and Rick set the table beautifully yesterday in a piece for his main employer, the Chicago Sun-Times. There were something like 400+ RSVP’s for a space designed to hold 75, and even if all 400 didn’t show, it was close. And warm. And crowded. But oh so lovely. Fly Williams looking…fly. Albert King. Winston Karim. Ron Naclerio. Tiny Morton. Stefan Fatsis. Jonathan Hock. And many more former playground greats, current coaches and basketball media folks too numerous to mention.

Besides a ton of familiar hand shakes and backslaps, the night took a touching turn when Rick gave a speech about the about the book and the people who made it possible, most notably the late Rodney Parker, felt moved.

I’ll let the beautiful pictures of the event, all taken by Dennis Spruill, tell more of the story of a night I’m thankful to have been a part of.

Want even more? Hit up heavenisaplayground.com.



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  • http://slamonline.com Susan Price

    Great post, Ben. It was a great night, and seeing Rick huddled up with his old Foster Park friends and reminiscing about the old days was awesome to wztch. If anyone’s in the area, the photo exhibit of Rick’s pictures will be up for the next few weeks.

  • http://slamonline.com Brad Long

    These kind of things only happen in the basketball world. No other sport produces this kind of culture. Thanks, Ben.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Wait, I thought MY book was Slam’s favorite book? What the hell?!

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    I’m funny.
    Love that this happened. Loved that Bob is there… all dressed up. Love that picture of Ben & Telander. (Ben, you need to get on FB if for no other reason than to use that as a profile pick). Very, very bummed I couldn’t make it for this.

  • http://slamonline.com GotHandles?

    real fresh. Great story, great reunion.

  • boy sanchez

    I wish I could find this book here in Greece… It must be really great!

  • Tommy Patron

    Awesome. Reading that book (Probably in ’87 or so) really kicked my basketball jones into a whole new level. Much love to Telander.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Wow, very nice. I’m jealous.

  • http://thestartingfive.net Michael Tillery

    I really wanted to be there. Thanks for this Ben. I totally agree with Brad.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Had a great time there. Thanks Converse and Anomoly and, most of all, Rick.

  • http://slamonline.com Dave

    Thanks Ben. Nice.
    The only player I recognise is Fly in the leather coat and glasses in the top pic. Anyone got the IDs of the guys in the bottom photo?
    (Yeah, I’m demanding.)

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Thanks for the comments. I also need to give a thank you shout out to Molly Carter, formally of Converse. Dave: the guy with Fly in the top pic is Albert King. As for the Subway Stars with Rick? He’s gonna need to come on here to caption that one.

  • http://www.hockfilms.com Jonathan Hock

    Thanks for the love, Ben, and for the incredible night! No book could be more worthy – Rick wrote a truly holy book that opened up the world for me. One extra special moment of the evening for me: I was talking with my friend Zeke (who turned our whole crew onto the book in ’81 or ’82) while DJ Rich Medina was playing The Hues Corporation and Zeke said, “I think I hear Albert King singing “Rock the Boat” (which we both knew happened several times in the book). Just then, Albert King himself appeared out of the crowd, put his arm on Zeke’s shoulder as he passes, smiled and sang out with the music, “Don’t rock the boat, baby….” It was a magic night… Thanks again to you and Dennis and Bobbito and forever thanks to Rick.

  • andy

    its cool to see a flick of the Subway Stars graffiti piece at last, i was always curious after reading the vivid description of its creation in the book.

  • http://www.rappersiknow.com FWMJ
  • Randy Brown

    Why’s Bobbito dressed as a bum?

  • http://www.rappersiknow.com FWMSr

    Bottom Photo – Left To Right
    Lionel Worell, Lorenzo, Eddie Campbell, Rick Telander, Mark Bailey, Mark Devoe, ?, George Berry, Frank Miller

  • http://www.fkks.com Zeke Handelman

    Dogs, that was the best event I ever attended in my whole life, including my wedding and the births of my children. We need to petition to get Heaven is a Playground included in the panoply of books comprising the New and Old Testaments. Whom do we write to about this? Thanks for putting this on — Zeke

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  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    The comments keep getting better. Thanks for the caption help and your own post, FWMSr and FWMJ, and for the props, Zeke. Memories of this night will clearly last a long time. Maybe/hopefully we can do a little dedication at Foster Park when it warms up…

  • http://www.stefanfatsis.com Stefan Fatsis

    I started rereading Heaven in advance of the party, and I’m glad I did. It made meeting Fly and Albert and Doodie and Lionel Worrell that much sweeter. Just watching their faces as they scanned those photos and floated back in time was a truly beautiful thing.

    Like most readers and fans, I’m deeply grateful to Rick for having the innocent wisdom to spend that summer in Foster Park. As a sportswriter, I’m deeply envious of what he got to experience, and floored by the accomplishment (dude was 24!). If we’re lucky, we get one story like that in our lifetimes. Rick may not have known it then, but his smarts and talent not only made it possible for him to tell a great story, but also opened a lot of eyes to another world. The genuine love he felt and showed the other night was a moving tribute of just how important that story remains today.

    Thanks Ben, Dennis and everyone involved for a special evening.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Jake Appleman

    Thanks for the recap. Wish I could have it. Kudos to everyone for putting together such a worthy event.

  • http://slamonline.com Dave

    Thanks for the names, guys. :)

  • Samantha Parker

    I flew out from Cali just for the event. My father is in the book Heaven is a Playground. The time in Brooklyn the book documents was amazing and magical , so was my dad so was Tuesday Night. I was completely ealted just wish my father could have been there. Thank you Slam, Rick, and Converse! It was awesome.

  • http://www.bouncemag.com bobbito garcia aka kool bob love

    aaa-ight! great write-up and no doubt an incredible evening. i was honored to be a part of it.

    to randy brown–that’s how i dress every day, fams. i make no apologies. if you think i looked like a bum, so be it, haha! i had on a tillary park tournament shirt from ’99 on, and at one point albert king, who is from fort greene and knows that playground well, shouted me out from across the crowd, “nice shirt!” i replied, “i wore it for you, fams, had to rep BK!” i’ll take the love from albert king over your remark any day, hahaha!


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  • Jeremy

    Guys, is there a website that shows these pictures and the names of the players in them? I’ve read this book at least half a dozen times and it’s one of my favorites. To see before and after pictures of the cats in the book would be great.

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  • Booth

    Growing up and learning to play in Foster Park, I am so proud that the stories in this book are still alive today. Foster gPark is my beginning and now 40 years later I am still at it. thanks Slam for keeping it alive.

  • Booth

    Growing up and learning to play in Foster Park, I am so proud that the stories in this book are still alive today. Foster gPark is my beginning and now 40 years later I am still at it. thanks Slam for keeping it alive.

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