At the age of twelve, I began taking the Oak-Harriet streetcar to regular visits at the Orthodontist in downtown Minneapolis. I would catch the iconic yellow trolley on 50th Street, a few blocks from our house on Vincent. I remember that fabled ride wound around the beautiful lakes of Harriet and Calhoun before turning north toward Hennepin Avenue for my final destination on Seventh Street. After visiting the dentist, I would walk over to Tenth & Hennepin to take in the wonders of the old Minneapolis Public Library, next door to First Baptist Church.
I don’t remember what I looked at while visiting the library. But no youngster would ever forget the Egyptian mummy lying in a creepy sarcophagus on the landing outside of the main reading room. Years later, humorist Garrison Keillor, who is a year younger than me and who also visited that library in the same era, memorialized that frightening ancient corpse in one of his Prairie Home Companion monologues. Keillor’s mention of the spooky mummy on his broadcast brought that vivid recollection back to my mind.
I probably went to the Periodical section of the library and read the Sporting News or other sports-focused magazines that were beyond my slim budget, but devoured given the opportunity. I was captivated by all the major sports of baseball, basketball, football, and even hockey. But the main focus of my life at the time was my Minneapolis Lakers, the five-time champions of the fledging NBA in the early 1950s.
The Lakers were my heroes. I remember purchasing a crystal radio set – truly a prehistoric gem – that I could listen to with the aid of some antique headphones. With this wonder of 50s technology, I would listen to the Lakers games called by Dick Enroth on WLOL radio. What endeared the Lakers to me was a personal thing. It is hard to believe that 1950s NBA stars were real people that lived in the neighborhood.
Jim Pollard, the Hall of Fame forward of the Lakers, lived in a bungalow about five blocks from the parsonage where our family resided. On a Saturday morning, I brazenly rang his door bell and requested an autograph. He came to the door in his robe and obligingly signed a piece of paper for me – and I like to think he patted me on the head. Then on another occasion, I persuaded an older friend to drive me to the home of George Mikan, the first 6’10” NBA superstar, at his ranch-style home in Edina. The gentle giant came out to meet us and signed an autograph while writing on the chest-high (to him) roof of our car.
Left to right: George Mikan, Slater Martin, Hall of Fame Coach John Kundla hoisted on Mikan’s shoulders.
Then one time my dad took me to an NBA doubleheader in the old Minneapolis Auditorium. The evening featured the Lakers, and three other NBA teams, in a two-game format. During both games, the players from the other two teams were sitting courtside watching the action. I circulated among the players that night and garnered over 25 autographs. But, alas, those prized signatures have been lost in the dust bin of time, along with my valuable baseball cards.
Still, that wasn’t all. The sparkplug scrappy guard of the team was Slater “Dugie” Martin, and perhaps my favorite player. His wife worked part-time for Hooten Cleaners, owned by Floyd Hooten, and a member of our church where my dad was pastor. Think of it…an NBA wife working part-time to help make ends meet. Besides, someone said that Bobby Harrison’s (another well known Laker) mother lived in a house at 50th & Vincent, and where he stayed with her when the team was in town. I never thought to question that assertion when I was a seventh-grader and passed that house on the way to school every day. It just made sense at the time.
I was living in a time-warp where my heroes were real people who took an interest in little people. Today five of those original Lakers are enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. That is the Mt. Olympus of basketball. All of those experiences seem surreal now.
Now through the wonders of Google and Wikipedia we can reach back into time and confirm with certainty things that we remember dimly. On Saturday, April 3, 1954, I took the streetcar to the Minneapolis Auditorium – by myself – and attended the second game of the NBA championship series. I paid two bucks ($2.00, I swear) to get in and saw the Syracuse Nationals even the series with a 62-60 win over my Lakers. Here is proof: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1954_NBA_playoffs. I know it was that game because it was on Saturday – during the afternoon, and the only time I could have attended.
In the seventh game of that series the Lakers finally won their fifth, and last, championship in Minnesota. I never have forgiven the Lakers for moving to Los Angeles—where there are no lakes. They should have renamed the team “Stars” or “Surfer Dudes” or some other SoCal moniker. Big bucks took over the game, the players, and sold the fans a world-wide brand that is not known for a personal connection anymore.
My love affair with libraries, learning, and curious investigation began back in that time. I started reading all the basketball, baseball, and football statistics every Sunday in the Sports section of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Then everywhere we moved, I became acquainted with the library facilities available, and my investigative curiosity began to spill over into other areas of life, ministry, and leadership responsibilities. The real leap forward came when I joined Positive Action for Christ in 1996 and was given my computer and told – you are on your own, buddy. No more secretary; no dictation; or ‘nuttin.
Frank Hamrick and his team in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, made me jump off into the stream of the world-wide-web. I’ve been swimming and continuing to learn ever since.