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WIN THE DAY

Posted in Bill Rieser with tags , , , , , , on September 19, 2014 by hoopscoach

Fourth and final installment of my interview with Billy Rieser.

Give us an update on how things are going for you these days?

I am living in California, 45 minutes north of Los Angeles. Nothing about my life today is boring. I am so blessed that I live a “regret free” life today not bound by my past mistakes and misfortunes.

I am free from disappointments, shame, guilt, fear, anger, drugs, people pleasing, worry, anxiety, and pride…the engine that fuels and leads to all those character defects.

I love sharing my story with ballplayers and giving them inspiration and hope!

We are grandparents to a wonderful grandson who turned one in July. Coach Calipari has his eye on him for the UK 2030 basketball team.

We now live our lives to give back as much as we have been given. I love to give back the hope I now have; the lessons I have learned throughout the years about priorities, forgiveness, and yes basketball.

I love talking hoops and sharing with fellow basketball lovers. I actually love all sports. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to speak to the Minnesota Vikings football team.

I remember sharing my story with them and telling them that the peace I now have is worth more than all their contracts combined. I am no longer “White Jesus.” I am just a broken man who let Jesus heal and change me.

By the way, I almost forgot; how did you get the nickname, “White Jesus?”

I was adored by the black and Puerto Rican community and I loved them back. The Italian Mob guys that lived in my neighborhood never liked me because I was a half-breed (half Italian half German). I was never really accepted by my own community. As a result of basketball I was able to hang out in neighborhoods like the West Side of Harlem. People would say, “I could perform miracles with a basketball.” So they gave me the nickname “White Jesus.”

The name had nothing to do with God. But I thought I was God. I was not humble enough to let God lead my life. Little did I know God would enter my life later on in life.

**********

Something worth mentioning about Bill is back in 2004-05 he was the Team Chaplin for head coach Travis Ford at Eastern Kentucky. Bill helped mentor the players on and off the court.

“It was ironic that I was sitting on the bench that I hated to sit on as a player but now it was an honor to sit an entire game,” Rieser said.

**********

Check out Bill’s book, “Vertical Leap.”

Here is the link to order the book.

Vertical Leap: How Jesus found New York City Basketball Legend Bill Rieser

Vertical Leap: How Jesus found New York City Basketball Legend Bill Rieser

Buy from Amazon

SAVED

Posted in Bill Rieser with tags , , , , on September 16, 2014 by hoopscoach

Part three of my four-part interview with Billy Rieser.

What was your “down and out moment? When did you hit rock-bottom?

Like so many athletes that either make it or don’t; what many have in common is not being prepared for life after sports.

I had one goal in life and that was to be an NBA star. That was my destiny, that was all that mattered to me.

I wish I could say that I was a good family man. But even after marrying the sweetest girl in the world from college and having a baby girl who just arrived into the world, my family was not as important back then as basketball.

My priorities were not healthy. After I was not able to play I became miserable and misery loves company. I started hanging around the wrong crowd and one day I had a conversation with a person I should have never spoken to.

That person was a female and the conversation led to an affair which led to other affairs.

By now my life is spinning out of control. It is tough enough to manage one life, now I am living a double life of secrecy and deceit.

In my denial where I thought I was invincible, I proceeded to sink deeper and deeper. To bring some clarity to my thinking and actions, here is what I know now. When you don’t take personal responsibility for your own life and your mistakes and junk, you tend to blame the ones you love the most. I blamed my family for my own failure because I never wanted to take a look at who the real Bill Rieser was because when I would, I never liked what I saw.

I took the coward’s way out by convincing myself that my life’s failures was my wife’s fault.

It was during this time that Carolynn (my wife) approached me with wanting to leave New York and raise our daughter in Lexington, Kentucky.

BillRieserPic

What was it like heading South to the Blue Grass?

Since I have been running all my life, the first thought that came to me was, “This is great, I can run to Kentucky and get a fresh start.”

The problem with running to a new town was that it didn’t matter;  “I” was the problem.

It’s like the old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

I was still in running mode, all moving to Kentucky did for me was enable me to find new people to get high with, to get drunk with, and more women to have affairs with.

At this point I am holding on by a thread just trying to survive.

One day Carolynn found a church. Up to this point I had never wanted anything to do with religion, church or God.

I would probably pop you between the eyes if you spoke to me about God because I hated God and wondered were he was when I was growing up East Harlem.

I would be the most unlikely person to even consider contemplating anything spiritual in my life.

Without my knowledge, Carolynn starts asking people to pray for me at this church.

Every week she went she would find more people to pray for me.

I did not know it at the time but she enlisted hundreds of people to start praying for me.

All along Carolynn had no idea what I was doing. She just knew that I had been hurt and had an emptiness in my heart and soul; and that I needed help.

And then it happened. One day Carolynn walked in on a conversation I was having with one of the girls I had an affair with. In one second my secret life of many years was exposed. We are as sick as our secrets and my secrets were killing me so when Carolynn found out about that affair, I then proceeded to be brutally honest with her and tell her about all the others and I did not leave anything or anyone out.

To say she was devastated would be an understatement. She was shocked into complete devastation and sorrow.

For three weeks all she could was scream and yell at me and cry uncontrollably. She was mad and I knew a couple of things were going to happen.

First, I knew she could never ever forgive me and second we were getting a divorce. There was no reconciling this marriage. There was no way she could ever forgive me and trust me again. I knew that I had just lost my family and it humbled me. I hit my bottom. I was at the lowest point in my life.

To make matters worse, we finally have a coherent conversation where we decided to set a time one particular night to talk about the details of the divorce. I was not looking forward to this night.

Before the meeting Carolynn pays a visit to the church she has been attending and asks a pastor to pray for her. Here was the prayer;

God, give Carolynn peace that surpasses all understanding.

That is all he prayed but Carolynn will tell you on her drive home when and where God simply gave her peace and somehow took this burden away from her.

Carolynn was telling God on that same drive home that she was not able to forgive me or even handle what is going on.

So when Carolynn walked through the door that night and came home, there was something different about her. She had this calm (a peace about her that I had never seen before) a confidence and even a little smile on her face that by now I am freaking out because I do not recognize the woman standing before me. But when she started to speak, I knew that it was God speaking to me for the first time where I could hear and know his voice.

“Bill, God would NEVER give up on you and I AM NOT going to give up on you. God can forgive you for ANYTHING you have done. And SO CAN I. I don’t know if I could ever forget the things you have done, but I am willing to give it a try if you are willing to give your life to Jesus Christ?”

At that moment I knew that God was real because he loved me despite me and he just demonstrated that love by giving my wife the ability to forgive me.

In a split second I saw my whole pass life before me.  I saw where God was always trying to get my attention; he was always pursuing me, but most of all he always loved me.

It was in that moment that I asked my wife to forgive me. I asked God to forgive me and I accepted his free gift of grace by asking and accepting what Jesus did for me.

That night I told God I would do anything he wanted me to do as long as I knew it was him.

Now I am not the sharpest tool in the shed but being an athlete and a good runner, the only thing that made sense to me that night was to run as hard to God as I have been running from him for the first 36 years of my life.

That moment was 18 years ago and I am still running to God. I must say that I am one satisfied customer.

I have been set free from my anger. I have been clean and sober from drugs and alcohol for 18 years.

Carolynn and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary this past April 28th and I am happy to report that we are more in love with each other than at any other point in our marriage.

(NEXT UP: IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME.)

CHOICE, NOT CHANCE

Posted in Bill Rieser, Brian Mahoney, Centenary, Eastern Kentucky University, Ed Byhre, Lou Carnesecca, Mark Aguirre, Max Good, Rucker Park, Sidney Moncrief, Stan Dinner with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2014 by hoopscoach

Part two of my four-part interview with Bill Rieser

What was the college recruiting process like for you?

Recruiting started as soon as I transferred from St. Agnes to Ben Franklin.

Brian Mahoney, the assistant coach at St. John’s University came to most of my games and let me know that coach Louie Carnesecca wanted me to play for St. John’s.

They invested two years in trying to get me to commit. Coach Carnesecca would make visits to my house and my step-dad, who was from Italy would cook for him.

While I have no regrets these days about the poor decisions of my past there was no better fit for me than St. John’s.

The issue was with me.

I had one thought running through my head and that was to get as far away from New York City as possible. I was in “running” mode and could not wait to get out of the City.

Looking back I wish I had the knowledge of what the college coaches were saying about me.

I put my entire trust in Stan Dinner, my high school coach. I trusted him to be my spokesperson during the recruiting process.

Unfortunately Dinner did not have my best interest at heart. I made visits to Purdue and Texas El-Paso but Dinner was good at keeping everyone else at bay telling them that I was not interested in playing for them when they expressed interest.

Louisville, UCLA and Notre Dame all showed interest in me.

Coach Dinner accompanied me on my final visit to Centenary; he was very close to their assistant coach. Centenary and Dinner put the full-court press on me trying to get me to leave New York. They succeeded.

Now, as much as I have put this on my coach, the final decision was up to me and at the end of the process I wanted to play for them because they were far away from home. Plus they  had a great schedule.

In my final high school game in the annual PSAL versus CHSAL I dominated.  I was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

I spoke to coaches from all over the country and they told me they recruited me but never heard back from me. They were puzzled why I would choose Centenary?

I am not bitter about what happened because I was a train wreck myself. I had a self entitled mindset that was as naive as they come when it came to recruiting.

Bill Rieser at EKU

How was your experience at Centenary?

Upon arrival for the 1978-79 season I became part of a power struggle. The head coach was not a fan of my game and the assistant coach wanted me to play more.

I was benched for the first part of the season and after an intervention from a booster I soon began playing.

Like I said earlier, we played a tough schedule. Two games included  Arkansas with Sidney Moncrief  and DePaul with Mark Aguirre.

In the last home game of my freshmen season against Northeast Louisiana University, I scored 26 points. Calvin Natt and his younger brother Kenny were both on the team. I threw down a dunk on Kenny during the game.

Sadly, it was the only solid game I had the entire season.

I never played to my true potential because of the emotional devastation I experienced that season.

I finished the year extremely upset about the start to my college career. Our record was 9-20.

After returning home I told coach Mahoney, who was taking the Manhattan head coaching job, that I would transfer. The coaches from Centenary found out and flew up to New York to persuade me to come back to Louisiana.

It worked. I went back to Shreveport.

Six days before the start of my sophomore season I injured my knee and had to have surgery.

My operation was performed the first week of November.  They expected me to play by the end of January, fully aware that I was not one-hundred percent.

I played six games that year at about fifty percent capacity and on Billy Rieser poster night, on the advice of a pro-agent, I left Centenary and went back to New York.

What was your next move?

The agent was good friends with Ed Byhre, head coach at Eastern Kentucky University.

He told me he could arrange for a visit. After making the team I would sit out a year to get healthy and play my junior and senior years. EKU was a low division one school where I would be a star and then get drafted.

My tryout was great. My year sitting out was even greater. I was healthy. My frame of mind was great and things were back on track.

In 1981-82, my junior year, Coach Byhre resigned. Max Good came in and he was not a fan of Bill Rieser. Our record over two years was 5-21 and 10-17.  I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Coach Good had no interest in playing me and when I suffered injuries that sidelined me for 8-10 weeks at a time both my junior and senior seasons, my college career was lost and so was I.

I became bitter. I used drugs and women to numb my pain.  The emotional toll it took on my life was nothing short of devastating. After leaving EKU I did not touch a basketball for almost three years.

Did you miss being away from the game?

One day I was walking through the projects in the Bronx and I came upon a court. Looking in, through the chain-linked fence I said those magic words that every outdoor baller uses;

“I got next!”

I played all day.  Two weeks later I was asked to play for the 98.7 Kiss FM All-Star Team composed of ex-pro and college stars.

We played at Rucker Park and West 4th Street and ran against the best teams in the city.

White Jesus was making a comeback!

So now you got your mojo back. You’re traveling all around ballin’ – what was next and what were you thinking? Over seas? NBA? CBA?

The only thing on my mind when I started to play was can I play like I used to?

Can I still slam on people?

Can I dominate? Most of all,  can I have fun playing the greatest game in the world?

All of those hopes would come back in short flashes of glory every now and then. But serious injuries to my knees and ankles were too much. I never was able to play at the level I once did.

More than trying to play at my old physical level was the fact that I never again played at the mental level I once was known for.

No longer was I the most feared person on the court.

No longer was I the guy who had the 44-inch vertical and would put on a dunking exhibition leaving fans for more.

I was strong enough to still fly, slam and pop three pointers deep.  People would leave the gym talking about how Bill Rieser had game, but not like they used to.

Playing for the Kiss All-Stars brought plenty of exposure.  Slowly but surely I was getting better.

Offers to play overseas were available but nothing with guaranteed contracts. I was told that I was close to getting a look by a few NBA teams ready to bring me in for a workout.

I thought that a comeback was in the making. I knew I needed to get my game and body in shape. My hopes were high once again.

History would repeat itself. This time with a blow that had me devastated. I suffered two injuries that my doctors told me I could never play basketball ever again. I had my shoulder ripped out of my arm socket in my last Kiss basketball game. My back had been hurting for some time and my doctor told me about some bad disks that could not take the pounding of playing basketball ever again.

Describe some of the things you experienced outside of basketball?

So many things hurt me growing up. Things like my dad leaving when I was six months old. Being the victim of a brutal sexual assault when I was twelve by a mafia guy who threatened to kill me and my family if I told anyone about it.

Being forced to do drug deals by another mafia guy who killed people for the fun of it. He was giving me counterfeit $100 bills to buy his stuff that got me busted.

Giving a drug dealer a counterfeit bill almost ended my life. Two guns were drawn on me with a gun to my head and a gun to my heart. Both guns loaded and both triggers pulled and both guns not going off. I thought for sure I was going to die.

I survived and walked away from the busted drug deal but not without divine intervention I am sure!

I experienced my share of deep hurts growing up in a place like East Harlem but like I said, nothing hurt more than the final realization that my basketball career, hopes, and dreams were over.

To manage that pain, I resorted to what I knew best; drinking, drug use and more womanizing.

My life soon became out of control like never before.

(NEXT UP: RESPONSE-ABLE)

BACK PEDAL: BILL RIESER

Posted in Artie Green, Basketball, Bill Rieser, Earl "The Goat" Manigault, East Harlem, Foul: The Connie Hawkins Story, Herman the Helicopter, Julius Erving, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Schoolyard, Sidney Moncrief, Stan Dinner, Vincent Malozzi, White Jesus with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2014 by hoopscoach

Back in the day in my early 20’s I played on a travel basketball team, Brooklyn USA. My guy Ziggy ran the team and would gather up basketball players from around New York City.  We would compete in summer leagues, tournaments and there were times we played in State prisons against the inmates. The prisoners loved us. 

On a hot Saturday afternoon in July, we had a game at Rucker Park.  As we sat on an empty, uptown D-train headed to Rucker, Ziggy was telling me the guys he had coming to the game.  While he ran off the names, I recognized all of them except for one; Billy Rieser.

“Who’s Billy Rieser?” I asked Ziggy as our train pulled into 125th street.

“You never heard of White Jesus?” 

“Nope…”

Ziggy didn’t bother to explain. 

Well after two hours at Rucker, where we lost the game, I headed back to Brooklyn knowing all about Billy Rieser.

I recently caught up with Billy and asked him about his life of growing up in East Harlem, basketball and his life today. Here is part one of my four-part interview.

Bill Rieser dunking

When and where did you first start playing basketball? 

I remember playing in the 5th grade at the Boys Club in East Harlem. I played on my first team in the 6th grade for Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I recall playing at a high level out-playing everyone and scoring at will.

My 6th grade teacher gave me my first book to read and it was, Foul: The Connie Hawkins Story. He became one of my first idols and someone I tried to emulate.

(Editor’s Note: I too read ‘Foul’ when I was a kid. I highly recommend it, it’s one of the best books I have ever read.)

What do you recall about that first experience with the game of basketball?

I fell in love with the game of basketball and knew early on what it meant to dominate games and humiliate my opponents.

I remember playing in the 8th grade championship game at the PAL gym downtown and putting on a dunking exhibition during warm-ups on the lay-up line. I imagine it was quite the surprise to see a six-foot nothing white kid who thought he was Connie Hawkins play like that.

We won the game before the jump-ball.

As time went on, I grew four more inches to 6’4″ but never had big hands required to palm a basketball the way I wanted.

I had strong thick hands but short fingers. My forty-four inch vertical and speed made up for my height and small hands.

I learned how to tomahawk a basketball with two hands with a ferocity in addition to learning how to cup a basketball between my hand and forearm. This made for some really hard dunks over people as I learned by watching the Hawkins, Julius Erving, Herman “Helicopter” Knowings and Earl “The Goat” Manigault (who went to my high school, Benjamin Franklin).

The bar was raised and the example was set for how I wanted to play by studying how all these players graced us with their remarkable basketball skills.

What was your high school experience like on the basketball court? What are some of your favorite memories?

High School basketball for me was all about being patient for two years until I transferred from St. Agnes Boys High School on 44th street and Grand Central Station to Ben Franklin; which happened to be located in my neighborhood.

Word on the street was Ben Franklin was making a comeback.  There was a buzz around the city about our team and this kid (Billy Rieser) who had respect on the asphalt and ran with some of the best in Harlem.

I remember stepping on the court for my first practice and the gym was packed with people wanting to see me.  I was blown away by how a different culture than my own loved and adored me and my game.

All I knew was to play hard, not even realizing that we were the hottest basketball ticket in town.

The first significant moment on the court was against Taft at City College. Taft had someone who went by “Cornbread” and a guy named Artie Green.

The gym was packed and before the opening tip I told my point guard that I was going to out-jump Cornbread and tip the ball to him.

“When you get the ball hand it off to me and I will thrown it down to get us off on a good start,” were my exact words.

I won the tip and the ball was handed off to me while Cornbread was guarding me. I remember not even making a move, just driving toward the basket from the left side of the court. I took off with Cornbread on me and in one of those moments you wished they had caught on film I took off in the air and can remember being so high above the rim that my eyes looked down and I threw down a two-handed  “Sidney Moncrief” type-dunk over Cornbread.

(Editor’s note: For all who are unaware of a Sidney Moncrief dunk, it’s a two-handed, tomahawk. The day Billy and I played together at Rucker, he threw down the Moncrief)

Then something happened that I never expected. A block party broke out on the court and I was swarmed by people celebrating; It was over, we won the game on that play.

Despite the dunk, I didn’t have a great game.

I rarely dunked the ball on breakaway lay-ups because for me, every dunk had to have a purpose and the purpose of a dunk was to throw it down on somebody and humiliate them.

I can remember throwing it down so hard on people my wrists would bleed. Vincent Malozzi, a New York Times writer and the author of “Asphalt Gods” called me the “hardest dunking white boy in the history of New York City.”

My most memorable game was a loss that devastated me at the time but looking back on the game it might have been my best game ever. We played against Morris at Madison Square Garden.  I was matched up against my good friend David Crosby. David was a slick, tall, power forward who had me by three inches.

For me this game meant the world to play on the court where my Knicks played.

I was a huge Knicks fan and here we were about to play on the Garden floor right before the Knicks were to play.  The Knicks had guys like Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere and Willis Reed. DeBusschere wore number twenty-two, which also happened to be my number.

My teammates got caught up in the moment and did not play their best game. As a result I hardly touched the ball.

But if there was ever an equivalent of having a perfect game, that would be the game. I don’t recall missing a shot that night and scoring 36 points on moves I never knew I had.

I had one of those “in the zone” type-games where I could have scored 70 points if I had the touches.

I remember hitting bank shots from tweny-five feet out and going off the dribble past my man David but he and Morris got the best of us that day even though I had one of my best games ever.

One other game worth mentioning is when we played Lehman in the Bronx. I remember this game vividly because I was in so much pain. My knee shut down with a case of tendonitis. I was in bad shape.

I could hardly walk but nothing could keep me off the court in those days.

I had nothing through the first three quarters of the game.  We found ourselves trailing by a lot. My coach, Stan Dinner broke his foot at halftime kicking some weights during his half-time tirade and speech.

We got down by 25 points early in the fourth quarter; I was in excruciating pain. As I pressed on, thinking I could not move an inch, all of a sudden the pain left my knee and during the next six minutes my teammates knew I was back.

I took over with a barrage of dunks and blocked shots. I scored our last 26 points of the game.  We won the game by one as I swatted a lay-up off the rim at the buzzer.

(Editor’s Note: Clearly a game for the magazine, Basketball Digest: “The Game I’ll Never Forget.”)

Looking back on those days, it was amazing to me how basketball created an opportunity for me to be a central figure in a different culture.

(NEXT UP: DECIDING ON A COLLEGE )

PTRW #719 KENNETH FARIED

Posted in Kenneth Faried with tags on September 5, 2014 by hoopscoach

“I just love to play basketball. Every time I step on the basketball court, you never know, it could be your last game, so I like to play my hardest in every game. When you love the game like that, it tends to reward you back.”

PTRW #718 JODIE MEEKS

Posted in Jodie Meeks, Kobe Bryant with tags , on September 2, 2014 by hoopscoach

On Kobe Bryant:

It was his first day of training camp as a Los Angeles Laker.

“Practice was at 11, we had to be there at 10. Well, I wanted to get there at 10. He was already there fully dressed and sweating. I got to the locker room at 9:30, got on the court at 10, and he had been there an hour and a half working on stuff.

“I was like, ‘Man, it is true.’ This guy is working like this and at the time he was 34 years old. He felt like he still had a lot to prove, and he was still trying to prove people wrong. I was like, ‘Man, great player.’ ”

“No matter if he was sick or hurt or injured, he never made excuses. He just kept working hard. He got better, and you see where he’s at.”

http://www.freep.com/article/20140902/SPORTS03/309020038/detroit-pistons-jodie-meeks-kobe-bryant

PTRW #717 STEPHEN CURRY

Posted in Stephen Curry with tags on September 2, 2014 by hoopscoach

“No matter how many shots you miss, you always gotta have the confidence that the next one is going in.”

(Source: ESPN Interview Tuesday, September 2, 2014)

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