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The Bounce in Kenny’s Step

February 2, 2018

(January 19, 2006, Published in the Detroit Jewish News)

My little brother, Kenny, loved to play basketball. He would go outside on the driveway and bounce and bounce his basketball endlessly, taking hundreds of shots, trying to swish each one.

He would play with his friends, our dad and sister, and me, though I was 12 years his senior. Unless it was snowing or raining, it was reasonably certain that he would be outside practicing.

He was short and skinny but at ten years of age, he could already shoot better than me, from any distance. When he’d finally come inside, he’d watch the Detroit Pistons or Michigan State when they played on TV.

He would stare at Greg Kelser and Magic Johnson, imagining himself in their large shoes, leading a team to the championship, like they did in March, 1979.

After Kenny died from a car accident on the way home from a Detroit Tigers baseball game that he’d attended with my dad in July 1982, the sound of bouncing balls and clanging rims stopped on Arden Park Circle. But the memories never did.

My parents soon felt strongly that even though Kenny was no longer there, it was urgent that they preserve his memory in some way. They just didn’t know how.

They visited the Jewish Federation of Detroit whose executive director, after hearing about Kenny’s love of basketball, suggested they talk to the executive director of the Jewish Community Center, Mort Plotnick. Mort didn’t know if it would work but he suggested that maybe they could start a small basketball league for young kids. Kenny had never received any instruction when he was young, was never in a league, but probably would have loved joining one.

How many young boys and girls were like Kenny? My parents liked the idea and endowed the Jewish Community Center with the Kenny Goldman Athletic Fund which would be used to provide a Basketball League for young boys and girls, from ages 6-13.

It started in the fall of 1984. My father tossed the first jump ball in the first league. My mother, sister and brother-in-law, my future wife and I sat on the sidelines just praying something good could come from the tragedy.

Over the years, the league grew in attendance and became a little better attended every year. My son, Kyle, now 19, was in the league when he was 8, but liked baseball better (and eventually football.)

Hundreds of other children participated in the 21 years the league has existed and even more parents have sat on the sidelines watching as their sons and daughters ran up and down the court, passing, dribbling, trying to make shots from up close and behind the foul line.

So many boys and girls have worn the Kenny Goldman Basketball League shirts, every year a different color. In the last few years, the league became affiliated with the NBA and WNBA, in that the professionals help provide instructional materials for players and coaches.

“Our Kenny Goldman Youth Basketball League is booming,” says Bruce Wineman, JCC sports and recreation director. “We had about 60 kids in the league five years ago. This fall, we had close to 600 on 55 teams.”

Now, he expects 700-800 boys and girls from kindergarten through 10th grade to play in the winter leagues that started Jan. 8 (“JCC Hoops,” Nov. 24, page 25.) I have told him that I will attend the first games in January which run from 1-10 p.m. on Sundays and require a hired scorekeeper, who happens to be my cousin’s son, Seth Strasberger.

There are so many people that my parents, sister, wife and I have met who have kids in the league. It’s hard to explain the feeling one gets when a young boy, like 13-year-old neighbor Ben Nadis, talks about playing in the Kenny Goldman League and his love of basketball. When I drive down his street and see him dribbling and shooting a basketball with his dad, I feel both sadness and joy.

My parents feel enormous pride imagining what they started 21 years ago and what it is today. When Kenny died at age 13, a few months after his bar mitzvah, the emptiness was unbearable. But my parents persevered and started something that both preserved Kenny’s memory, but also gave young kids a chance to learn about and play something they love.

The league registration form says, “Have fun, compete against other teams, learn new skills and play basketball. All players receive a trophy and each division plays approximately 8 games, playoffs and a championship.”

This is a league that preserves friendly, fun competition that helps kids grow up into young men and women.

Kenny never got to see the Pistons win their three championships, never got to see Joe Dumars, Ben Wallace or Chauncey Billups, never got to play in a high school basketball game. But I still pray that he is out there somewhere, watching hundreds and hundreds of boys and girls wearing shirts with his name across their hearts.

I hope that he can see them laughing, sweating, and scoring, just being kids.

From Five Fathers

Copyright 2006

By Arnie Goldman

BookSurge, LLC

Kenny at his Bar Mitzvah 1982

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