For many athletes, practicing and playing their games is not just a means of burning calories, it’s a way to pursue a passion, learn life lessons, and earn tickets towards success in and beyond the sport – and such ideals ring true for many of the inductees into the 2023 Real Harlem Basketball Players Hall of Fame.
“[Basketball] helped them go to college. It helped them get through high school. It helped them get scholarships. It helped keep them on the right path. It taught them brotherhood, sisterhood, leadership,” said New York State Sen. Cordell Cleare (D), at the 2023 induction ceremony at Salem United Methodist Church in Harlem on Aug. 12. “[Basketball] gave them Harlem love and Harlem inspiration. And they turned around and gave it back.”
While many of the honorees began turning heads at New York City-based schools and parks, one inductee said he didn’t get noticed for his basketball prowess until college at St. Paul’s, in Lawrenceville, Virginia.
“My story is a little different… I didn’t play in the Rucker, I’m not all-city, but I found out how good I was when I went to college,” inductee Mike Green, 75, told the audience during the event.
“My freshman year… I was a starter with four seniors, we were like the fourth best in the CIAA, out of 18 teams, our first time in the championship,” he added, before being briefly interrupted by Gary “Tank” Barnes, founder and CEO of Real Harlem Basketball Players.
“He was a freshman when he murdered Bobby Dandridge,” Barnes told the crowd, influencing Green to tell the 1969 tale of when he scored major points against the NBA legend.
“I dropped 38 points on Bobby Dandridge. He was a senior and his next year he was with the Milwaukee Bucks, and eventually hooked up with Kareem [Abdul-Jabar], and they won an NBA title,” Green shared. “I was a scoring machine.”
However, after college, despite some tempting opportunities, Green chose not to pursue a professional career, in order to support his then-wife and budding family. That’s when he stumbled into a career in corrections, starting as a recreation specialist in Lorton, Virginia, and decades later becoming a member, then director of the District of Columbia Board of Parole.
“Whereas Mike Green had an outstanding career at St. Paul’s college, earning All-CIAA honors. And whereas Mike Green, after St. Paul’s College… went into the Washington, D.C. Department of Corrections, rose up through the ranks, and became the director of the District of Columbia Parole Board. Thank you for your service,” Sen. Cleare read in a proclamation.
While honored to have served as director, Green said leading the now, non-existent D.C. Parole Board was not always easy.
“I moved up to the position of director of the Washington, D.C. Parole Board, during a time when it was being abolished, and merged with the United States Parole Commission, so that was probably my biggest accomplishment,” Green said, explaining that by fusing the District with the federal parole board, he was implementing an act of Congress. “It was a difficult task, but I enjoyed it.”
Celebrating the 2023 Real Harlem Basketball Players Class
Other 2023 inductees included: Ed Warner, Vaughn Harper, Kenneth Williamson, Marvin Stevens, Audrey Atkins, Ray Golson, Charles Davis, Harold Kitt, Harvey Young, Charles Yelvelton, Bill Saddler, Laurence Johnson, Sylvester Blye, Bernard McLean, and Luther Green, Mike Green’s older brother, who died in 2006.
“The thing that’s most different about me than all of y’all, is that I lived with an all-city, an all-American, and with a pro, my whole life,” Green said, talking about his brother, who had a successful high school and college career, and played professionally for such teams as the New York Nets. “You can imagine how much inspiration he gave me.”
“The first time I ever saw him play… they were yelling, ‘Luther, Luther,’ and the crowd was going wild, and I was like, ‘I want to play this game too,’” Green continued.
Robert “Bob” McCullough, commissioner of Harlem’s legendary Rucker Park and 2021 Real Harlem Basketball Players Hall of Fame inductee, said the 2023 honorees are “a special group.”
“They have been leaders in the Harlem community, and a lot of people are here to pay homage to them, and the great things they have done in our community,” McCullough told the Informer.
Mike Green is the father of WI Managing Editor Micha Green. For more information on Real Harlem Basketball Players or to donate, visit facebook.com/groups/Realharlembasketball.