A Salute to Union Square
Coach Barry Weiss with his team in the Chinatown YMCA outdoor middle school tournament.
Union square lawyer scores by funding b’ball league
By Amy Rosenbloom
“Push the ball!” “Take it to the hole!” “Press!” “We, not me!”
If you’re passing by Sara Roosevelt Park, at East Houston and Chrystie Sts., on Friday afternoons this spring, you’ll be apt to hear Barry Weiss shouting out those basketball words of wisdom, plus many others.
On Friday afternoons, Weiss transforms into Coach B, one of the eight coaches of teams in the Chinatown YMCA annual outdoor middle school basketball tournament, held this spring in Sara Roosevelt Park. When he’s not coaching on the blacktop, Weiss is senior partner of the Union Square personal-injury law firm Weiss & Rosenbloom.
On a recent weekend, watching two competitive games being played with kids cheered on by a solid crowd of parents, teachers and locals just passing through who stopped to look on, it was hard to imagine that this tournament almost became another victim of the great recession. This is a story of generosity — of a spirit of giving back to community. Because of Weiss, more than 100 local kids age 12 to 15 will continue to strut their basketball skills for free under the direction of the local YMCA.
Weiss, 49, grew up in Greenwich Village in the 1970s. Born and raised in a Bing and Bing building on W. 12th St., Weiss attended P.S. 41, I.S. 70 and Stuyvesant High School. A lifetime basketball junkie, he grew up playing basketball on the blacktop of all the playgrounds of the Village and in its several dusty local gyms, particularly the iconic and venerable old bandbox at the Dapolito Recreation Center, at Seventh Ave. South and Carmine St.
David Kaplan, executive director of the Chinatown YMCA, at Houston St. and Bowery, is himself a basketball junkie and has been a great friend of Weiss’s ever since they were fourth-grade classmates at P.S. 41. He explained how Weiss’s firm came to be involved with the basketball tournament.
“A couple of years ago, community leaders and local government officials identified a service gap for local middle school students during the after-school hours,” Kaplan said. “I recognized that many free after-school programs focus on the K-to-fifth-grade students, and most high schoolers have plenty of opportunities to play ball. It’s the middle school youth who ended up shortchanged, and the Y decided to do something about it.
“The recession brought on budget restraints at the Y, which meant serious service cutbacks, and the tournament was in serious danger of never getting off the ground,” Kaplan continued. “I went to Barry and told him about my vision. I asked Barry’s firm to sponsor one team and to spread the word among his legal and other friends in an effort to raise the funds needed.”
Not only did Weiss sponsor one team but his firm Weiss & Rosenbloom stepped up and became the James Naismith Sponsor for 2009 and 2010, and underwrote the cost of the entire league, which included referees, uniforms, trophies, food and water and safety escorts with the help of 10 of his friends.
“This free league would never be possible without the spirit, tenacity and generosity of Barry and Weiss & Rosenbloom and the financial help of his colleagues,” Kaplan said.
The project meant a lot to Weiss on a personal level.
“Growing up in the ’70s, we never paid to play ball and many parents couldn’t afford to pay for their kids to join a fee-based organization,” Weiss recalled. “Just like today, we had the Greenwich Village Basketball League and we played in several local gyms: at St. Anthony’s with its fiberglass backboards, the tile floor of Pompeii’s basement church, the court in the old building of the Children’s Aid Society on Sullivan St. and of course the mecca of them all, the Dapolito Center, known to all ballers of days gone by simply as ‘Carmine Street.’
“The older guys played in the league and then coached us,” Weiss went on. “Many are still tethered to this neighborhood. Johnny [Pettinato], he is now the principal of the ICE School. Richie Batts [Battaglia], he sits on the current board of the Greenwich Village Basketball League, which is still funded by donations. And most importantly, Ray Pagan, who after all these years, runs the basketball program at ‘Carmine Street.’
“Because of Ray’s leadership the Greenwich Village Basketball League has become one of the preeminent free leagues in the entire city,” Weiss said. “The league services kids from 6 to 16 and is as good as, if not better, than most of the fee-based A.A.U. programs that exist around the city.
“Some of my greatest life lessons were learned on the basketball courts of the Village and its surrounding environs,” Weiss added. “These lessons have served me well as an attorney representing individuals in need.
“I love living in the Village, I love practicing law in Union Square and I love the fact that I can give back to my community, which so shaped the way I am,” Weiss said. “Hopefully, the middle schoolers in the tournament someday will look back and feel the same way I do.”
Weiss’s son Michael, 12, plays in the league, and is a three-point sharpshooter.
“It gives me great joy to see Michael play on the same basketball courts as I did almost 40 years ago,” Weiss said. “We are living proof of the strong heritage of community so associated with the neighborhood.”
That basketball has united this YMCA program with a local business leader, with an overlay of Village basketball history, is not lost on Macky Bergman, the league’s commissioner, who also grew up in the Village.
“While running programs to engage young men at the YMCA back in 1891,” Bergman noted, “Dr. James Naismith came up with ‘basket-ball,’ a game that has stood the test of time because of its simplicity and genius.”
The tournament teams will be playing on the Sara Roosevelt court at East Houston and Chrystie Sts. every Friday between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. through the second week of June.