Abert Boutin

I was walking down Tran Hung Dao (the main thoroughfare that ran past the hotel billeting complex) just to scope out the neighborhood.  Actually, as I recall, Tran Hung Dao was known by another name in the Chinese quarter of Cholon.  I think it was Dong Khan Street, but I may be wrong.

As I left the hotel complex, I crossed that wide, commotion-filled street and turned left.  I vaguely recall a movie theater located right in that area.  After a couple of blocks or so, what did I see but a schoolyard – or perhaps a community park  or playground – and maybe three or four kids playing basketball around a single hoop.

An excitable voice emanated from the court.  It was in English.  It was recognizable.  It was Ralph.  He was one of those kids.

I walked over to the court.  Ralph, in his fatigues, was in a game of pickup.  He was doing more than handling the ball.  He was calling the game with much volume, enthusiasm, and drama, just as a sports announcer might, and he was doing it while on the court, on the run.

Ralph was Jerry West’s avatar on the court, as well as the announcer, calling West’s every move, every pass, and every shot.  And in portraying West, Ralph gave the Hall of Famer an honorable nod.  Just as West was a true, selfless, team player who never show-boated, so too, was Ralph that day, holding back on easy shots and blocks, all in the interest of helping – encouraging – maybe teaching is a better term – those kids.  You could see on their facial expressions how delighted they were to be playing a game with Jerry.  I mean, Ralph.

And Ralph was truly in his element.  Nothing mattered at the moment, other than basketball and sincere, good will that develops into friendship.  And whether he knew it at the time or not, the fact is that Ralph was being an ambassador of good will.  Ambassador Mattia.  It has a natural ring to it.

Thank you, Ralph.  I mean, Jerry.



Big Al

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