Downtown is quiet on Sundays. When several inches of snow drifting to a couple of feet, and temperatures barely into the teens are added, a trek to the Southside brings on a pastoral silence. Turning onto South Avenue from West Onondaga, the tree is gone, but the plaque noting that under it Horace Greeley and two friends founded the Republican Party stands out in the cold.
A blue street sign under the traditional greens announces that this stretch of thoroughfare is now Rosa Parks Way, and more than 80 houses rehabbed by Jubilee Homes stand testimony that deterioration can be reversed. The once thriving business district two blocks further has not caught the spirit nor the funding, but, just before crossing Daisy, the JA Jams sound system is pulsing through the gym wall at the Southwest Community Center.
It's just past noon, and the gym, fresh from a six-figure rehabilitation by the Parks Department, is already half full. Players who have arrived early for their scheduled games later in the day begin talking stuff, just loud enough to be heard by those peeling off their warm-up suits for the first of a four contest line-up.
"Game time," one player calls back to the crowd with an edge in his voice. "Time to get serious."
And serious it gets, as players search through coat pockets to chip in to cover fees for the referees, scorer's table staff and sound. But the handshakes before the first whistle, the smiles and competitive good wishes are distinctly genuine. These folks have mostly grown up with each other, checked each other countless times on city playgrounds, and, in many instances, waged legendary battles on local high school courts.
Now they are all over 40 (the oldest, John "Daddy Wags" Wagner is 62), the requisite to qualify for the eleventh season of the Baby Boomers Basketball League. The first game pits Battle Florist against the Syracuse OGees (an affectionate use of the Old Gangsta reference). The pace is quick: an opening hard fought follow underneath, then alternate interceptions before three clean swishes answering each other from respective downtowns.