Some are legends in their own mind-Bernard Levi was a legend in his own time!
Growing up in a NE DC neighborhood yesterday and today, its a different world. Today you can live next door or on the next floor for years and not know your neighbor. The recent passing of Bernard Levi brought back memories of the way we were.
“The Ties That Bind” lyrics by Bruce Springsteen
‘You been hurt and you’re all cried out you say
You walk down the street pushin’ people outta your way
You packed your bags and all alone you want to ride
You don’t want nothin, don’t need no one by your side.
You can run but you can’t hide.’
On Tuesday July 31, 2018 Bernard Levi went home to be with the Lord, he was 78 years old. He was known as ‘Sonny’ to family and close friends. He grew up in a neighborhood off of 44th & Sheriff Road in NE called Deanwood. My brother Earl and I grew up in a housing project called Parkside aka Parkside/Mayfair in the late 40s and 50s. Our communities were in walking distance of each other.
His mother Rosa Lee, my mother Mattie and Bobby Dozier’s mom Annie were all close friends. The three were like sisters. Bobby and Bernard were cousins, but we were All In the Family!
Sonny and his niece Dorinda Parker take in a little sunshine in Ocean City
Bernard was a very private person even as a youngster. He and my late brother Earl were closer in age. They became good friends, because of the bond our mothers shared. Deanwood and Parkside were rivals when it came to athletics. Parkside was mostly a baseball and football community and Deanwood was a basketball community. The games were always competitive, but seldom played dirty and vicious. There was always a certain amount of respect earned among the players. We all hated losing, but winning at all cost was seldom broached.
Deanwood was my basketball homebase before Kelly Miller. The Deanwood basketball court was ajacent to Carver Elementary School. On any given weekday evening or weekend you could find a good game among the homecourt grown talent of brothers, Sleepy and Willie Harris, Bernard Levi, James Davis, Vaugh Johnson, Herman Roebuck, Paul Barnes, Floyd Cummings and his brothers, and the Jiles boys. Parkside was represented by John Tilley, Sackie Lee, Bubba Lanham, Duck Wills, Charles Hill and yours truly. It didn’t matter if it was 3 on 3 or whole court, the games would always be fast and furious and in your face basketball.
Bernard, Herman, Vaugh and James were just young bucks, but they blended in well and held their own with the older heads. As we got older we moved the games to Kelly Miller and the games got bigger and better as the competition level leaped forward.
I would go on to play football, basketball and baseball at Spingarn High School before eventually graduating from Fairmont Heights in Prince Georges County.
I never played Boys Club sports my foundation as an athlete was laid on playgrounds that included, Parkside, Carver and Kelly Miller.
In 1957 Kelly Miller was the host of one of the most talked about playground basketball games ever played in the Nation’s Capitol. It was Elgin ‘Rabbit’ Baylor vs Wilt ‘The Stilt’ Chamberlain. People and cars were everywhere, it was like a basketball festival!
Just in case there is someone unaware that the greatest basketball player ever to lace up a pair of basketball shoes in DC–his name is Elgin Baylor. Let me remind you, Elgin was a NCAA Final Four MVP, NBA Rookie of the Year, named to the NBA All-Star First Team 10 straight years and he still holds the record for most points scored in a NBA final’s game, 61 points. His NBA career scoring average of 27 points rank only behide Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Elgin Baylor invented “Hang Time” in the NBA.
My Brown Middle School Principal William B. Stinson told my mother I would not live to get out of high school. I was trying to go to hell in a hurry. In 1959 against all odds I graduated from Fairmont Heights thanks to my savior, Spingarn coach, Dave Brown.
Coach Brown would make arrangements for me to attend Winston-Salem State on a football/basketball scholarship and play for the legendary Clarence ‘Bighouse’ Gaines–my travel down Tobacco Road saved my life.
In Chicago receiving the first Clarence ‘Bighouse’ Gaines “Community Service Award”
In the meantime, I lost track of Bernard, but I would encounter him again during the summers at Kelly Miller with another hotshot upcoming player by the name of Dave Bing. I always liked the challenged of guarding guys that thought they were great or were predicted to be on the fast-track to greatness. On those ocassions I chose to play Bing one on one instead of Levi. I immediately discovered Bing was a “Cry Baby” and didn’t like contact and I loved it!
My senior year at Spingarn Coach Rev. Roundtree kicked me off the team because I decided I wanted to be a scorer instead of a defender. he had created the Box-in-One Defense. It was designed especially for me to play the other team’s top scorer, which should have been an honor. But I decided to spend the summer perfecting my jump-shot. I shot myself in the foot and off the team.
All was forgiven after my freshman year in college Coach Roundtree allowed me to return and play in the alumni game. Spingarn had a tradition back in the day former players/alumni were allowed to return to the school during the Thanksgiving break and play against the varsity basketball team.
During this time Levi and Bing had become ‘Playground Legends.’ During the in-between times Levi and I would meet at his house on 44th Street. It was there wI would bring my mother to visit his mom. We had moved to ‘Simple City’ located on the DC and PG County line my new address was 58th & Blaine streets NE. While our moms visited we would head out to the basketball court at Carver Elementary School and we play one on one. I don’t ever remember being victorious in any of those confrontations. He never talked trash about those one on one games I never won.
I remember Bing being a cry baby all the way up to his sophomore year at Syracuse University. I will never forget that hot summer day at Kelly Miller when I discovered there was a new Sheriff in town (DC) and his name was Dave Bing. He ran circles around me, blocked my shots and he jumped over me like a pogo stick and dunked the ball! It was then I decided to pick up a tennis racket and I never looked back.
Me and Dave together before he forgot who he was and where he came from!
Some way, some how Bernard got lost in the shuffle, St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital became a revolving door for my mother. I was trying to concentrate on college and keep a close eye on my mother and brother Earl. He was hanging out with the wrong crowd. When I called home to check with family and friends no one had seen him. My sophomore year he surprised me and hitch hiked to Winston-Salem for our homecoming, I had no clue. He came to tell me he was joining the Army–I cried in relief. He had hoped to see me play, bad timing I was in Bighouse Gaines’ doghouse, I never got off the bench as we crushed St. Paul’s College 61-0.
Still no sign of Levi and time was not standing still.
Bing had become an All-American, Earl was now serving in the Army in Mannheim, Germany. He was moving on up and was promoted to Sergeant as a Military Policeman (MP), Heavyweight Boxing Champion, the base Table Tennis Champion and softball umpire. I always said, he was the best athlete in the family. Despite all of these accomphlistments he could not escape the racism embedded in the city of Mannheim. Jet Magazine would publish a story in August 1969 citing his frustrations, trials and tribulations with racism on an American Military Base.
In the meantime, the same Jet Magazine showed me at the Richard Nixon White House visiting an old friend who happen to be the President of the United States. I caddied (golf) for him when I was in high school. I had no clue as it related to the difference between a Democrat and Republican. I now realize I had broken bread with two of the most controversial personalities in American history, Richard Nixon and Muhammad Ali.
In 1966 Dave Bing was the No. 1 draft choice of the NBA Detroit Pistons and he was named the Rookie of the Year. In the summer of 1967 I encountered Dave and an old friend the late Arnold George while having lunch at Frank’s Restaurant on Florida Ave. in NW DC. We exchanged waves and when I looked up again Bing was walking toward my table with his hand out. I stood up to greet him and told him how proud I was of him. He said, “Harold you help prepare me for the NBA!” In 1967 he won the NBA scoring title, in 1969 he was named to his second straight NBA All-Star team. Still no Levi.
My brother Earl divorced the U. S. Army after his tour of duty ended in 1969 citing irreconcilable differences. He returned home to face the same racism he thought he had left behind in Germany. He applied for a job with his hometown police department only to encounter “The Spook That Sit by the Door” Ass’t Police Chief Maurice Turner (black–Afro-American–Negro–colored and the Big N). He told Earl he was not eligible to become a DC cop because of his juvenile record! I knew this was a lie because the DC code states “A juvenile’s record cannot be held against him/her while applying for employment in the DC government.” It took Washington Post columnist Bill Raspberry to blow the cover off of this police discrimination sham led by a black Ass’t Police Chief.
My brother Earl from ‘Street thug” to Military policeman to DC cop.
In the meantime, Earl had taken a job as a DC Correctional Officer at the DC jail. He was waiting for approval to join the DC Police Department when he received word that Bernard Levi had been spotted in prison in Allen Wood, Pa.
He called me and gave me the information to check on Bernard’s status. I found that he was serving a 10 year sentence for robbing a bank. It didn’t look good, but I called Herb Klein the Director of Communications for the White House. I asked him for the number to Norman A. Carlson the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I called Mr. Carlson and scheduled an appointment to meet with him. He in turn scheduled a meeting with the Warden of Allen Wood Prison.
Earl and I drove to Allen Wood to meet with the Warden. He took us on a tour of the prison and had Levi meet us in his office. One month later Bernard Levi was a free man never again to return to a life of crime. Something I never talked about pubulicly until now. The subject is one Bernard wanted to quietly forget. I have had at least a dozen brothers released from prison by early paroles or released outright, including NFL Legend Jim Brown. The number of brothers that I have help keep out of jail are to numerous to count. Only one found a need to return.
Bernard spent the rest of his life working to help others overcome their addictions and being a big brother to dozens of young men who’s life once resembled his very own.
The rumors that have been spread that Dave Bing had anything to do with the release of Bernard Levi from prison is a lie! I called Dave before the drive to Allen Wood and asked him to write a note of encouragement to Levi. He refused and rumor has it he told his cheerleading buddies that he wanted nothing to do with a criminal. This was when things started downhill with our relationship. He never dared to disrespect me, but I didn’t like the way he treated Levi. Guess who has been recruited by his Washington base cheerleaders led by Donald Hicks to speak at Levi’s funeral–Dave Bing! All this was made possible by a “Family House Divided.”
I made it clear to his sister Ruthie I wanted nothing to do with or to enhance “The Family Feud” that was taking place between Bernard’s sisters and his daughters. Bernard would not have approved, but I promised I would attend the funeral.
In the meantime, Levi’s friends are going door to door (restaurant to restaurant) raising money for the Repass? If Dave is so rich why are they collecting money from each other, is it to feed their egos? Dave Bing the man they are recruiting to showcase at the funeral is suppose to be a Multi-millionaire his wrting a check for the Repass should be a slam dunk!
I want to remember Bernard like I last saw him in June at the Washington Hospital Center with friends Harry Horton and Bobby Thompson. He was happy to see me as I was to see him. I surprised him with a copy of my new book titled, “My Walk through Sports History With Champs & Chumps!” In the book there is a page where I name the 20 Greatest DC Play Ground Basketball Players of All-Time. He is among the 20 names. The smile that spreaded across his face was PRICELESS!
What Dave did to Bernard Levi he did the exact same thing to our homeboy (Alexandria, Virginia) and friend NBA pioneer Earl Lloyd. He and Bob Lanier ran Earl out of the coaching ranks in Detroit. This came out of the mouth of the man himself–Earl Lloyd. Guess who was his presenter for his NBA Hall of Fame induction–how about Dave Bing?
The 2003 HOF induction of NBA pioneer Earl Lloyd with presenter Dave Bing with knife in back.
He sold KC Jones out when he came back home for his farewell NBA tour with the Bullets in 1975. He had a little help from Bernie Bickerstaff who helped him stab KC in the back. Bing told me that KC was a running drunk and didn’t have a clue as a coach. I was shocked when those words came out of his mouth about KC whom I always saw as a class act. I suggested he talk to KC ‘Man to Man’, he said, “Its too late.” It gets worst, Bing threw our high school basketball Coach Rev. William Roundtree under the bus and then backed the bus up and drove over him again.
KC and Bernie guest on Inside Sports
In a story published in the Washington Times Newspaper dated Monday May 12, 1980 titled “Happy Youngsters Flock to Roundtree City Mission.” This is Dave Bing’s most damaging quote in the story, ‘I have promised Coach Roundtree that I will support him financially (on a new center) and I fully intend to do just that.’
He not only didn’t build Coach Roundtree a new center, but when he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame, he never bothered to contact and invite his coach to the ceremony. This is the same coach who he claimed saved him from being a petty thief. I talked Coach Roundtree into going to Springfield, Massachusettes for the NBA HOF induction ceremony. We drove to Philadephia and boarded a bus that playground basketball legend Sonny Hill had booked for the trip. His friend Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe was also being inducted into the HOF.
During the induction ceromonies Rev. Roundtree and I were seated with Sonny when Dave made his induction speech. After minutes into his speech he introduced Rev. Roundtree as his high school coach. As expected he ignored my presense, but the next inductee Earl Monroe introduced Sonny and me as brothers in the community he was working with to help improve the lives of inner-city kids. Dave looked stunned. Another interesting note our homeboy and Spingarn alumnus Elgin Baylor said “No” when asked by Dave to be his presenter for the HOF ceremony. It is rumored Elgin spend the day on the golf course.
Bing would later threw ‘The Pearl’ under the bus. After both of their careers had come to end Earl ran into some hard times financially trying to be a music mogul. He borrowed $10.000 from Bing. Bing told his cheerleading buddies that Earl had messed up his money doing drugs and made some bad investments. In the end these guys deserve each other. They have no idea as it relates to the definition of integrity and loyalty.
Earl Monroe gets faked out by Dave Bing in the NBA and again in the Game Called Life!
Bing has a knack for showing up for funerals and playing “The Big Shot”, there was Roland ‘Fatty’ Taylor and now Bernard Levi. When Coach Roundtree died he was in attendance to pay for the Mausoleum and the Repass at the Fort Lincoln Cemetery. I bet you a dime to a donut Rev. Roundtree’s wife and kids are wondering to this day where was he when coach needed money to keep the lights on at his church and where was he when the kids needed toys and clothes on Christmas?
Rev. Roundtree host the Kids In Trouble annual toy party at his SE church with former players HBell and Byron Kirkley.
It is amazing how these brothers like Bing get two-dollars more than the brother he left standing on the corner and thinks that it makes him smarter. He ran for Mayor in Detriot and he thought he was smart again. I warned him it was a “Dead End Street” but Donald Hicks and the cheerleaders won out. When they threw his hat out the door behind him in 2013, the city of Detriot had declared chapter 9 Bankrutcy. A fool and his ego are soon departed.
Stay tune, all you wanted to know about “Champions & Chumps” and didn’t know whom to ask look no further. See my new book @ http://www.blackmeninamerica.com it is here you will find “A lie will change a thousand times, the truth never changes.”
“I love it when people have a problem with me and manage to tell it to everyone but me?” author unknown