Charm City Basketball Icons
By Benjamin Hughes
Lorenzo “Mike” Plater and William Harris are Baltimore basketball icons. It would be difficult to dispute that any other individuals have such a positive impact on the game in Baltimore.
Thousands of ballers have played in their leagues and joined in one the city’s largest fraternities. In 1958, Plater’s Baltimore Basketball Association and Harris’ Cloverdale Athletic Commission came together to provide an outlet for men ages 7 to 70. Actually Harris is the only 70-year-old still playing in the league and he takes the game seriously.
“If you are just playing for fun, it is exercise,” Harris said. “Even at 70, I go out to win.”
Plater learned this firsthand when he played his last game with Harris when he was 62 and their team lost in the championship game in a three-on-three Hoop It Up Tournament.
“He would keep on shooting,” Plater, 72, said 10 years later. “He told me he was not playing to pass me the ball.”
Plater and Harris love basketball. Plater’s cinder-block building walls at the Cloverdale courts are covered with decades of Baltimore basketball. Hundreds of pictures, cut T-shirts, posters and fliers hanging on the walls are a mosaic of Baltimore’s rich basketball history. Plater’s excitement and passion are contagious and is almost certainly why there have been 25 years of summer basketball at the Cloverdale courts in Reservoir Hill and nearly four decades of organized leagues.
Plater, a retired drug addiction counselor, is well suited for the kids he works with because he is animated and full of life when it comes to basketball while Harris, who still works as a contractor, seems to be a little more laid back in all he does.
Harris and Plater share the same philosophy for what they do. According to the Cloverdale/BBA overview as they are “using playground basketball as our vehicle, we believe that a strong athletic foundation and a viable sports programs can serve as a positive influence in the community and can be used to teach responsibility, discipline, and fundamental basketball.”
Everything might be true but teaching fundamental basketball. Charlie Reinhardt, 75, described Baltimore style on a Sunday morning in November.
“Baltimore is more aggressive, lacking fundamentals,” Reinhardt, who referees basketball games across the city, said. “There are five scorers on the floor for a B-more team and they never pass amongst each other.”
Harris and Plater agree with how Baltimore plays aggressively.
“All B-more players are scrappers,” Plater said. “If you scrap you will run them into the ground. You play line to line and defense turns into offense.”
“We play aggressive basketball. In your face. Basketball designed to win at all cost,” Harris said. “We didn’t play with malice; we played with the intent to win.”
They concur that fundamentals might not be the top goal in their philosophy, however they do value serving “as a positive influence in their community.”
Harris used to bootleg corn liquor when he was a kid but never drank alcohol or did drugs. He said some of the older players involved with the league are self-employed and have helped some younger players get jobs. Even a few of those people had been drug dealers. Plater works with kids in the summer and knows they are coming from the tough Baltimore streets.
“They wake up and their parents are dead or in jail and those are the kids that need it the most,” Plater, who takes kids on trips to other cities for tournaments, said. “To go away, the kids need a waiver to play in another city. I’ve got to sign most waivers because some kids don’t have parents at all. We are dealing with kids that need to be dealt with.”
The hope is that playing basketball will keep kids and adults alike off the streets so they can be positive examples in their communities.
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