Summer League Season – SLS – is the name of a family-based basketball league created by my younger brothers in 1997. My brothers were teenagers, 15 and 17 years-old respectively, when they started SLS. Along with a couple friends in our very rural village of Earlton, New York, they began playing regularly scheduled games from spring into summer and early Fall. They kept records – wins and losses of course, as well as points, rebounds etc. They had playoffs and a championship series. They eventually began recording the games.
SLS is still going 25 years later. My youngest brother, five of my nephews, and a few family friends continue the tradition. Through the summer, at the West Ghent Community Park, you will find two-on-two basketball games played, clocked, recorded, and even officiated.
In 1997, I was 26 years-old, married some three years, and living in Raleigh, North Carolina, college basketball country. I was attending North Carolina State University, the Wolfpack of Jimmy V and the 1983 tourney champs fame. Michael Jordan, likely the most famous North Carolinian, was still in the prime of his career, winning his 5th championship that same year. My brothers were both huge Jordan fans. SLS was in many ways inspired by that love of #23 and the game he perfectly played.
Basketball was a big deal for me too. I was of the Magic-Bird, early MJ generation, and a huge fan of the NBA as well as Big East basketball. I played on school teams from the 5th grade through my senior year of high school. It was probably me who first taught my brothers how to shoot hoops. I certainly was among the first to play the game with them. I remember playing with and against the youngsters who would later make up the first generation of SLS players.
The driveway to our mobile home had a free standing hoop. The Catskill Mountains loomed in the distance. When the leaves left, the peaks could be seen behind the lofted basketballs.
From 2004 to 2006, after moving back to the upstate New York of my youth, I played in the SLS. Not to boast, but in the tiny domain of SLS, I am a living legend. I have video compilations, mixed-tapes as you'd call it now, to prove it! Yes, I am trying not to snicker.
But if there was an OG when it comes to the Erickson clan's love of basketball, it would not be me. The SLS OG is my father, Donald Francis Erickson.
My father taught me how to play. He encouraged me to be ambidextrous in my game, learning to shoot with my left and my dominant right hand. We'd play H-O-R-S-E and one of his left-hand shots would often be the one that beat me. He taught me a left and right-handed sky hook, which I still can shoot pretty well though it is a shot now extinct… inexplicably so.
He once shared a rather heartbreaking story, for a basketball lover anyway. When he was in the 10th grade, he tried out for the JV basketball team. He loved to play. He was 5’ 8”, 5’ 9” but was athletic and quick, and, yes, ambidextrous.
He made the JV team and showed promise. He was good. More importantly, he loved to play and wanted to play.
Basketball helped him get through his mother's death when he was 11 years-old. Shooting hoops and practicing on his own helped him, if just for brief moments, to forget his grief. The camaraderie of playing the game with friends was a healthy distraction in more ways than one. It helped him deal with his father’s new marriage very soon after his mom’s death. He did not get along well with his step-mom who could be overbearing and harsh. He also wasn’t ready to move past the memory of his mother and accept a replacement.
Making Hudson High School’s JV team, it promised him a sense of purpose and fun, both of which he sorely needed. He was hopeful despite the sense of loss that remained.
But his hopes would be dashed. His step-mother and father forbid him to play on the team. He was 16, old enough to get a job, and help pay the bills. He didn’t have a car and would need them to pick him up after practice. They were unwilling to do even that.
He would not play on the basketball team that year or any subsequent years. He’d carry the hurt into his adulthood. When he told me the story, I could sense the pain.
I’d play basketball all four years of high school. He didn’t always attend my games. He got really nervous for me, and so it was hard for him to watch me compete. But he was supportive of my playing a game I absolutely loved, something he dreamed of doing but wasn’t able to.
In some ways, SLS is a fulfillment of his dream. We freely played and still play the beautiful game he was forbidden to play.