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(Really) Going Semi-Pro

Marc Sanchez

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Pro 'Fro
(Courtesy New Line Cinema)
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My dad came from an immigrant family. And on our street, about half the houses were our relatives: my dad's brothers, sisters, first cousins, second cousins. And we would get together every Friday and Saturday night, and there were sometimes 30, 40, 50 people at my Aunt Helen's house, my dad's sister.

They got together to do what they did in the old country, which was sit around, drink coffee, smoke tons of cigarettes and cigars and just talk. It was almost like a think tank, where they came up with great ideas. They came up with a pizzeria. Then an unemployed worker from Pizza Hut or something, changed his name to Paulo and opened a pizzeria.

It was one thing after another. My parents and their first cousins really didn't know much about basketball or sports in general. But they had normal kids who loved sports. So the combination of their entrepreneurial spirit and our love of sports was the seed for the development of this concept of a semi-pro basketball team in Flint.

The fans were ecstatic about having a team on the north side of Flint, in this sleepy little community. The first several games drew almost 1,500 fans and the Flint Pros won their first five games. Now there was an incredible amount of excitement. A player named Wardell Dyson was the 1970s version of Shaq. Justus Thigpen was a product of Flint, he was a scoring machine.

Around five or six games into the 1972-73 season, the announcer for the Flint Pros was sick and didn't show up. And never afraid to try anything, my father said, "I'll do it." And when Justus Thigpen would score a point, he's say, "There's Justus!" And he came up with clever sayings like, "Dyson to Stevens to Thigpen to Basket!" And the fans went wild over this!

In 1972, Flint, Mich., was really a great place to grow up, but you could see the writing on the wall. The competition in the auto industry was going to be ramping up. Unemployment was just starting to become an issue. And so at a time when Flint was starting it's decline, the Flint Pros was a reason to hope, and a reason to be happy. It really did take your mind off the financial woes of the county.

At the beginning of the second season, they still believed there was something magic about this team. They lost about $13,000 after they paid the team's wages and the fee to the league. So they figured they would move the team downtown to the IMA auditorium. So in the first third of the season, they lost $12,000. And after the December 2 game, which only drew 177 fans, the Pros decided to fold.

And for my family, the end of the Pros was very heartbreaking. It was something we absolutely loved. But, being true to form, I don't think it was six months, and my father had another scheme up his sleeve. I don't think it was long after the Pros, and he came up with the idea of starting a local Catholic church called, "Our Lady of Lebanon." Out of that kitchen at my Aunt Helen's house, a Lebanese Catholic church was formed, and it's still a thriving Catholic community today.

Comments

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  • By sharon barron

    From las vegas, NV, 03/01/2008

    i grew up in flint during from the 50's through
    the late 70's. it was good, before the city was ravaged by unemployment poverty and crime,due to the auto industry debacle. it is so good to hear a great story about my hometown. and a movie!!!!
    yea!!!

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