Browse all

The White Jesus

The Basketball Disease

The White Jesus  The Basketball Disease

«Do you want something else?»

«No thanks, I'm ok».

«You're here to play basketball on December 24th? bullshit! [ahah]»

«Yes man! And do you know bout basketball courts in this area?»

«Ya gotta go to Jefferson Park, there is were The White Jesus was born».

That day I was mocked by a simple waiter. I just wanted to celebrate Christmas my own way.

East Harlem it’s the part of Manhattan where there’s a little Italian restaurant called Rao’s, with a very typical red-painted facade, impossible not to be noticed. This area is called “Second Little Italy”, and unfortunately in the sixties and seventies it was dominated by Mafia. And in this very context was born Bill Rieser. One day, when he was a kid, he was stopped when he was trying to go back home by a well-known Johnny, a local serial killer. Under threat he forced him to go into an apartment to take some drugs for him. Bill’s almost never at home, he starts to drug and push until he finds himself with a gun pointed to his head after a bad deal.

At the time he was attending a school where he was fooled by his schoolmates and after a fight, after knocking a few of them down, they opened his mouth and punctured his tongue with a broken bottle. After this episode, he changed school getting to the Benjamin Franklin High School, where him and Matty Cappuccilli were two of the four white kids among the 2.500 students. In 1976 in Harlem word was that this 15 years old could take the blow against some Rucker Park’s legends, included a certain Earl “The Goat” Manigault, one of the best players in the history of the game. 

At the time Billy was 1,92m tall and he jumped more than a meter, he dunks so hard that the sound was heard by all the neighborhood without the megaphones. The problem was that he was a white boy playing with black people and many of them didn’t like that.

To play certain games on those playgrounds you have to earn the respect with a “Rep”, a exonerating or very difficult play that represents your talent and style. It could be a dunk or a block or a crossover. Billy’s Rep arrived when he dunked two times on Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond, while he was trying to block him. He dunked so hard that his hands bled for a while. At the time getting dunk was humiliating, even more if by a white guy. They started to call him “White Jesus” because of the scars he get on his hands every time he dunked, just like stigmata. 

At La Guardia House, after some of Rieser’s dunks, black people were so angry that they throw metallic chairs on him. In 1978 he humiliated the great Sidney Green, his rival at PSAL, and reverse-dunked on former New York Knicks, Dick Barnett, after a memorable “pinning”. 

It all seemed so perfect. Against Morris High School he dropped 36 points under the eyes of all nation, without a single mistake from the field and the line. Everyone wanted him and everyone wanted to offer him a college scholarship. During a game he broke his knee, got surgery and after to disastrous years at Kentucky he got back home. He never became a pro and never realized his NBA dream. But the rumors about his knee are others. They say about a fall on the stairs after a night of heavy drinking. 

In this period his life was a disaster. He was on drugs agains and his wife left him, taking their daughter with her. When everything falls and nothing seems like it used to be, the Bible, yes the Bible, saves him, after reading it in a squalid hotel room. Here, he found the strength to be forgive by his wife and he becomes a God’s minister. 

Basketball’s gods are the strangest in all Pantheon. This kid, named “White Jesus” on the playground has been saved by who? Exactly from the Word of God.