Sunday, May 01, 2011

Uptown Saturday Night

Enjoyed this beautiful Sunday afternoon parked in front of the television watching the 1974 comedy classic "Uptown Saturday Night," featuring Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. I own the movie and have seen it plenty of times, however, during this most recent viewing, which happened to follow NBA playoff games, I caught something I'd missed in earlier viewings.

After losing his wallet with a winning lottery ticket to masked robbers at an afterhours club called Madame Zenobia's , Poitier and sidekick Cosby begin scouring Harlem for information that'll lead them to the robbers and the ticket. After a short encounter with Richard Pryor as a swindling private detective (Sharp Eye Washington), they get information that directs them to gangter Little Seymour's bar.

They enter the bar and talk big trash to the patrons about Seymour and his bodyguard Big Percy in hopes of flushing them out. Nobody talks. Then, just as Poitier, on the advice of Cosby, begins to say something dirty about Little Seymour's mother, a small man in a suit and derby (played by one of the Nicholas Brothers) is standing there glaring at them. They laugh until hearing, then seeing the big, tall, booming voiced Percy enter and take his place beside a martial arts trained Little Seymour.

During this very tense scene I notice sports posters on the wall behind Seymour and Percy. Mind you, this was 1974 and the posters represented New York as well as that era of blacks in sports, mainly basketball. I saw New York Knicks guard #10 Clyde 'the glide" Frazier along with what must've been a 1950's black and white of a City College of New York championship basketball game. Of the other two posters, one I immediately recognized as #44 Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves swinging a bat during an all-star or post-season game. The one remaining poster centered squarely in the middle completely stumped me.

The poster that completely threw off my sports equilibrium was a basketball player of the early 70's wearing jersey number 42 with "The City" and a bridge sprawled across the front (see above picture). I first assumed it must've been a New York team with one of its bridges as their logo. I stopped the dvd, scanned back to a clearer view of the poster and pressed pause. The player and jersey logo were clearly visible behind the small stature of Little Seymour. The logo wasn't a picture of the Brooklyn or Verrazano bridge, but that of San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge.

Everything began to click. It was a player from the San Francsco / Golden State Warriors. The Warriors began wearing the retro jersey's again just a few years back, so the logo is familiar to me. But the player with the early 70's porkchop sideburns I couldn't make out. The team, originally from Philadelphia, moved across the bay to Oakland in 1973. They were in the playoffs six times from 1971-1977, and won their only west coast championship in 1975 by upsetting the favored Washington Bullets.

Yes, Google and the Internet are incredibly useful for pulling up past memories. It took all of five minutes to find an exact image of the poster behind the mean looking Little Seymour and Big Percy. I should've guessed it but then again, I was a Knicks fan way back then.

#42 of the San Francisco / GS Warriors is no other than Nate "the great" Thurmond, who played for the team from 1963-1974. Nate still has a presence here in the Bay Area with Nate's Barbecue, a tasty barbecue restaurant he established after retiring. Nate still does charity work here in the Bay. He was enshrined in the NBA Hall of Fame in 1985 and named one of the 50 Greatest Players of NBA History in 1996. Big Percy...........I mean, Big Nate's jersey #42 was retired by the Warriors and the Caviliers. Nate played and held his own against some of the other greats, including Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed and a young Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

I'm so glad that movies of my youth took the time to design sets with a realistic flavor of the times. Though Clyde Frazier was the flavor for early 70's basketball in New York, the San Francisco Bay Area had one of its own that was worthy of having his poster included with sports greats of the era.

I went back to watching Uptown Saturday Night, enjoying the all-star black cast that included Calvin Lockhart, Harry Belafonte and Flip Wilson. But as a sports fan past and present, I really enjoyed being transported back to the memories of sports heroes of my youth. Nate was and continues to be one of those Heroes. Thanks Nate!

Here's a link to the video clip on Youtube - Little Seymour. After seeing this clip I caught yet another surprise in the bar scene.

There's a poster of an Oakland Raiders player on the wall behind a group of patrons at about 2:44 into the clip. At first I thought it was wide receiver Cliff Branch, one who's deserving of being on a wall of greats. On further review the player has a facemask with a vertical and the only proof of a ball handling black player with that type of facemask is lightening running back Clarence Davis, also deserving.

A Franco Harris poster can also be seen. Nothing Immaculate.

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