by Polly Reynolds
Marvin Barnes was a surprise. A basketball dream. A decent guy. A Providence man child and a tarnished treasure.
I had the unlikely honor of “coaching” Marvin Barnes when he showed up in Olneyville’s Joslin Center to play for Hope’s bar in a Providence Rec league game.
I was a regular at Hope’s – a founder and bounder who loved and knew basketball
and Jeff Plunkett, who had played some decent ball for Vermont was barkeeping and Calvin Drayton, a large and limber player and ” the rocking reverend Dick Dannenfelser, who was a pretty good shortstop in his day and really wanted to play. journalist Eddie Gaulin had some skills, and the Claudios from Fox Point. Kenny Higgins wanted badly to be seen by a basketball recruiter. And Sterling “Mousey” Washington (who has become one the finest and bravest and very best of community leaders especially with children I’ve ever met and continue to follow) was a fine shooting guard.
Hank Holiday ran a movie/ games shop down the street and was our big man: he was Big Hank … and then there was little Hank(ie) Green – who said “hey, my cousin wants to play. He’s Marvin Barnes”
It was 1981 and Marvin Barnes (who has somehow always seemed communal property to Rhode Islanders in general and Providencians in particular) was certainly on the downside of his meteoric streak through the highest of hoops clouds (described in David Halberstam’s Best of the Game as the most perfect basketball player he’d ever seen).
Marvin wasn’t renting any airplanes anymore and was in and out of jails and rehabs and recoveries but he wanted to come home. be home. play ball. have fun. He did that winter of 1981. At Hope’s: my bar: getting back into shape: and bumming money for an off-pink smoking Cadillac.
I was startled by Marvin’s gentility; I was stunned by the way he played the game of basketball. Marvin Barnes loved the game and wanted everyone he played with to love it too. The guys who played that winter said it was a thrill to be fed the ball by Marvin Barnes.
He was graceful and gracious and generous. And when we (Hope’s) lost in the Prov Rec League Final Four (under highly arbitrary ref-rulings) Marvin Barnes was the only one of my team that showed for the Championship game