Fonde Gym was Rucker Park League South
Any serious gym rat knows the history of Rucker and the who’s who of players who have performed there.
Now, I have never visited Rucker Park (I do own a Royal Blunts Rucker team jersey) but have some gym rat friends who have and I would like to do the same myself someday.
But I started thinking about hot basketball spots and we have one of the best right here in Texas and it can be recognized with a single word.
Located between Houston and Washington avenues on Sabine Street near downtown Houston, Fonde Recreation Center opened in 1960.
One of its first employees was a Louisiana native named Angelo Cascio, who literally held court there for 26 years, with a loving, but iron-willed demeanor.
Cascio and his beloved Fonde have been featured in Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News and Texas Monthly.
During the mid 1980s, I coached the Central Texas All- Star basketball team, made up of players from the area.
Former Texas Tech star Lance Hughes was on the team.
We played in the Basketball Congress International (BCI) and travelled all over the Lone Star state and the southwestern United States playing in tournaments.
One of the first tournaments we played in was the Houston Open, guided by basketball enthusiast Jay Parker.
Parker may have had his problems, but we all owe him a debt of gratitude because he almost single handidly got the rules changed so Texas kids could play during the summer, which until 1985, was illegal.
Much to my delight, one of the facilities Parker was using for his tournament was Fonde, the hoop cathedral I had heard mentioned with such reverence on courts of pickup games from Austin to Dallas.
I had spent most of my Sundays in Austin patrolling the perimeter at the University of Texas’ Clark Field, which was considered the best pick-up game venue in the state in the shadows of Memorial Stadium.
Sadly, it is now a parking lot.
Fonde was still out there somewhere.
Our first game in the Houston Open was at Fonde and we were late, but when I walked past the row of tote-em poles out front and through the double doors, I thought I could hear the basketball angels sing in crescendo.
In the middle of our first game on a Friday morning at Fonde, a hulking giant with arms nearly to the floor and ball tucked under his arm walked right out into the middle of one of our fast breaks.
Everyone in the gym froze.
“Who’s playing on my floor?” the stranger asked.
It was Moses Malone.
Moses was none too happy about this unauthorized activity and Cascio calmed him and assured him if he came back later that night, he could play. When our game was over, I made a bee-line to Cascio and begged him to let me play.
This 5-foot-5 Cajun was solely responsible for who got “ups” in Fonde. No argument.
There was also no alcohol, no drugs, no profanity and no fights.
“They fight,” Cascio once said. “They know I take ‘em to the police station across the street.”
He also kept out the “rinky dinks” as he called them, guys who just thought they could play.
And just because you played in the NBA, didn’t guarantee you got an up. After he found out I was coaching these kids, he thought that was commendable and told me to come back that evening and he would get me in a game.
I had never been so nervous entering a gymnasium.
Cascio placed me on a team with several University of Houston players, one of which I am sure was Larry Micheaux, who was a part of the famous Phi-Slamma-Jamma crew.
On the opposing team, one Moses Malone.
The first time down the floor, he elbowed me in the forehead. I wish I still had the scar.
I don’t remember too much about the games I played in, don’t remember if I even made a shot. I wasn’t running up-and-down the floor, I was floating on a cloud.
Angelo Cascia died at age 72 in 1986 and Fonde closed briefly in 1988 after a massive renovation with new air condition and gym floor.
And that storied gym, is now rightly called the Angelo Cascio Gymnasium.
Who’s got up?
Here are five of the best players who played at Fonde: 1. Elvin Hayes
2. Moses Malone
3. Charles Barkley
4. Hakeem Olajuwon
5. Clyde Drexler