There are thousands of them! In school yards and in city run parks all over New York. In fact, there are 2052 handball courts in New York City, according to the NYC Parks Department. Six-hundred-and-seventy-three in Brooklyn alone.
There are several ways to play this fast and furious talk-a-lot-of-shit game which may or may not have had its origins in antiquity. The sport was depicted on a tombstone carving in Athens, Greece dated 600 BC. As far as the game poppin’ off in the States, some say the Irish introduced it here during the California Gold Rush of the 1840s. One thing is certain, however: handball is a New York thing, so you wouldn’t understand if you’re not from here.
So how do you play handball? Simple: with one or four walls, high or low lobs, with hard or soft balls and with cunning angles that can kill. If you’re good you can be King of The Courts. If you’re wack, you’ll be Scrub of the Playground. For DJ Enuff, Gio Vasquez, Bill Spector and Keir Kramlich, members of the New York City Handball Club, organized by NYC impresario Mike Saes, the game supercedes any other game, organized or otherwise. For these dudes, its all about having fun. It’s fully a part of their lives, the fabric of their experience growing up in and around NYC.
Bill Spector. Orignally from Queens. Party promoter.
I’ve been playing handball since I was a kid in the ‘70s but I took some time off. I started playing again 15 years ago. I played basketball, but I wasn’t very good. While waiting to play basketball, I used to play handball. I was actually good at it even though I wasn’t coordinated.
I grew up in a different New York than it is now. I remember being by the guidos where my father lived, and there was a park with like, mad Italian dudes! They weren’t down with anybody. Yet, when a Spanish kid would pop up and play handball, everybody knew who he was. ‘Oh, that’s the great kid from East New York! He comes up all the time and plays,’ they’d say. I was like, ‘What? He’s not one of the kids you gonna chase with bats?’
Saes and I have been friends since we were kids in the ‘80s–we’ve stayed friends straight through. Keir is just a younger kid from downtown; I’ve known him for years. Enuff used to DJ my parties–we also know each other from when we were teenagers. Gio came into the fold recently, and he’s the number one handball player in the city!
Most of my friends don’t live in New York anymore. It’s funny: when I go to Florida, I have an apartment there, I run into people I grew up with, like random kids who say things like, ‘I haven’t seen you in years, you still play this game?’ We play on two courts in Florida–Flamingo Park in Miami and on a court in Ft. Lauderdale. The difference with playing in Florida is its all New Yorkers! The funny thing I’ve learned about handball, besides a couple places in LA, is that handball is a very indigenous New York game. And there are two places where people play handball: New York and in jail.
I often use the graffiti analogy: as a kid I wrote graffiti and there used to be a lot animosity between the writers and the handball players. I actually got punched in the face by some writer when I was a kid. Some kids did a piece on a wall, which was actually a dope piece, and the kids who played handball were like, “Are these guys your friends? And I said, “Yes, I kinda’ know them.” And they go, “Yeah? Tell them this!” and I got punched in the face! I was on the court leaking!