A Special Thanks to Ralph “The Rocket”

Usually, I wouldn’t write about a hiring that doesn’t impact the product on the court. A new director of security certainly wouldn’t compel me to bust out a blog.

But in this case, my journalistic training, my understanding of news judgment and relevance, will take a backseat to my personal prerogative. This blog post is motivated by my bias, my personal feelings, my agenda.

The Warriors have hired Ralph Walker, a retired member of the Oakland Police Department, as the director of team security. And that is indeed cool.

I have known Ralph since I was 13. Part of his 26 years on the force was spent running the Police Athletic League in my neighborhood in East Oakland. Practically every day, I was hooping at Madison Middle School in Sobrante Park, thanks to PAL. I played so many games with Ralph, I and several of my friends wound up idolizing him. First and foremost, he was drafted into the NBA (fifth round, 1976) by the Phoenix Suns after starring for two years at St. Mary’s. Though he never played in the NBA, it was still cool. He was known as Ralph “The Rocket” in his native Chicago because he could jump out of the gym. We saw a little bit of that, though his playing days were well over. Mostly, we saw his jumper. He never missed, it seemed.

I loved playing with Ralph because, though I was garbage, he always noticed anything I did well on the court. When I was in position to see my man and the ball. When I hustled back on defense. When I made the extra pass. He saw it and said something. Ditto for when I didn’t. Still, he gave me confidence, though I didn’t deserve it. He wasn’t as enamored with the highly skilled or super athletic players as everyone else seemed to be. He was enamored with effort, fundamentals and smarts.

But Ralph was more than just a cheerleader in pick-up games. Through PAL, Ralph exposed me to so much. My first organized baseball. My first time leaving the Bay Area (a PAL hoop tournament in Santa Monica). He even taught us handball. We played in a few tournaments, often dominating from sheer athleticism.

Ralph was the first person, outside of my parents and family, who valued me despite my lack of athletic process and for my character and effort. I was never the best athlete, or the most skilled. No matter what we played, I was the guy you might forget was even on the court. But I was a good student who stayed out of trouble and treated people right. I usually found my strengths took a backseat. But not with Ralph. He valued us kids who had a good head on our shoulders. That means a lot to an impoverished teenager trying to figure out who he is and trying his best to do the right things. I realize that now more than ever.

The one thing I learned from Ralph that I value most was his conflict resolution skills. He was a master at it and always had advice for staying out of trouble and avoiding drama.

Where I grew up was considered one of the most dangerous parts of Oakland. I literally played pick-up with drug dealers, robbers and a few murderers, I’m sure. Regularly. I didn’t have a big brother, or a gun, or connections, so I was always walking on egg shells. It amazed me that this police officer was able to spend all this time in the hood where police are hated. I watched how he talked to people, how he dealt with situations. How he stayed calm in some scary situations. He never brandished his weapon, flashed his badge, or threatened to call in the calvary. He pulled people aside to talk, showed respect, used his head instead of his emotions. He developed rapport so he had the credibility to defuse a situation. As a youngsta trying to survive, I used to soak that stuff up.

All right. I’m done with the mushfest. I just wanted to tip my cap to a guy who had an impact on my life. I don’t know Ralph much outside of his work with PAL, so I’m in no position to crown him holy. But I know what he meant to me. It is wholly necessary to point out good when I see it. Rarely do I get the chance to do it in a public forum. Lots of people do such good in the community, impact people’s lives, and their stories are never told. But Ralph “the Rocket” is certainly worthy of a moment of kudos. Especially from me.

Marcus Thompson

  • earl monroe

    We should all go back and thank those that influenced our childhoods, well done Marcus, its always best when its personal

  • sad jose

    Awesome post. Its always great to read something meaningful and with depth related to sports. And I didn’t know Marcus was a local guy who grew up here. Also, very cool. Again, great story. You might have to come up with a lot of these if the lockout continues! lol

  • al-Ameda

    I wish both you and Ralph continued success in life.

  • AWong

    You came across as awesomely together, dignified, well-spoken and conscientious in high school, an example for all of us. Everyone thought you were very impressive as editor and in other classes. You were a great favorite of Madelyn Pyeatt. She always remembers you.

  • deano

    Marcus: Thank you for sharing your knowledge of Ralph Walker. Although his hiring will not affect GSW’s record, it is another sign that the FO is making intelligent decisions. Any reassurance in that regard is appreciated.

  • Livermore Joe

    Wonderful story!

  • rew

    I saw Ralph the Rocket play many times for St. Mary’s he was one of my all time favorite Gaels. It’s true, the guy could jump out of the gym, you just couldn’t believe his jumping ability. The only other player I ever saw that jumped like him was Glenn Burk from Berkley High, he was an Oakland legend as b-ball player. The reason SMC got him he was a ,6-4 as I remember it, too big to play guard, too small to play forward. But if he had been 6-8 or 6-9 -with his leaping ability, he definately could have played in NBA, easy. Nice story by Marcus, heartfelt, a very good read.

  • Thanks Marcus! This NBA season should have been upon us about now – free agent acquisitions, signed or let go or matched, trades contemplated or made, cap issues debated, etc. All the crap I normally get so excited about really doesn’t mean much, does it? It’s the fun we had and lessons learned PLAYING the game with great people that matter. Overly greedy owners and selfish players are spoiling the game we love.

  • Great piece Marcus. Someone with the Warriors got it right.

  • PJ

    This is why Marcus Thompson is the best writer covering the Warriors Well written; original; postive; personal without being self-promoting. The type of thing Kawakami could never produce.

  • JustPuked

    Great post Marcus. Thank you.