Up Against the Wall

Handball, the City’s Most Popular Game

It is that kind of intensity, as well as the pure athleticism and skill of the players, that breathes real life into the film.

"It's a little like . . . underground" is how Durso describes the sport. "It's like a secret society."

Every member of that secret society—which does an awful lot of gabbing on the Web site Streetplay.com—seemed present and accounted for by the time the Big Blue doubles final got started. Hundreds of fans, many just arriving from the Puerto Rican Day Parade, began climbing the fences to see the Iceman and Irizarry do battle with legendary Ray Lopez, a former champion whose powerful right hand is widely regarded as the best in the business, and his partner, Shawn Conrad.

Talkin’ smack: Rookie displays his championship form.
photo: Michael Kamber
Talkin’ smack: Rookie displays his championship form.

Lopez, dressed in baggy blue jeans and a white dress shirt with a Puerto Rican flag painted on it, took exception to someone in the crowd who criticized his left hand. After closing out a long volley with a left-handed smash, Lopez, his Puerto Rican flag flapping in a warm breeze, looked into the crowd and shouted to one in particular, "Like my left now, baby?"

While the match was being played, Raul Fantauzzi, the varsity handball coach (we kid not) at Automotive High School in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, unveiled a set of handball trading cards that he and a friend will soon try to market.

"This man is known as Lifeguard Ed," one of the cards reads. "His game is all whip, kill, whip, kill."

The hottest card in the heap, of course, was Rookie's.

"Rookie Gold," the card said. "He is one of the youngest players to come out and dominate handball. His game is pure power, straight killer from anywhere on the court."

The best part about his handball trading cards, Fantauzzi said, is that unlike the players from most other sports, "these guys will actually sign them for you."

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