Life should have been an easier road for Mike Bloom, who met with more bumps along the way than any one man should have been made to encounter. He was kind, soft-spoken and withdrawing, not given to making a boast or a brag.
There were times when his demeanor, while looking out at the world from dark, deep-set eyes, seemed to suggest he was lonesome. Yes, so much alone. Before all that, Bloom had been a phenomenal basketball player at Temple University and made a partial living in the early pro leagues when teams played in armories and dance halls and the players sometimes were paid $25 a game.
Bloom came to the Baltimore Bullets in 1946 when they were in the American League -- a forerunner to the Basketball Association of America and the present National Basketball Association. This is the city he called home until dying last Saturday at age 78.
The newspaper obituary listed a Meyer Bloom, which is why so many fans failed to realize it was Mike, a 6-foot-6 scoring leader and defensive standout who once held such premier performers as George Mikan to five points and Joe Fulks to one. He played in the NBA for the Bullets, Boston Celtics, Minneapolis Lakers and Chicago Stags and before that with the Philadelphia Sphas, Washington Brewers and Trenton Tigers.
Pro basketball, as we know it today, was still in the cradle. Small crowds, dingy settings, frequent exhibition bookings were the custom and the game drew little attention from the press and public. Bloom, though, was playing off a great college reputation, where he been a co-captain with Don Shields of a 1938 Temple team that posted a record of 23-2, defeating such powers as Illinois, Stanford, SMU and NYU.
Temple also won the first National Invitation Tournament in Madison Square Garden by beating Colorado in the finals. Colorado had Byron "Whizzer" White, also a standout football halfback, who will retire as a justice of the Supreme Court this fall. Coming out of college, the Phillips 66ers, sponsored by the vast petroleum company, wanted Bloom and other members of the Temple team to represent it in AAU competition.
It offered jobs with a future and Shields, who availed himself of the opportunity, frequently pointed out how "the Phillips people begged Mike to come with them but he wasn't interested." It could have led to regular pay checks and lifetime security.
At the 50th reunion of Temple's NIT champions, the crowd came to its feet and cheered Bloom for his sterling contributions. Two years before, 1986, he had been elected to the university's athletic hall of fame.
In Baltimore, he was in retail sales and then worked part-time as a ranger at the Diamond Ridge Golf Course, where he made nothing but friends. Bob Robbins, the starter, said the employees contributed to buying a tree that will be planted there as a memorial to a man who never forced his hand or himself. Mike would have liked that.
Duke Bergerson, Jim Tuvin, Danny Ricci and Al Rossi, who operates a restaurant in Bloom's native Trenton, got close to Mike and understood as only friends can. They knew how much he grieved over the death of his wife and a teen-age son, who had died in a shooting accident, and a stepson, killed in an automobile crash.
Nine years ago, Danny and Pamela Ricci bought the house in the Baltimore suburbs of Chadwick, where Mike had lived before moving to an apartment. When he became ill, the Riccis reacted in a way that demonstrates the best of the human spirit. They insisted he stay with them.
"We get no praise for that," said Danny. Yes, but such acts of kindness, in and out of families, don't happen much any more. "It's what life is supposed to be," said Ricci. "If you knew him you loved him. I feel he deserved much more than we were able to give him."
But the Riccis were there when others turned away, offering a comfort and dignity that was so important as a life came to an end. "He had deteriorating heart problems and I think he wanted to go," said Tuvin. "You can only run so far."
Mike Bloom built no statues. In college, as a point of reference, he competed when the center jump was held after every basket and pro basketball teams piled into cars to travel to games because renting a bus cost too much. But there were no complaints or regrets as he looked back and his time on the clock ran out.