Jim House and Ray Stein love basketball. They love playing the sport. They REALLY love talking about it.
All-time greats at Richland High School, the two former Bombers honed their game on local courts: at schools, in their backyards, and at Columbia Playfield.
A recent trip down memory lane had the two stopping at the historic courts just below the high school. What they saw was disappointing.
“They looked the same as when we played on them 60 years ago,” said Stein, who now lives in Spokane. “Everything there looks great, except for the basketball courts. Jim’s timing is perfect.”
House, 73, a 1963 Richland grad and captain of the basketball team, donated $50,000 on Feb. 20 to the city of Richland to help renovate the basketball courts at Columbia Playfield.
“This is my community,” said House, who also lives in Spokane. “They were in such disrepair. I honed my skills on these courts, and that led to a collegiate career of modest achievement.”
House’s sense of humor is captivating; it often leaves Stein shaking his head.
“I have been looking for a place to put my ashes,” House said, noting the soon-to-be renovated courts. “This is the place. I don’t want my obituary published. I don’t want a funeral, but I told Ray if he wanted to get the guys together for a hot dog and a Coke, and talk about my greatest moves, that would be OK.”
Richland Parks and Public Facilities Director Joe Schiessl said the donation was generous and will be put to good use.
“It was unexpected,” Schiessl said. “Occasionally we get these surprise calls that help us reflect on how great this community is. When the weather turns nice, we can get it on the schedule. It will be a summer project.”
Schiessl said the donation should cover the entire project, which includes a new playing surface and basketball hoops, and to get the court lights back up and running. Oh, and one minor ask.
“He requested that the colors reflect that of Richland High School,” Schiessl said.
“I wish we had renovation and maintenance money to keep our facilities as we would like. Now it’s their time because his generous donation.”
One of the Bomber Greats
Back in the early 1960s, Richland boys basketball was the prime entertainment in town, if not the Mid-Columbia. Fans would pack the gym to watch coach Art Dawald’s team’s play.
“John Meyers and Norris Brown are the only two players who played more games for Art than I did,” House said. “I am proud of that. That meant a lot to me.
“When Art retired (1970), I was in Vietnam. He told the Herald his favorite players were John Meyers, Norris Brown, Ray Stein, C.W. Brown and Jim House. That was special.”
House led the Bombers to state in 1962 and ’63, where they placed third both times.
“Back then, if you didn’t win, you were a loser,” said House, who was 6-foot-3 in high school and stands 6-5 today. “In Art Dawald’s offense I was a forward. I was a bundle of energy and a hard worker. I was a hot dog.”
House had a basketball hoop at his home growing up and spent endless hours on his shot.
“I would be out there until midnight shooting hoops,” he recalled. “My mom would ask me if I had homework. I told her I would get a scholarship if I could hit a 16-foot jumper. I got a scholarship to University of Washington.”
While House had the tools on the court, academically he struggled at UW.
“I didn’t finish my first year,” he said. “I dropped out. I was given another another chance at BYU. I played one season after a redshirt year. Even though I didn’t get a lot of minutes, I got a lot out of it. I played at Madison Square Garden and against Hall of Fame coaches.”
House would leave BYU for the Marines (1967-71), where he reached the rank of captain. He also earned a bronze star for valor in 1970.
After his stint in the Marines, he went back to BYU, got his degree and worked for Exxon as an auditor.
“It took four years in the Marine Corps to get my head on straight,” House said.
Living the retired life
When House retired, he looked up Stein and decided to move to Spokane so they could play ball together again. That was 18 years ago.
“We got involved in a senior league,” House said. “I didn’t realize there was a cult out there for older basketball players. I played for a few years before Parkinson’s came along (in 2012) and screwed up my free throw.”
With House on the sidelines, Stein still plays twice a week. Full court.
“They play at Whitworth at 6 in the morning,” House said. “He picks me up afterward and we go out to breakfast so he can tell me how good he is.”
Stein, who played basketball at Washington State, said he and House have a great time together.
“Jim has a good wit about him,” Stein said. “You are thankful for what you have at our age. It’s fun to have a childhood friend to share experiences.”