It was the early 1960s, and in the working-class Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn a group of young Jewish boys lived and breathed basketball.
Every moment they could, these adolescents (many first-generation Americans and the children of Holocaust survivors) would pull on their white Converse canvas sneakers and race from their cramped apartments under the elevated subway line to their fenced concrete kingdom, the 2nd Street Park.
This new generation of Jewish-Americans set picks and hit jump shots while breathing the salt-tinged air from the Atlantic Ocean only steps away.
So whatever happened to those guys?
That’s what one of them, Dan Klores, who now heads a major New York public relations firm, decided to find out. The result is a stunningly moving documentary, called "The Boys of 2nd Street Park." The 91-minute film, which debuts Sunday on Showtime, was co-directed and co-produced by Klores and childhood friend Ron Berger.
Klores, 53, a graduate of Lincoln High School, was back in Brooklyn last week screening his labor of love for a Brooklyn College film class.
Complementing his salt and pepper hair and goatee with a gray pullover, black sports jacket and slacks, Klores recalls that he was such a bad student, "I couldn’t get into Brooklyn College."
The documentary, he explains, emerged from the curiosity that affects many: what happened to old friends.
At a luncheon a few years ago, two of the boys pushed for a reunion. But Klores opted for a more ambitious approach. While he had never directed a film, Klores had produced Robert DeNiro’s "City By the Sea," and his friend Paul Simon’s Broadway musical "Capeman."
"It turns out one guy won the lottery, another was living in a house with no electricity or running water, one whom I hadn’t heard from in years was homeless and came to see me with no teeth in his mouth," Klores recalls." And I said, ‘You know there is a really good story here: a story about a generation.’ "
Indeed, the documentary traces the boys as they play for the city high school basketball championship, become interested in girls, grow their hair long, listen to the Grateful Dead and Traffic, and start doing hard drugs: which ultimately ruins the lives of several.
Klores, who also played basketball at the Jewish Community House in Bensonhurst, readily admits he participated in that "hippie" lifestyle, undermining his own future.
Then came May 1973.
"That was it for me. I woke up one day and I’d been trying to get a college degree for seven and a half years, going to four different schools. I had no money. Just getting high all the time, playing ball and chasing girls. No idea of what I was going to do," he says.
"I just woke up one day and I said, ‘I understand why I’m so abusive to myself.’ " He realized he was angry at himself. After that realization, he said, "I just stopped."
Klores says he was able to turn his life around by gaining confidence, working long, hard hours and finding people who gave him emotional support. After earning a doctorate in American history from the University of South Carolina, he eventually got a job working for veteran PR man Howard Rubenstein.
He met Paul Simon during the making of "Graceland" and the two became friends. In 1991 he started his own firm, representing Simon, "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels, and a slew of top entertainment clients.
Childhood friend Steve Satin wasn’t so lucky. Satin, who dominates the film, becomes addicted to heroin and loses both his true love and his son.
Klores did not include himself in the film so he could focus on his friends. Of 25 interviews conducted, only six were profiled. Ending up on the cutting room floor was "a scene on the importance of food in these lower-middle-class Jewish homes," and one of the mothers who survived the concentration camps.
The most fun part of making the film, Klores said, was choosing the music, which spans Motown to acid rock. Paul Simon allowed him rights to use two songs, and Bob Dylan offered one.
"I spent two years driving back and forth to Bridgehampton with CDs in my car, listening to hundreds of albums that I had not listened to in years and years."
As a result of the project, Klores has renewed some old friendships. A play based on the documentary is also in the works.