Getting to Madison Square Garden


Soon after I turned fourteen years of age, I was ordained a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood and assigned as a ward teacher (now a home teacher). The Melchizedek Priesthood member appointed as my companion was Melvin Jensen, a man several years my senior.

Brother Jensen assumed the lead in scheduling the appointments and in conducting the discussions in the homes. However, he did involve me in the visits in such a way as to provide me positive experiences.

One night, as we walked toward the final appointment for the evening, Mel paused with me under a street light and engaged me in a conversation. Among other things, he asked me questions about my future. One specific question was: “What is your great ambition in life?”

I hesitated momentarily—not because I didn’t have a goal in mind, but because I feared that my response might sound silly to him. Mel spoke some words of reassurance and won my complete trust. So I said what was in my heart: “Someday, I hope to play basketball in Madison Square Garden.”

There was an awkward silence. I don’t believe Brother Jensen expected the kind of answer I gave. Thank goodness, however, he didn’t laugh at my honest expression. If he had, I believe my hopes and dreams would have been dealt crushing blow. Instead, Mel placed his big hand upon my shoulder and said: “That’s wonderful, Carlos. I know you can do it.” He added further encouragement by commenting on my size and ability; and he promised me that if I would keep myself clean and practice consistently, someday my dream would come true.

Brother Jensen’s words of confidence lifted me more than I can describe. I had shared an intimate, heartfelt desire with an adult—someone I trusted and admired—and that adult had, in turn, expressed faith in my ability to perform.

When our visits were completed that night, I said goodnight to my home teaching companion and ran home. Mother was in the kitchen as I entered the house, and I wasted little time in telling her about the street-light conversation with Mel. She, too, was surprised to learn about my secret ambition.

Although mother’s interest in sports was less than avid, over the years, she had learned to tolerate the “game talk” and the “Monday quarterback” commentaries of her husband and four active sons; and her interest in me was genuine. She said some reassuring things and wondered just how much I knew about Madison Square Garden. I confessed that I knew very little about the place. “If the Garden is related to your goal,” she commented, “why don’t you become better acquainted with it?” She suggested that I might want to collect newspaper and magazine clippings of pictures and articles involving Madison Square Garden. With her help and encouragement, I did.

In the succeeding months, I filled my scrapbook and became somewhat of an authority on New York City’s Madison Square Garden. I recall shooting baskets by the hour at a hoop attached to an apple tree in my father’s orchard, in all kinds of weather. I was never alone, for the surrounding trees seemed like grandstands filled with cheering people as I lived my fantasy.

The “dream” caused me to train consistently. I tried hard to keep my body clean and improve my abilities. I didn’t want any bad habits or physical weaknesses to prevent me from reaching my goal.

And as the years passed and basketball seasons came and went, I continued to pursue it. Following high school came military and other experiences, and gradually my enthusiasm for the scrapbook ebbed. My enthusiasm for the goal itself, however, remained riveted in my mind. Whenever I practiced or played, there was always that dream of performing before thousands in Madison Square Garden. I remained pointed toward the dream.

In 1946, at the age of twenty, I enrolled at the University of Utah. That fall, as a freshman, I tried out for and won a place on the varsity basketball team. At Christmastime we toured in the eastern part of the United States. Part of our tour included a game in Madison Square Garden.

Entering the Garden that first time was almost like returning home. I had read about the place, I had seen pictures of the place, and in my mind and heart I had been there many times.

Later that same basketball season, in March 1947, I returned to Madison Square Garden with the University of Utah team to participate in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). Thanks to a strong starting lineup consisting of Arni Ferrin, Vern Gardner, Wat Misaka, Fred Weidner, and Leon Watson, we won the tournament. Immediately following our victory—on the playing floor of Madison Square Garden—my teammates and I were presented with beautiful Bulova wristwatches.

I’ve worn my wristwatch for almost thirty-two years. Each time I look at it, I’m reminded of the pulling power that a goal has upon a young man. I’m reminded of the strength and resolution that comes when a goal is verbalized and visualized. And I’m reminded of the important role that adults—parents and friends—play in shaping the lives of young people.

Illustrated by Larry Winborg