It was a day fit for a king and queen at Fort Hamilton High School (FHHS).
The Bay Ridge school held its Alumni Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Wednesday, January 10 before the Fort Hamilton Tigers took the court for their game, honoring billiards great Jean Balukas, class of 1977 and basketball legend Albert King, also class of ’77.
King, whose brother Bernard is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, was touted as one of the greatest high school player as a senior. He attended the University of Maryland, was named the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball player of the year in the 1979-80 season, and was chosen by the New Jersey Nets as the 10th pick overall in the 1981 NBA draft. He played for four teams in nine NBA seasons.
Fort Hamilton alum and writer Cathy Gigante-Brown introduced King during a speech in which she described him as “humble, quiet, and a gentle giant.”
King was thrilled to have his day at FHHS finally come.
“It’s great being back here in the gym,” he said with a smile. “I’m humbled to receive this reward. I played three years here at Fort Hamilton and had a great time. Basketball was very good to me. I was very blessed.”
He then took a moment to talk to the players.
“There are going to be a lot of ups in your life and there are also going to be downs,” King explained. “I had a lot of downs of my own. People say that Albert King was one of the greatest basketball players in high school, but there were times when that ball didn’t go in the rim. The times I missed that pass or that shot are the times in life that you’re going to distinguish yourself as being a great person, when you can get up off the floor — and I’m not just talking about this court but in life, — and say to yourself, ‘Next time I’m going to make it and do it right.’ That’s when you realize you become a great man or great woman.”
Valerie Hodgson, president of the FHHS Alumni Association, was happy she finally was able to get King into the hall. “Bernard was inducted many years ago, and I never understood why Albert wasn’t so it was a mission in my life to get him up in that hall of fame,” she said. “And he was resistant. He’s very modest.”
“He deserves to be recognized,” said the school’s Principal Kaye Houlihan. “He’s someone the kids and staff always talk about. Any time you get alumni to come back and remind people this is what you can go on to do, it’s a positive thing.”
Balukas, known as the queen of her sport, was already called the best female pool player in the world at just 15 years old. She went on to win over 10 U.S. Open titles, numerous world championship titles, and more than 100 professional competition first-place finishes with 38 majors to her name. She also finished her professional billiards career with a record-breaking streak of 16 consecutive first-place finishes in women’s professional tournaments.
She was also delighted to be honored. “I’m thrilled, not only for myself but for Albert King,” she said. “We were classmates and just had our 40th reunion. I feel like we’re teenagers again.”
During her speech, she reminisced about her time at the school.
“I learned at Fort Hamilton over 40 years ago that team play is the way to go in the playing field and life,” she said. “My teachers and coaches taught me all of these qualities. The spirit of pool has been very good to me.
“I hope the students of Fort Hamilton walking the hall take a look at the pictures on the wall of fame and maybe they might be inspired to pursue a career whether it’s medicine, acting politicians, arts or even sports,” Balukas added.