Angelo Mitaritonna, a Ridge resident who played for the Washington Generals, the longtime hapless opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters, died Tuesday at age 81.
He succumbed to natural causes in Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospital in Manhattan, said his son, Bill Mitaritonna, 45, of Manhasset. His father divided his time between Ridge and Las Vegas, and previously lived in Long Beach, Atlantic Beach and Rosedale, Queens.
Angelo Mitaritonna played with the Generals against basketball legends such as Wilt Chamberlain and Meadowlark Lemon. He also played with the University of Utah against a University of San Francisco team featuring Bill Russell in the 1956 NCAA basketball tournament.
But Bill Mitaritonna said his dad always made time to teach neighborhood kids basketball, in addition to coaching youth basketball and baseball.
“He was unselfish to the day he died,” Bill Mitaritonna said. “Always thinking of others.”
His father did more than teach shooting techniques, he said. He focused on building kids’ character and making sure they had fun.
“He treated everybody the same, and everybody was important and everybody was special,” he said. “It didn’t matter if you were the best player on the team or the worst player on the team. You wouldn’t know. He wanted everyone to enjoy the experience.”
Jeff Wilkins was one of dozens of kids who Angelo Mitaritonna taught in his Queens backyard in the 1980s.
“He was always great about never putting you down, but at the same time telling you what you were doing wrong, which is a fine line,” recalled Wilkins, now 46 and living in Holtsville.
Angelo Mitaritonna was born Sept. 25, 1935, in Brooklyn. He grew up in the Flatbush neighborhood, playing for the Erasmus Hall High School basketball team. As an adult, he owned a luncheonette near his old school.
A 1953 New York Post article said Mitaritonna was “a strong, quick-handed, driving performer” and “an excellent shooter and defenseman.”
He earned a basketball scholarship with Utah and from 1958 to 1961 played for the Generals.
John Sullivan, 79, of Sea Girt, New Jersey, who played with Mitaritonna on the Generals, recalled how Chamberlain once challenged Mitaritonna to an arm-wrestling match.
“He had heard Ange was a great arm wrestler and he said, ‘I’d like to try him,’” Sullivan said. “So we’re in this place and Wilt put his arm on the table and Ange put his arm down, and Ange’s hand only came up to his wrist. So I said: ‘Ange, I think you’re in a little trouble today.’ He lost that night to Wilt.”
Mitaritonna was preceded in death by his wife, Mary, and brothers Frank and Michael.
In addition to his son, Mitaritonna is survived by daughter Joanne Lane of Las Vegas, sister Barbara Minerva of Ridge, brother Benjamin Mitaritonna of East Setauket, five grandchildren and a host of nieces and nephews. A funeral Mass will be held in May.