Harlem and many communities like it are defined by their individual blocks, culture and character. But it is the people who shape the areas. Ernie Morris, who was affectionately known as Nes, Nesto, Nes Man, Alphabet Man, and a few others, is one of those.
Morris, who passed away at the age of 80 in the early morning hours of Nov. 23, was honored and celebrated by many of his family and friends who gathered this past Saturday at Bethel Gospel Assembly church on West 119th and Fifth Avenue. Others took part in the services via Zoom.
Long time buddies Myles Dorch, Bob McCollough, Bobby Hunter and Charles McMillan, who was coached by Morris as a youth and who aided him in his final years, spoke affectionately of their friendships, his love of basketball, his acumen, and his impact on the communities in which he lived, played and coached. “If you needed a question answered, even with the advent of Google, call Nes,” said longtime confidante Wallace Dennis.
Morris’ health had been steadily declining the last few months. In recent years he had suffered two strokes, and was battling diabetes and high blood pressure.
Ernest A. Morris Jr. was born in New York City in 1941. He attended P.S. 89 and J.H.S. 164 in Harlem before going on to high school at LaSalle and George Washington in Manhattan. Morris’ basketball and academic skills led him to the legendary Laurinburg Institute, a private school in North Carolina.
Morris’ achievements on the court and classroom earned him a basketball scholarship to Benedict College in South Carolina, where he teamed up with McCullough to make Benedict the nation’s highest scoring team in 1964.
A well known figure of Harlem, Morris obtained a master’s degree from Long Island University, coached youth basketball and worked until his retirement as a physical education teacher in the New York City school system.