Erv "Lightning" Leavy, Jr.
Flint Basketball Legend
May 5, 2021
People often assume that a great athlete was merely gifted with great genetics. The ability to run fast, leap high, possess extraordinary musculature, and blessed with extraordinary height, or power. While those attributes are certainly huge contributing factors to success, it’s perhaps far less than you might imagine. In fact one ingredient often spells the difference between winning and losing, achieving the pinnacle of a sport, or falling short. That ingredient is resilience.
Erv Leavy had that ingredient.
He achieved great success as a state champion in high school at Flint Central, enjoyed a hugely successful career at Mott Community College, snagged an NCAA Tourney bid at Central Michigan University (where he earned the moniker “Lightning Leavy”). Erv and was even good enough to be drafted by the NBA Chicago Bulls. It was never an easy route.
In fact, Erv might tell you that he failed his way to the top of the sport. You see, he was cut from his elementary school team at Gundry Elementary. Then he was cut from his junior high school team at Bryant. He was cut from his high school team at Flint Central initially, and even when he finally made the squad he was only a sixth man coming off of the bench, finally earning his first start in the Michigan Class A State Championship game against Detroit Southwestern. Along the way, he stuck with it. He never quit trying. He never quit improving. He never quit learning. And that is the very essence of resilience, and strength of purpose.
That’s a very hard man to beat.
At CMU he was paired up with future NBA and US Olympic star Dan Majerle, who became ‘Thunder’ Dan to Erv’s “Lightning”. Easily the coolest one-two punch of nicknames in college ball. It worked, too, because Erv captained the Chippewas to 22 wins and and March Madness tourney berth.
After college he was selected in the NBA draft as noted. Erv headed to the Bull’s camp and got to play with and against Michael Jordan in practice. Ultimately he was beat out by Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen, narrowly missing his shot at NBA stardom.
Erv grew up in the famed Flint St. John’s neighborhood. The unique, multi-cultural slice of Americana situated in to a pie shaped area nestled between the massive old, original Buick factory complex and the Flint River, separating the St. Johns neighborhood from the East Side.
When urban renewal and the construction of I-475 led to the razing of the entire St. John’s neighborhood he transferred from Williams Elementary on the East Side to a new school in the north end, which afforded him a comparable opportunity to assess different neighborhoods and schools.
It also instilled a historian’s inquisitive nature in him. That’s why he takes people on tours of the old St. Johns neighborhood and can deftly explain what it was like to have lived in a place that exemplified the melting pot that was America, and how it fit in to the cultural fabric of Flint. In short, Erv loved that St. John’s neighborhood.
All in all, it’s a multi-dimensional journey through the decades, through sports and culture, history and time with Fish and Erv.
In other words, another great episode of Fish and The Flint Chronicles!