A passion for basketball and Bremerton

Louie Soriano likes to eat lunch at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto on Pacific

Avenue in Bremerton. There’s a comfortable, roomy ambience where he can entertain and treat his guests to chianti and and a panoply of dishes redolent of the old world. But there’s something else, something more personal. Here, he tells you, is where he used to stock shelves ’til 9:30 or 10 every night. His dad, Morris Soriano, and his uncle Isaac ran Navy Yard Produce in this spot for three decades before selling out in 1954. “If it grows, we have it” was their motto.

“The spirit’s in the air,” Soriano said, pointing to the south wall and describing the meat carcasses that once hung from the ceiling there. He still owns the building and holds a considerable interest in downtown real estate.

“If I learned anything from my father and my mother, it was a work ethic. My mother constantly told me, ‘do it today, don’t procrastinate.’”

Soriano might not rate as the most gifted athlete in the century-long history of Bremerton, but he harnessed a potent mixture of shrewdness, ferocity and simple hard work. Without such traits he never would’ve won all-Pacific Coast Conference honors as a guard at the University of Washington, thrive as a top hoops official in the Pac-8 Conference for 24 years and spend another quarter-century as a trusted observer of officials for the National Basketball Association.

At 72, Soriano has closed the book on six decades of acute basketball passion, ill health having forced him to give up his NBA job at the close of last season. Arthritis has hobbled his frame, cancer has tested his indomitable will. An intense fire still shines in his blue eyes, which are set deep beneath a prominent forehead and bushy brows that tend to arch and twist for emphasis as he’s telling a particularly colorful story. His eyes are equally vivid whether they’re blazing with indignation or twinkling with mirth. He is opinionated, some would say to a fault. The same goes for his generosity.

Beyond hoops, Soriano excelled at tennis and baseball as a youth and later became a devilish hand at handball and then racquetball. He once even went three rounds with the heavyweight boxing champion of the University of Washington. Tales of Soriano’s competitive nature are memorable and inexhaustible.

“I first moved to town, I was three or four years out of college and fancied myself a pretty good handball player,” Silverdale’s Doug Peckinpaugh said. “I couldn’t find anybody to play handball, and Louie said, ‘why don’t you play racquetball?’ This was the mid-70s, and Louie was already kind of hobbled with bad knees. I thought, ‘this is going to be a piece of cake.’ I thought I would run him all over the court.

“He schooled me so bad it wasn’t funny. All he had to do was stand in the middle of the court. His shots were so precise, he didn’t have to move. He totally creamed me. That carried on for two or three years, and I never beat him.”

Soriano’s life in basketball took him well beyond view of the Navy’s hammerhead crane. He would butt heads with roundball legends like John Wooden and Bobby Knight, but he would never lose his passion for Bremerton. He remains the foremost link to the Bremerton of yesteryear. The Sorianos were only second to the Bremers in wielding influence over the Navy Yard town. Soriano built a thriving insurance business here, and ask any of his clients, they’ll say it would be impossible to find a better insurance agent.

His father, the eldest of 13 children sired by Eliezar Soriano, sold fruits and vegetables on the tiny island nation of Rhodes in the eastern Mediterranean. At 16, Morris left home with his brother Isaac, traversing Europe first and then the Atlantic.

The Sorianos eventually made their home at 1524 Fifth Street. His mother, the former Rose Getzen, had immigrated here from the Ukraine. She required him to practice the piano for an hour each day. His sister, Marlene, would become an excellent classical pianist. Maurice and Isaac bought a fruit stand on Pacific Avenue in about 1923, and over the years their business matured into Navy Yard Produce, a thriving, open-air market that became a hub of the downtown streets.

“My dad was absolutely a magnificent man,” said Louie, who worked stocking shelves at his dad’s store. “He had a mind that was so keen and so sharp.”

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