This morning on the subway I was reading Best American Sports Writing‘s 1998 edition, in particular a Sports Illustrated piece by Rick Telander about New York City playground ball. Telander, as you know, wrote the iconic Heaven is a Playground back in 1974, and in this SI piece, was going back to NY to see how (or if) the playground game had changed.
In one scene, he’s talking to talent-finder Rodney Parker (R.I.P.), a central figure in Heaven who used to ball with Lenny Wilkens and had seen Dr. J and Wilt and all the legends who came through spots like Rucker Park and West 4th back in the day:
“I got a kid who’s 15, he’s gonna be the next Jordan,” he said. “His name is Smoosh. There’s gonna be a sneaker named after him. Six-one, with arms that make him six-four. Best skills I’ve ever seen. Ever. Want to meet him?”
“What’s his real name?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Smoosh, that’s all. Want to meet him?”
Maybe another day.
It’s be easy to make fun of the elder Parker for seeing so much in the kid we came to know as NBA washout Smush Parker, but we all have had players we thought would be The Next Big Thing that fell short of expectations — our own, their own, everybody’s.
I watched Kenny Gregory at Kansas and thought he’d eventually be doing what Vince Carter has done in the NBA. I watched Greedy Daniels at UNLV and thought he was the second coming of Gary Payton. I watched Korleone Young in high school and thought he didn’t need to go to college to play pro ball. I could make a whole starting five of players I thought would be NBA stars who never got that high, or just guys I thought would make the NBA period who didn’t pan out. All of us can.
Who’s on the list of basketball players that never lived up to your own hype?