Wednesday, January 7, 2015

If Freeway Rick Ross had a Jump Shot....

Playing marbles in the front yard was about as far as we could go. The neighborhood was becoming a "hell on earth" according to Grandpa. If my brothers and I left the yard, we could expect Grandpa's stern discipline. In hindsight, it was comical. When our mother, his oldest child, would discipline us, he would cry.  Literally...This World War 2 veteran, a giant of a man in our eyes, crying for us, crying with us over a spanking. What would make this compassionate old man whoop his beloved grandsons? Freeway Rick Ross, The Hoover Crips and the world that Crack Cocaine created.

Freeway Rick would drive down the avenue and Hoover street would stop. Most of the youngsters stood and  almost saluted his car with admiration. Here was a ghetto superstar who reached the American dream of becoming rich, very rich. The church going, GOD fearing elders stood and watched the same spectacle in disgust. This was a man, they said, who was helping tear the fabric of the community with the poison he pumped. According to the now deceased Pulitzer prize winner, Gary Webb in his book 'Dark Alliance', Freeway Rick had a connect to a limitless supply of cocaine through the Reagan war machine that allowed the Contras to sell drugs to finance an illegal war against the Sandinistas . But that is another subject....

When Freeway Rick released his autobiography, I had to buy it. The easy read was finished over a weekend, a disappointment on many levels. The thing that grabbed me was the failure of an "AAU" coach that almost saved Freeway Rick from the streets. How would have my Grandpas' neighborhood  been if this "AAU" coach was successful? What is clear is that Richard Williams could not save Freeway Rick but did save his own daughters from their own hell on earth.

Compton is less than 20 miles away from the Hoover Street hell. However, Freeway Rick was the McDonald's of the crack trade, franchising and "putting on" the street leaders of the hoods all over Los Angeles. Richard Williams, like Freeway Rick, was once a functioning illiterate. He was a self taught and accomplished businessman by the time he started teaching tennis to the boys in the hood. In his autobiography, "Black and White, The Way  I See It',  Richard Williams briefly mentions trying to mentor a young Rick Ross. It is not surprising that Freeway Rick Ross spends a considerable amount of time speaking about the impact that Richard Williams had on his life in his book. Richard Williams ALMOST helped changed history for so many. Almost...

Kobe Bryant bashed AAU recently. No surprise there as AAU basketball has become scapegoat for anything wrong with basketball in recent times.  Why? Let's use Richard Williams again.

What separates the accomplishments of Richard Williams and Archie Manning? Both of the men are helicopter dads. Manning's influence over his GROWN sons is remarkable. He, like John Elway's father, basically told his GROWN son to refuse to play for the NFL team that was slotted to choose him. GROWN Eli Manning complied with Poppa and refused to play for the San Diego Chargers, forcing a trade to the New York Giants. Manipulator, Handler, Middle Man? None of these negative labels or connotations were attributed to old Archie. Why and how is he different than Richard Williams?

What Richard Williams accomplished was easily more remarkable in terms of beating the odds and achieving the American dream. Yes he is loud, opinionated, rude and goes against the grain. He actually believed that young black women could excel at tennis in Compton, during a time where their neighborhood was more violent than the middle east? Who would have thunk it? A visionary, that's who. Williams is a man that overcame a very brutal upbringing in the segregated south of Louisiana to teach himself to read. Teach himself to run a successful business. Teach himself to teach tennis. And teach his daughters to be remarkably successful women. To give it more perspective, Richard Williams could not legally attend Ole Miss with Archie Manning due to Jim Crow. Archie did not have to compete with athletes like Richard Williams to achieve his greatness. So Un-American right? So why is Richard Williams a villain? And why is AAU? Both are flawed but what is not?

The argument that uneducated, unqualified, uncertified club coaches are leading our basketball players the wrong way is a flimsy one.  The argument goes, a degree makes you a qualified coach? Tell that to Angelo Dundee, Cus D'Amato, the fathers of Mozart and Beethoven, just  to name a few. Oh yeah, I forgot that a degree means that the certified and meticulously vetted professionals always have the best interest of children in mind. Please Google "teacher sex with student" and get  135,000 results! ( In my opinion, great teachers that mold our youth for success are the most important people in our society, next to good parents. Thanks to all the great teachers out there) The argument continues that a degree makes you a better leader. Since when? Men named Lincoln and Washington did OK without a degree. A few other pretty effective leaders named Moses, Muhammad and my favorite, Yeshua Ben Yosef, led a few people effectively in their day.  Yeshua's followers grew from 12 people to billions after his death. That's a leader!!! He was sentenced to death for partly being an uncertified teacher, condemned by the supposedly "qualified". That said, certification and degree qualifications are not a requirement of effective leadership, so again, why all the fuss about AAU basketball? Time to stop verbally tap dancing and speak on the real reason for making villains of AAU basketball ; money and race.

A local volleyball club is building their own multi-million dollar facility WITHOUT a loan! Volleyball fees are at least 5 times the cost of AAU basketball. No one ever questions if volleyball club directors are "in it for the right reasons". Soccer has costs similar to volleyball. And Baseball, fuhgeddaboudit!  Here is a legitimate question, why is baseball so expensive in America? The basics are a piece of land, a stick, a ball and some gloves. Why are the poor third world countries able to produce so many major league baseball players if the game is so expensive to play? Here is a fact;  4 out of the Top 6 home run leaders of all-time are African American. Many are wondering, why aren't  Blacks playing baseball today, in comparison to the past. Blacks ARE playing baseball today. It's the Blacks that speak Spanish and hail from Latin countries that are populated by many African-Caribbeans that are the objects of MLB general managers affections. How and why can these very poor players thrive in a game if the cost of playing the game is so expensive? Volleyball, soccer and baseball should not be so expensive to play. Is it a coincidence that they also happen to be non-revenue generating sports in the multi-billion dollar money making machine called college athletics?  That is why AAU basketball is the villain. The athletes that make up AAU basketball are some of the biggest revenue generators that fuel mega industries such as athletic apparel sales, television revenue, gambling etc. In order for the cash cows to continue producing milk money unimpeded, they cannot continue to be controlled by unqualified, uncertified, uneducated people. All code words for, The Brothas!

The club I co-founded has helped 21 female players reach the next level in our first three graduating classes,  8 of them non- African American. At least half of the players currently in the organization are not Black. The race card is not being played.  The game is the game. It is a wonderful avenue to travel for athletes wishing to create a better spot for themselves in this wonderful society. The avenue of basketball, some of it traveled on the roads of AAU basketball, is not perfect. However it does help many young men and women get what some of them do not have at home and/or in their communities; an avenue to success and upward mobility.

 My Grandpa now lives on a gold lined avenue in the Upper Room.  He does not have to worry about the modern day Freeway Rick Ross ruling his streets with crime and despair anymore. And Freeway Rick has served his time and is looking for a new avenue to the American dream. Even as a harshly seasoned ex-gangster, his writings project a vulnerable innocence wishing that the very flawed AAU coach named Richard Williams could have done for him what he did for his own children. Maybe with a certification, Richard Williams could have led the budding crack kingpin to salvation. Maybe not...... Then again, if he had Kobe Bryant's talent and played AAU basketball, some benevolent altruistic entity would have surely saved him from the grips of his unqualified AAU coach and Freeway would not have become the scourge of his community. Maybe not....... Or just maybe, Richard Williams would have given him a little extra attention knowing that there was a pot of gold at the end of his rainbow jump shot. ....Who knows as this is all hypothetical. What is real is the multimillionaire college coach working the phones, looking for the next Kobe or Shaq, while wishing that he did not have to deal with Richard Williams and his ilk. If only they could be eliminated from the process, the game would be pure again...... Maybe not .