Issue #9

NBA Prepares For Infusion of New Blood

July 17, 2001


A Tangled Web of Intrigue

+By Luscious

     Jamal Jenkins is on his way to NBA headquarters in New York City. Few know that he may be the next big star to shine under the league’s spotlight. He is 10 years old.

    Accompanied by six other 5th grade hopefuls, Jenkins hopes to "get a taste of the air up there" very soon. As the school bus we are in rumbles up I-95 from Jenkins’ native Florida, I learn much about this intense middle schooler. His hope for success in the NBA has nothing to do with women or money.

    "I want to be like Ike," he explains. Ike is of course Jamal’s hero Ike Akeenu, an eighth grade standout at Huntsville Junior High in Alabama. "Thum thay Ike might be drafted this year," notes Jamal, with that cute lisp-talk that accompanies a missing baby tooth [He’s actually missing two].

    "I hate thchool, ethpecially all that long division and thothe fracthions. If I can watch Ike and copy him, maybe I can thkip college and high thchool and go thraight to the NBA. Heck, even 6th grade is looking like it will be a drag. I wouldn’t mind getting drafted at the end of thith year."

    The youngsters hopes are grounded on increasing signs that society is finally coming to grips with the fact that an education isn’t for everyone. High schoolers are increasingly gaining admittance into the NBA and many, like Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O’Neal, are hitting their stride much more quickly than college players the same age. The game means a lot to them. Many of the new younger breed, like Jamal, seek to work at what they do best regardless of the rewards.

    The glamor of life in a mansion with a large posse are certainly not what entice the admirable young man sitting next to me. "I just wanna have enough to buy my mommy and daddy a house and mythelf a play station 2." As far as girls go, he hates them. "They are annoying," he notes. "Me and thome of my friends like to throw pebbles at them and put bugs on their shoulders when they’re not looking."

    As our yellow bus wheels closer to the Manhattan skyline, and the NBA hopefuls have sung several renditions of ‘99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" and "Kumbaya," I am nevertheless left skeptical about the League’s ability to care for and nurture these young men. However, these fears are all allayed when we reach headquarters in Midtown. We are greeted by Commissioner David Stern, who gives the kids several rolls of quarters and sends them off to a Times Square video arcade so that we can talk.

    "Luscious, we at the NBA have decided to get with the times," explains Stern. "Our average player is retiring at a younger age than ever. Either they get hurt just when they’re beginning to learn to play the game or they decide that they’ve got enough money. Maybe bringing in players at a younger age will breed a sense of family and loyalty. We’ll have smarter players for a longer amount of time."

Commissioner David Stern hopes that the above playground will serve as an incubator for future NBA Future Stars
    Stern concedes that it is conceivable for a middle schooler to be drafted by an NBA team, but notes that the League would never let such a young person play the game straight out of such a background. He shows me a daycare center resembling a cross between the infamous Gold Club in Atlanta and the fun houses that children frequent at McDonald’s. It is where such young draftees would go, and the kids I drove up with are here to test it out.

    "Here is our man," Stern says gleefully while pointing at the daycare center’s new director: retired New York Knicks forward Larry Johnson. Stern says he envisioned Johnson in the position of mother hen ever since he saw him don a moo moo and wig as "Grandmama" "This guy is gonna watch the kids grow, he’s gonna teach them spin moves and fade away shots. When they’re big enough, he’ll teach them to dunk," said the excited commissioner.

    Johnson explains his motivation for taking the new role with great candor, "Hell, I’ve sired so many kids with so many women, I figure this is payback. Who knows, some of the kids coming here this week may be mine. I think that adds some excitement and unpredictability to the job. Also, I want to teach the kids to express themselves while they’re playing. My career wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have my patented ‘LJ’ sign or if I wasn’t able to experiment and dress as a grandmother."

    A basketball fan my whole life, I still do not know if everything being said to me today jells with how I envisioned the sport’s stars being developed. Despite Stern’s assurances, there seems something wrong with kids this small being thrust into the limelight at such a young age.

    Suddenly, the kids scuttle into the center accompanied by an NBA intern. "We lost all our quarters Mr. Stern," says Jamal. "Get used to that kid," remarks Johnson. "I’ll show you guys how to lose that ... and mo’."

Luscious Rosenbaum is made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails.

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