Growing up in Brooklyn was rough, especially first moving there. I moved to Brooklyn in the first grade and because I was a little introverted, it was hard to make friends. These were the days playing with toys were acceptable, having Poke’mon cards were in and braids with a duu-rag seemed fitting. Living in “The Hood” as most familiar with tough neighborhoods would call it, I was afraid to go to the park in the Projects across the street. This is when I met my neighbor from upstairs on the second floor. Though he was older than me, he introduced me to everyone he knew and I played ball with him everyday.
First time we hooped together was when I seen him outside our building with a miniature rim with a miniature ball on the gate. My mom insisted I go out and play with him. After realizing how good he was and considering I was good for my age, we synced and got along from the start. From that point on, we went to a community park around the corner away from the projects to play against random people 2on2, then went to the park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and hooped against older guys but after a year of playing together, we never stepped foot in the projects.
After attending public school with some of the kids I knew from the area, I came a lose to a few of them. They asked me where I lived and I told them. They asked why I never came outside and it was because I wasn’t allowed outside on school days. Only Friday and Saturday and early Sunday. Video games I snuck to play but for the most part it was basketball in uptown NYC for me every single weekend and that was it. Tony would knock on my door to go play ball everyday and that answer everyday was “no” until after a few years, my mom just said have him back by 6pm. One day, when I was in the third grade going into the fourth grade, Tony decided it was our day to go into the project housing across the street, known as Cooper Projects to play ball. There, everyone played and they were all good. This was the age where no one was ever to cool or busy to play. Tony made me play against all the older kids and there and then I got respect in my own “Hood” and everyone knew I could play ball. At that point, my dad would take me into that park in the projects and work me out in front of all kids and adults who were either loitering, hanging out, playing ball or working out. My dad and I worked out every night but by that time, I had already hooped there with Tony.
Around the time I was in 5th grade, Tony brought an adjustable rim. It went from 7ft all the way to 10ft. the first person to ever do that in the hood. My apartment complex was so packed full of kids, teens and adults from across the street, it seemed as if a big event was going on every night. Unfortunately I had to be in the house by 7pm, I couldn’t stay out and hoop with the older guys, but Tony; so persistent, always asked my mom and sometimes I got lucky. Some days, during the time no one was on our complex, Tony would take me outside to work on moves. Two move dribble combinations, three dribble combinations, how to lower my shoulder, and a bunch of other things. After doing all of that, we then went to the park together to use our moves on others and test our skills. To have a friend at that age, being 3 years younger than him and then to have him knock on your door everyday to get better is a lost sacrifice. Sometimes I would wake him up 7am/8am and Tony at age 15 would get out of his bed and put his rim up for me because I was too weak. The more I think about everything I did at a young age the more I appreciate Tony because he didn’t have to sacrifice his time and give it to me.
Tony was different though, in a sense that he was very content with him knowing he was better than everyone else. For example, I brought him to my club team in harlem to try out. Tony never played organized ball before, but at this point he was 17years old, so I was unsure how he’d do under the whistle. Tony murdered everyone at “Team Roc” tryouts. So much, he made tournament rosters over people who were already there. It was amazing to see him uptown hooping and killing everyone that thought they were so good. We took the train together sometimes to practice or my mom would drive us. Then it became a point where he didn’t play, I guess it was due to parents complaining and so forth on the club team. Tony was way too competitive to sit on somebody’s bench. At this point I had a name in New York City. I lead CYO in scoring in New York for my age from 6th-8th grade on top of impressive summers and when I got to high school I had a great JV year. I was moving fast.
The only problem with me growing up was that Tony was growing up too. With 2 different agendas, I couldn’t blame him. I would see him outside my gate when I was coming home from school and he would always say “You killin them?” or “you hitting them with the 1-2?” ( a move we worked on). I always believed sometimes there was no doubt in his mind how good he thought I was or how good I can be. There was never a doubt how much I looked up to him. Smooth since the inauguration of our friendship but so tough and competitive that his temper would rise. Tony would scrape his leg on the concrete behind the adjustable hoop and pour alcohol on it without even flinching. Tony punched a wall because he was mad after a basketball game and broke his hand. I even watched Tony try and put the rim down for me all cause my silly self wanted to dunk; but that backfired and the small adjustable ladder behind the rim went through his finger. Tony never made a face at me, yelled at me, or looked at me in regret. He just walked away and went to the hospital and didn’t even mention it again. Or how about when he put his hoop away and it was hanging off of a ramp and because I couldn’t lift it, I would play at the bottom of that ramp. I could only shoot from the right side lol. The rim was hanging off the ramp, with a wall to the left and the ramp on the right and that was the only space i had. Tony would come outside and say “All you had to do was knock on my door and I’d put it up for you”.
Tony is good with wires, loves cars, can fix cars and is great with anything dealing with electricity. Seeing him every time I come home reminds me of the times we had when we are younger. The best memory is everyone thinking they were good in basketball and Tony schooled them.
As I get into the days where I have a lot of time to remember and think, sometimes its good to recollect the memories that once lit a passion for myself to play basketball competitively for fun. How I loved to show people up, or how I loved to work on new moves. Theres a difference between doing something because your good at it than doing it because it for fun and you love it. Barriers and turbulence in life sometimes questions persistence but reliving saudade moments never fails for me and I find my passion every time in it. If Tony is reading this, I just want him to know I think about every moment we shared when he didn’t have to share it with me and I am glad to know him and have him as a friend. I thank him dearly for my childhood and adolescent experience.