Backed by his family, Hamilton finds success on the court
HARLEM, N.Y. -- Greg Hamilton had a choice.
In 1992, Hamilton was a juvenile crew instructor for the Los Angeles County department of probation and father of five boys and a girl. He watched neighbors flee from his Lemeirt Park neighborhood near Baldwin Hills. Gang violence festered, racial tensions rose in the wake of the Rodney King riots and parents sought an escape for their children from the maelstrom sweeping the streets. "We all had the option of leaving," Hamilton says. "Or we could stay and try to lead our families and the community to better days."
For his part, Hamilton and his wife, Karen, stayed entrenched like manhole covers in the streets and mobilized a non-profit organization called Smart Moves. On Friday nights, the couple packed 30 kids into a blue van and drove them to women's volleyball games at USC, football games at UCLA and sports camps over the summer. Their backyard became a place to play basketball. Using the riots as a bridge between reality and needed remedies, the Hamiltons fused everyday issues with those of neighboring communities, filling in fissures of cultural awareness. To open the youths' eyes about decision making, Greg Hamilton took them through detention centers and prisons. "It was so sad to see young kids and then parents in jails," says Hamilton's daughter, Miya. "Families being separated really struck us."
Sixteen years later, the Hamiltons were together for another Friday night special last week. This time they packed into Holcombe Rucker Park for the Elite 24 prep all-star game to watch the family's middle child, 17-year-old Jordan, compete with 23 of the nation's top high school basketball players. "Life's a family thing for us," Jordan said after scoring 13 points.
While community-building was the family's main goal, basketball development remained an underlying theme. Growing up, Jordan Hamilton was a pudgy kid more likely to be seen on the city's baseball fields than hardwood or blacktop courts. When he did play basketball, he did so with his older brother, Gary, in the family's backyard. Joining in the familial jousts was Gary's childhood friend, Marcus Williams, who embraced the Hamilton's safe haven and now plays for the Golden State Warriors. "It's rare that you see a full family actively involved with a top player's career and development," Williams says. "The Hamiltons were there for the kids and the community."
After watching his brother, a 6-foot-10 force, go on to play college ball at Miami, Jordan enjoyed a growth spurt early in high school. He did not play basketball as a freshman at Dorsey High because he struggled academically. After his sophomore year he transferred to Dominguez High in Compton, where the family now lives, and he gained attention for his performances at the traditional powerhouse. Last year, he played in Doaui, France, for a 19-and-under tourney and his recruitment gained more attention. In recent months, due to college coaches' pursuit of his 6-7, 210-pound son -- who scouts note, at times, can become too enamored with the three-point shot -- the father's cell phone bill has reached as high as $1,000. On Saturday, the family traveled to Storrs, Conn. to meet with UConn assistant Patrick Sellers and head coach Jim Calhoun. Hamilton says he intends on visiting Texas before making a decision.
Though his brother recently signed a contract to play a second year of professional basketball in Germany, Hamilton has no intention of skipping college for Europe. He has crossed paths with former Dominguez star Brandon Jennings -- who played two years at Dominguez and also consults with Kelly Williams regarding career advice -- but Hamilton sees his situation as different. His academic issues from freshman year were fixed over the summer as he completed independent studies and received word that he can attend Dominguez and be eligible for a fifth year next season. "I saw my brother go away from L.A. and become a man," Jordan says. "That's what I want to do."
After last Friday night's game, the family gathered outside the park gates. Looking to clear the court before the lights were turned off, a security guard in a bright orange shirt escorted them off the court, saying, "Be sure to get your kids to school not just the basketball courts."
The mother laughed, smiling knowingly. "My son's signing two Letters of Intent when he chooses a school," she said. "One is for the college and the other is with us: that he will get his degree whether it is in the classroom or via the Internet. That decision's been made."