This may not be your typical story. You may end up followin' me around like they followed H. Rap Brown, watchin' me burn down every hamlet where the name "NCAA" is found.—JOHN CHANEY
A man's born into crazy. He's born into Black Bottom. That's low. That's lower than sea level. Shacks crouching in a hollow-outside Jacksonville. A January baby, third year of the Depression. Every time it rains hard, the kitchen shed in the backyard fills and his mama cooks in brown water up to her arthritis. That's him, down there with the tadpoles and frogs. Lower than rat level.
He's born and he blinks and his father's gone. Nobody tells him that the next man's not his real daddy, but the boy gets this smoky feeling because the old man seems icier with him than with the boy's little brother and sister, and kids talk about how different he looks, and grown-ups' conversations end funny sometimes when he walks into a room. He calls his aunt "Mama" because she's the one who takes care of him while his mother works all day and half the night, cleaning up after white folks, later sewing garments in a sweatshop.
The family moves to Philadelphia when he's 14. He arrives, skinny as a finger, wearing long underwear and a tweed suit on a 95° August day, and the city boys start laughing at him and his clothes and his drawl and his "Yes, sirs" and "No, ma'ams." He comes home one day and his aunt-mama's dead, leaving him to cook the family's dinner, rub the clothes across the washboard. Each day at his new junior high in South Philly, Dante and his boys stop him and demand the dime in his pocket, punch him in the gut, make him so scared that he gets headaches and skips his last class so he can race home before they set their ambush. So scared he's afraid to tell anyone for fear the beatings will get worse; so scared he can't try out for basketball because that will give Dante the perfect chance to corner him at the end of practice, alone, at dusk; so scared he hides on the fire escape to eat lunch. Until one day in wood-shop class, when John Chancy walks into the tool room and reaches for the mallet.
What ENTITY has the right to play God? You tellin' me the NCAA can decide who LIVES and who DIES among black folks? Education is FOOD, it's HEAT it's SHELTER! Who has the right to deprive ANYONE of that? I come from the EARTH! I know what I'm TALKIN' about! What choice are we givin' the kids who fail that SAT test? One choice! Back to the streets...to a slow-legged DEATH.
A man's born into crazy. He's born into alone. On game days, in his bathrobe, Temple coach John Chancy climbs the stairs of the tiny row house that he has lived in for 30 years. He passes the plaques and framed articles on the stairway wall that tell about the national Coach of the Year awards, the three trips in the last six seasons to the NCAA final eight, the nine invitations to the tournament in the last 10 years, the fourth-winningest record among active Division I basketball coaches...the coach whom Al McGuire has called America's best. He hasn't the heart to make his wife, Jeanne, take them down.
He enters his bedroom. He turns off the lights. He shuts the blinds, removes the bathrobe, lies in bed. He won't answer the phone when it rings. Nor the door when someone knocks. Nor his wife when she speaks. He won't eat all day. He'll lie there for hours, in hungry naked darkness. Until he's blank. Until it's simple. Until it's all whittled down. "You gotta remember how you were born," he keeps telling his players. They're young yet. They don't understand.
Work! There ain't no shortcuts! It's the ONLY way! You guys standin' around expectin' miracles! Expectin' SHAZAM! You think anybody's forgotten what you did last night. Derrick? You got two eyes and you don't know where your man is? My mama was BLIND and she knew where the sugar was!
And you, William! Not a livin' ass on your ass, and what do you do? Fake and dribble and fake and...man, just go back to your room and make more mucus. Aaron, you remember that shot you took down here last night? You shot a PUSSY shot! A friggin' baby. Only person near you was my mother, and she's DEAD! Don't say NOTHIN! This is MY friggin' day! And I'm not TIRED yet!
They made 10,000 John Chancy masks one day six years ago, one mask for each person entering West Virginia's arena for the game against Temple. It wasn't difficult for the marketing director to choose which photograph to use. The world almost never sees photographs of laughing Johns, puzzled Johns, surprised Johns or sad Johns. It sees two Johns. One face is suspicious, intense, opaque. "That look of his," says Bill Cosby, a Temple alum who often attends games, "it's coming at you, but you're not coming at it."