"Oh, no," replied the defender politely. "I am coming for you, sir."
"Soweto can be a hotbed of great players," says Gresham, 25, who has never had an idea he didn't love. "Sometimes I walk up and see kids dribbling like they were born with the ball in their hands.... We've got a chance to do here what they did in America a hundred years ago!...My dream is to have all the players in my professional league come from my school leagues.... I told Nike, 'If you control the school leagues now, it will save you problems later on.'
"Do you know David Stern?" he asks finally. "I'm going to be bigger than him!"
You think Stern ever had to search for needles? In Soweto every step is uphill. Down the dirt street from Lekang, turn right at the corner where the kids are bouncing on a tossed-out trampoline with half the springs missing, drive past the median where children have turned the torched chassis of an old truck into their play fort, ride past the unused velodrome that Raleigh, the bicycle company, built 20 years ago and that hasn't had a wheel on it in at least a decade (the bikes wore out), and come to a wonderful little building just oozing dreams.
It is the 15-by-60-foot gym of Baby Jake Matlala, 34, the WBO junior flyweight champion. It was once a nursery by day, a dance studio in the afternoon and a gym in the evening, but now it is a full-time sports shrine. This is because Baby Jake, all 4'10" of him, still trains there, even though there is no ring, no air-conditioning, no dressing stall and no shower.
Matlala crowbars himself in with the 25 other fighters who crowd the narrow blue room, trying not to get floored by a right cross earmarked for somebody else. That chiseled giant over there, for instance, is a good one to avoid. He is training in a pair of dress shoes and ripped dress slacks. He is Siphiwe Nzimande, and he is said to be the South African amateur heavyweight champion. He says he doesn't mind the gym's chaos. If it is good enough for Baby Jake, it is good enough for him. The little windows fog over from the heat generated by the fighters, so the kids looking in from outside can see nothing. Still, they stay.
"Baby Jake is their hero," says Matlala's manager and trainer, Theo Mthembu. "He is one man who will never be hijacked. He has his name painted on the side of the car. They would never hijack Baby Jake."
Leaning against a wall, the pug with the bittersweet expression, that's TNT. He was a top super featherweight contender in South Africa in the '70s, but he never got to fight the white champion. If you can't fight the whites, you can't make money. TNT, whose name is Ben Lekalake, fought for almost nothing, grew angry and, like many other young Sowetans, became militant. He joined the antiapartheid underground, was labeled an insurgent and lived in exile for many years in Botswana and Zambia, among other countries. After Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, TNT returned to Soweto, and now here he is, watching Baby Jake show the kids his championship belt. Baby Jake's success doesn't bring TNT much peace. "This gym had many Baby Jakes," he says. "It's just that nobody ever knew."
Muhammad Ali has been to Soweto. He visited in 1993 as part of a fund-raising delegation to help "the underprivileged" of the South African townships. And for several years Riddick Bowe has been helping black South African boxers; in 1993 he donated $50,000 to help fund their training and promotion.
Baby Jake's gym has received no foreign money. "We want to build a new gym, a nice one, a recreation center," says Mthembu. "If we had any money, we'd be much better off than we are now."