"I can't fire my team up?" Wheeler bellows. "There's lots of coaches who curse more than me!"
"No, there aren't."
"How much does he make?" Marius snorts.
"I don't care. That's who I am. F- - -you!"
It's hard to say where the discourse is headed, but suddenly it is halted in midstream. A peal of thunder and a great flashing strobe of light have split open the sweltering night sky, and rain abruptly pours down in sheets. In less than a minute the court and stands are empty. In five minutes there is hardly a person in the park, except for a half-dozen or so vigilant New York City cops.
Meanwhile, at Hunter College on East 68th Street, Charles Jones is unaffected by the storm. He is playing in that rarest of summer events, an indoor tournament.
On his team, United Brooklyn, is street-legend-made-good Lloyd Daniels. Daniels had all the dark lore going a few years back—the heady rep, the bad attitude, the wounds from gunshots that nearly iced him—but he fought back to make it in the real world, eventually playing three seasons in the NBA. That showed the downside of being a playground deity who succeeds in the public arena: He wasn't a very good pro. So how good could he really have been in the playgrounds? His reputation, like those of all asphalt stars, had been enhanced by eager observers who, as chroniclers of his raw dominance, grabbed a bit of their own immortality.
If you never leave the streets, logic says, who knows how good you could have been? Daniels blew it, in that sense. Far better to be Earl (the Goat) Manigault, one of the earliest fallen princes of the city game. The 6'2" Goat blew what he had—titanium leg springs, ball-handling magic, creative court genius—on heroin in the '60s. People say the Goat was the best ballplayer ever. But we'll never know. And that, too, is a legacy of the urban game.
United Brooklyn coach Sid Jones is a short, serious man who doesn't think much of street reputations. "Booger?" he says, scowling. "He's exciting. He can do wonderful stuff. But I'm a pro-level coach. I'm trying to get players jobs, trying to get them ready for the next level. Booger is small, and he doesn't play big."