"Booger, Booger," says the Goat, almost to himself. "I think I've heard of Booger. He played in my tournament, I think. I heard he got shot. You know, there is something distracting him from making it. Who knows what it is. A girl? The streets? There's always something. But you have to stay away from the things that prevent you from succeeding. You have to give yourself a chance. You can always fall back on hard times."
Up at the Entertainers' game at night in the throbbing heat, the deejays Tango and Cash are giving folks a hard time. They rip and they rap. They bip and they bap. But not everyone is amused.
The coach of the Crusaders, a tall, stylish, shaved-headed man in black alligator-skin shoes, black linen pants, a cream-colored linen shirt and copious gold jewelry, does not need any part of the deejays' cracks. He stands by his bench, head tilted, and says in the scariest of tones, "Do you know who you're f- - -ing with?" Apparently the deejays do, because they say nary a word in response.
Charles Jones is playing for Sugar Hill, and as his team warms up, I look around at the crowd. Next to me is a muscular young man in a red Michael Jordan jersey, red baseball cap and a left biceps tattoo with the twin barrels of a shotgun pointed my way under the inscription 2 TA THE HEAD. Not far from him is a skinny middle-aged man wearing sunglasses. He is Joe Hammond, the Destroyer himself. People say the Destroyer did stuff back in the '70s that picked up right where the Goat left off.
I ask Hammond how the current Rucker games stack up against the ones he used to play in. "There's no comparison," he says. "All the pros used to play here. Wilt, Tiny, Julius, Kareem. It changed when pros quit playing on concrete."
And what about the stories of him turning down the NBA's cash because he made more playing in the street? "The Lakers offered me $50,000 when I was 19 to come there and play," he replies. "Jack Kent Cooke. But I made enough in New York."
"Who paid you?" I ask.
"Drug dealers?" he says quizzically, from behind his shades. "Well, they had money."