Maybe another day. Instead, we went to Foster Park in Flatbush, just a number 5 train ride under the East River and out to Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. This was once Rodney's park. His apartment on the sixth floor of the nearby Vanderveer Homes looked out on the teeming courts below. This was where he watched Brooklyn stars such as Vinnie Johnson and Mike Dunleavy and Albert King develop. This was where he introduced me to the peacock of them all, Fly Williams, back when the Fly was the leading freshman scorer in the nation at Austin Peay in little ole Clarksville, Tenn., and his possibilities seemed limitless and his problems surmountable.
Fly blew it all, of course. After a stunning series of bad educational and career moves, followed by brief employment with the St. Louis Spirits of the ABA, Fly got shot, went to prison and fell from sight. I often wondered if he was alive or dead. He had been a wild and crazy guy, at times a genuinely funny guy, but he brought so much of himself to the game that sometimes it hurt to watch him act out his passion play in front of the world. In one college game he wore his trunks backward. In prep school he once dribbled off the court in the middle of a game to get a drink of water. I had seen him dunk over Moses Malone, score 40 points in a half of a park game, shoot cherry pits out of the side of his mouth where a couple of teeth were missing. He was first-team All-Failure, that much was certain.
But lo and behold, look who was sashaying across the heat-rippling courts of Foster Park at midday but someone who looked precisely like a scaled-down adolescent edition of the Fly. And why not, for this was 16-year old James (Fly) Williams III.
"I was doing laundry," said the slight youth, a blue Michigan jersey hanging loosely from his small shoulders, a jeweled stud in his ear, the word FLY freshly inscribed in tattoo ink on his right forearm, the word YVONNE on his left. "Somebody said there were guys here asking about Fly Williams," he said.
We were, I told him. Who is Yvonne?
"My mom," he said. "Fly is my dad. I got the tattoo last month, and my mom went with me because I don't turn 17 until August. Getting old, man."
I had to shake my head because for an instant I thought I had sailed back through the years and was talking to this boy's father. I remembered when the older Fly had told me he felt like an old-timer. This boy looked the same, talked the same. Did he play ball the same?
The youngster shook his head. "I'm a biker," he said. "A street rider. I do freestyle tricks. I do the grasshopper, jump over benches, walls. I got a Mongoose Hooligan. I work in a bike shop, and I want to grow up and be a mechanic. I don't do nothin', just ride bikes, chill, mess with girls."
How is his father?
"He's O.K. He does some reffing."