Fly Williams as a ref? I couldn't imagine it.
"I feel fine having him as my dad, a man who played ball," said the youth. "It would have been better if he'd played longer, but then maybe I wouldn't be here, either."
The youngster squinted into the sun. "You know, basketball doesn't look like that much fun," he said. "Now I see why my dad doesn't talk about it anymore. I used to steal cars, but basketball helped me get out of that. All I did when I was playing was throw fancy passes—people said I was a showboat, like my father. But then I got turned off on basketball, all the traveling, going to parks, playing games, arguing with people. I got tired of it. So now no basketball, no fights. Just bikes."
Tillary Park, Brooklyn, 6 p.m. The small blacktop court with yellow lines slopes toward Tillary Street, beyond which is LIU and downtown Brooklyn. Just down the block is Westinghouse High, the school from which Booger Smith never earned a diploma.
Trees give welcome shade to part of the court; the blazing sun is still baking the city. Tonight in the first game of the Pro Hoops Summer Basketball Tournament the gray-shirted Around The Way team will be playing orange-shirted Fort Greene. Rumor has it that Booger may show up to play for Fort Greene. But then, maybe he won't. No one is sure.
His old coach, Dave Babcock, is trying to get Booger a workout in front of some scouts who might be able to hook him up with a team overseas or maybe a CBA team. "He's not at the NBA level now," says Babcock. "It's about the mental side. Does he really want success? Is he committed?"
Here is Booger now, walking unobtrusively into the park, his orange T-shirt radiant against his dark skin. He is small and wide-eyed, with a wispy mustache and his hair done in a boxy cut that starts far back on his forehead. He has no bulging muscles, no extra-long limbs, no physical qualities that would make anyone take a second look. He shakes hands with his teammates but says little. He is just another anonymous young man among millions.
I introduce myself to Booger and tell him I've been waiting to meet him and see him play. I tell him I haven't been able to reach him on the phone, that nobody answers the numbers I call, the numbers I was told were his or belonged to people who knew where to find him. He nods politely.
I recall what Arizona Western athletic director Ray Butcher had said about the point guard: "He is just a little booger, I liked the hell out of him," he said. "But he's his own worst enemy."
"So what are your plans?" I ask.