So the afternoon unfolds. "You know," says Smith, "when I got to the Rockets, people were saying the three best centers in the NBA were Hakeem [Olajuwon], [Patrick] Ewing and David Robinson. I'd tell them, You know why? 'Cause all of them have a New York guard—me, Mark Jackson and Rod Strickland. We were the ones making 'em great."
Smith takes a stab at the essence of what shapes Gotham's point guards. "Dunk, and people anywhere will ooh and aah," he says. "But you can wow a crowd in New York with ball handling and passing. It's all about making decisions. Here you make hundreds of 'em every day. You make decisions just crossing the street."
Others join in. "It's about getting the job done by getting everybody going, about being able to take somebody," Washington says. "That's what people want to see. You make a move that puts somebody on the floor—Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, everybody's gonna know about it."
"It's about choreographed spontaneity," Meminger says. "Like jazz, people getting together and just playing. I'd say we were the drummers. We controlled the tempo."
Tinsley surveys the span of years represented around him and considers the game these men all play. "Different faces," he says. "That's the only thing that changes."
Phelps, a former Christ the King High and North Carolina playmaker, stands in one corner of the rooftop court. He has brought a friend: Donald Williams, the one-trick jump shooter who was named Most Outstanding Player of the 1993 Final Four, in which the Tar Heels won the NCAA title. Williams is a small-town Southern kid, as Mayberry-innocent as Phelps is streetwise. Not once during the afternoon does he leave Phelps's side. He mentions that he now plays professionally in Germany, as Phelps does, and for a moment it seems possible that Williams has permitted the entire six years since his departure from Chapel Hill to unspool without once daring to leave the ambit of his Tar Heel teammate, as if a good point guard were equal parts bodyguard, valet and global positioning device.
Traffic light, floor trader, MetroCard. Rollerblader, bike messenger, beat-keeping man on the traps at some downtown club. For playing the point, there are eight million metaphors in the Naked City. And in the electronic pleasure dome that is Uncle Dave's home in Queens, there's one more still: the universal remote.