Abdul Sr. says he began using cocaine in 1979 and later started freebasing the drug. He says he got involved in the cocaine deal, in March 1987, "almost by accident." A friend in Cleveland wanted to borrow money to purchase a kilo of cocaine, and Hakim decided to go in for a kilo of his own. It turned out that the dealers from whom Hakim's friend were buying the coke had been the targets of a six-month Drug Enforcement Agency sting operation. Hakim was arrested at a hotel in Annapolis, Md., and pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. He received a 13-year term, more than twice the penalty he says his attorney told him to expect.
Armed with a lifetime's worth of street savvy, Hakim went underground, a decision that carried harsh consequences. His parents, Samson and Roberta Fleming, forfeited a house they owned in Gardena that had stood as collateral for a $20,000 deposit on Hakim's $200,000 bail. "When I lost the house, I was so mad I was ready to explode," says Samson. "But my son is altogether different than he was. He's a much, much better person now."
It's opening day for the Hawthorne Junior All-American Football League. Though kickoff is six hours away, you're already sizzling like a Jimi Hendrix amp. You wake up at the crack of dawn and check the uniform and towels you ironed the night before and laid out on the dining room table.
You wake your brother, grandma and cousins with a cacophonous monologue, a blend of yelps, pronouncements of greatness and recitations of plays on which you plan to score. It continues even as you brush your teeth. "Shut up!" Abdul Jr. yells, but that only encourages you. "Yeah, baby!" you scream. "It's going down today!"
Sometimes weeks would pass between visits or phone calls, but whenever Az and Abdul Jr. would start to worry, their dad inevitably checked in. He would ask them what they needed—school clothes? football shoes?—and send money when he could. They'd tell him their problems and seek his advice, sharing their conversations with no one, not even each other.
A month after he went on the lam, Abdul Sr. flew his sons to Indianapolis, where he was renting an apartment. They spent several weeks with their father, and other than the fact that there was no telephone, things seemed relatively normal. Abdul Sr. took the boys skiing and horseback riding and on other outings unlike anything in the urban life they'd always known.
Back home in L.A., Az and Abdul Jr. struggled to adjust to living permanently in the Jungles. When they'd stayed with their father in Gardena, they had their own room—and a lot of freedom. They had spent their post homework hours playing games at Rowley Park until the park director kicked them out. Now they shared the one-bedroom apartment with their mother, her boyfriend and her sister. The boys viewed their mother and aunt as overprotective, and they went through the requisite periods of teenage withdrawal and hostility. Abdul Jr. moved in with his maternal grandmother, Dolores Evans, and Az followed.
Football was Az's salvation. After a schoolboy career highlighted by a six-touchdown game in his senior year, he accepted a scholarship to San Diego State. Whenever Abdul Sr. showed up for one of Az's games at San Diego State, he would sit in the visiting team's section and scan the crowd with a pair of binoculars to make sure he wasn't being watched. At times, though, Abdul's emotions got the better of his discretion. After watching his son, who was a junior at the time, catch his third touchdown pass of the day against Oklahoma, Abdul stood, cheered wildly and ripped off his wind-breaker to reveal a jersey with Az's number on the front and HAKIM on the back. "I always felt like I was on the verge of getting caught," says Abdul Sr. "I had a lot of close calls. But right then I was so excited, I didn't care if they caught me."
Abdul traveled to the Aztecs' win over Navy the following September with a friend who was unaware of his legal situation. After Az's second touchdown, the friend began pointing out Abdul to others, yelling, "That's his daddy." Word spread, and in the fourth quarter a TV camera crew approached. Abdul bolted for the parking lot.
Two days after Az's last college game his dad called from a federal holding facility in Atlanta. "Son, they got me," he said.