So was the smile that could charge a regional power grid. "Mama, I'm going to make this team!" he told his mother, Glenda, during camp. A few days later the Sonics made JaRon their final cut. He cried and cried. Now he's wandering the fringes of minor league ball. After being released by Roanoke in late December, he was signed to the Kansas City Knights' practice squad on Jan. 16.
"Kareem's in a good situation," JaRon says, sipping from a cup of sweet tea. "A lovely situation. Coach Snyder let him do his thing, let him play. The situation I went into at UCLA, it was never my team. With Kareem, that's his team. That makes a huge difference."
"JaRon was so good, he stopped working," Kareem says of JaRon's downward spiral. "He made a stupid decision to come out early, and he hit rock bottom. But he's building his way back up. He's been sober for a year. It was never a question of talent; it was off-court stuff. Now it's only a matter of time before he gets where he wants to be."
Jeanette Jacobs, JaRon and Kareem's grandmother and the family matriarch, always thought Kareem should have been the older brother. "Maybe I babied JaRon too much," she says in the living room of the East Kansas City house where the Rush boys spent much of their youth. "Kareem has always been more mature. Where JaRon made the wrong decisions, Kareem usually made the correct ones." Her eyelids flutter. She's about to cry. "I never thought Kareem would be such a star and that JaRon would just fade into the sunset. I'm as proud of JaRon as I am of Kareem, but it's up to him. JaRon has to be the one to fix his own problems."
You watch the high school highlight video, and your jaw drops to the floor. It's 1998 again, and JaRon is a one-man anti-gravity device, dunking over and over to the strains of Whooomp! (There It Is). Tomahawk jams, alley-oops, 180s. While Kareem calmly sinks three-pointers on the tape, JaRon thunders through his scenes, the swashbuckling leading man. In his last high school appearance in Kansas City, he throws down a dunk and shatters a backboard with such ferocity that cheerleaders scatter in fear and grown men rush the court to embrace him.
They were polite and easygoing, the Rush brothers, comfortable in any crowd. So many people were introduced to them, saw their talent and tried to help, yet JaRon always got more than Kareem—more attention, more friends, more booty (both kinds). "JaRon was just given too much," Jacobs says. "It kind of ruined him."
There was Tom Grant, a Kansas City businessman and philanthropist, whose foundation sponsored the Rushes' AAU teams and paid their tuition to Pembroke Hill, the blue-blooded prep school whose alumni include golfer Tom Watson. Unlike Kareem, though, JaRon became close friends with schoolmate Joey Grant, Tom's son, and moved into the Grants' four-bedroom suburban house when he was a freshman. He did chores (and got grounded if he didn't), went on family vacations and drove a Geo Tracker that Tom leased for him. The Grants considered JaRon part of the family. To this day they keep pictures of him above their fireplace.
There was Myron Piggie, the Rushes' summer league coach. Piggie chaperoned them around the country, kept a close eye on the party-loving JaRon for Tom Grant—and secretly gave the brothers money. Kareem took $2,300, but JaRon hauled in $17,000, including the payments on another car, a leased '98 Chevy Blazer. After a heavily publicized federal investigation (SI, April 24, 2000), Piggie would plead guilty to fraud and income-tax-evasion charges in May 2000 and is serving a three-year term at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kans. The NCAA, for its part, had suspended the Rushes: JaRon for 24 games of his sophomore year at UCLA, Kareem for nine games of his freshman year at Missouri. (The NCAA did not consider Tom Grant's support of the Rushes a violation because of his longstanding involvement with the family.)
It was then, in the early days of 2000, that the Rushes reached a crossroads. Each brother turned to a very different source of sustenance.
They were born on the same day, Oct. 30, the player and the newly appointed coach. That was the first thing Quin Snyder told Kareem on that hastily arranged visit to Jeanette Jacobs's house three years ago, Snyder's first order of business after taking the Missouri job on April 7, 1999. Pembroke Hill had just won the Class 2A state championship for the third straight year. It was Kareem's first title without JaRon, whom he had all but decided to join at UCLA so they could continue their success on a national scale, as the O'Bannon brothers had in the mid-'90s. Snyder made an immediate connection with Kareem, though, and suddenly Kareem's plans changed. "Coach was cool," he says. "I was, like, This has got to be fate. So I jumped on board."