"You're in there with a bunch of people who are addicts just like you, but you don't want to put that name on yourself" JaRon says. "You feel you're not one of them, but you really are."
It was a big step, perhaps a lifesaving step. "That takes a lot of courage, to admit you have a problem," Jacobs says.
If he had only made the Sonics' roster, JaRon's cautionary tale would have come full circle. "He was the last cut, and the hardest one," says Seattle associate head coach Dwane Casey. "Talentwise he gave it to us. He dived for loose balls so much he got the nickname Human Torpedo. He plays hard, defends, rebounds well for his size. He just needs to improve his outside shooting and his ball handling. He'll be in the NBA one day."
Perhaps. Kent Davison, JaRon's coach in Roanoke, had no use for him, but don't draw too much from that. Davison is playing hardened veterans, 29-year-olds, in a so-called developmental league, scraping for wins like any other coach. As for JaRon, Davison says, "the big thing is maturity. He needs to be able to slow down a little and play within himself."
People who know JaRon root for him to soar again, the way he did in high school. "I really miss those days," he says. He knows he can't fault Kareem for turning incandescent. "That's my brother. I want him to do well. I'm proud of him."
JaRon has plenty on his mind: a four-year-old son, Shea, who lives with his mother in Kansas City; a craving for alcohol that could follow him as long as he lives; and, not least, a career full of heartbreak. His confidence, though, hasn't disappeared. "I killed Kareem all the time in one-on-one when we were growing up," JaRon says. "I could punk him, take his heart." And now? "Come on, man," he says, sipping his sweet tea. "I could still get him. It's the same old Kareem."
How does this story end? Will fame for the Rush brothers always be a zero-sum game? You hope not. Kareem, taking a cue from his coach, is building his relationships, fighting his tendency to drift. He hosts his 16-year-old brother, Brandon, regularly in Columbia, takes him to breakfast, encourages him. Brandon is already 6'6" and, based on his summertime performance, is rated among the top 15 sophomores in the nation. But he could go either way. He has already attended three high schools. Poor grades and transfer rules kept him from playing his first varsity game until last week.
What's more, Kareem and JaRon have reconnected. Having gone months at a time without speaking to each other over the last three years—out of sight, out of mind—they now talk once a week. "It's the high point for us communicationwise since we were little," Kareem says.
So many things have changed. On Christmas Day the Roanoke Dazzle made a rare national TV appearance. When JaRon entered the game, his last before being released, ESPN2 commentator Quinn Buckner identified him for viewers. "This," Buckner explained, "is Kareem Rush's older brother."