In his high school yearbook, Kareem Rush refrained from quoting Jay-Z or Pink Floyd or Kurt Cobain next to his senior picture, the way most kids do. Instead he departed from Kansas City's Pembroke Hill School with a declaration of independence he had wanted to scream for years: No! I am KAREEM.
"I was always 'JaRon's little brother,' " he says. By the time JaRon, a year and a half older than Kareem, was in the eighth grade, he had shattered his first backboard and was signing autographs for dazzled adults. In 1994 HoopScoop rated him the top high school freshman player in the nation. Kansas coach Roy Williams would pronounce JaRon one of the greatest schoolboy athletes he'd ever seen. Kareem? A nice shooter, sure, but quiet, withdrawn, nothing like JaRon. "Kareem would get very depressed about it, all the JaRon, JaRon, JaRon," says their high school coach, Rick Allison. "I'd say, 'Kareem, don't get down. You're going to get your pub too.' "
Maybe he would, but in Kansas City, circa 1998, JaRon Rush was a rock star. "And I was just one of the groupies, hanging on," Kareem says. "JaRon was living a fairy-tale life. He was the Man."
" UCLA! UCLA! UCLA!"
The Greenville Groove, a National Basketball Development League team, is calling a play. The words echo like foghorn blasts through the Roanoke (Va.) Civic Center Coliseum, empty save for some 200 cheerless souls. On a warmer-than-usual December weekend in the Shenandoah Valley, there are almost as many people at the Ford dealership across the street as there are in the stands.
" UCLA! UCLA!"
The point guard is calling a play, yet it's as if he's telling JaRon Rush—the forlorn, towel-draped figure rooted to the Roanoke Dazzle bench—where he should be right now: in Pauley Pavilion soaring through his senior year at UCLA, preparing to be a first-round NBA draft pick. A lottery pick, perhaps. But JaRon left the Bruins in the spring of 2000, after his sophomore season. He wasn't drafted. He won't play a minute in this game. In a few days Roanoke will give him his unconditional release.
Who says it has to be a zero-sum relationship? That more fame for one Rush has to mean less for the other? Why can't they both prosper at the same time?
As a junior at Missouri, the 6'6" Kareem is among the finest shooting guards in the land, blessed with a sweatshop work ethic, a feathery left-handed jump shot and such balletic moves that his coach, Quin Snyder, calls him "artistic." Through Sunday he was averaging 20.1 points for the Tigers (17-7). In many ways Kareem is the anti-JaRon. He stayed close to home for college. He resisted the urge to turn pro after his sophomore year. Now Snyder says he's ready to be a first-round NBA draft choice. A lottery pick, perhaps.
JaRon, 6'7", has been through so much in the last four years. A nearly seasonlong suspension as a sophomore at UCLA for taking money from a summer league coach. NBA rejection. Four stints with minor league pro teams. And worst of all, alcoholism. Last winter he spent three months at the Cornerstone Group, a rehab clinic outside Los Angeles, and he says he has been sober since Feb. 7, 2001. He worked as never before to get ready for the Seattle SuperSonics' training camp in October. In a pro summer league game he dropped 34 on Penny Hardaway. Granted, his shot still needed polish, but the old mojo—the jet-propelled first step, the rainmaking hops, that whoooosh of energy—the old mojo was back.