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Uneasy Rise of a Brooklyn Star
Rick Telander
August 23, 1976
The kid was just 14 when the kingmaker took over, and that's when the pressure began to build through a ghetto summer
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August 23, 1976

Uneasy Rise Of A Brooklyn Star

The kid was just 14 when the kingmaker took over, and that's when the pressure began to build through a ghetto summer

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"Who knows what the future will be," says the coach. "Maybe I will be head coach, maybe I'll be gone. At Oral Roberts lightning may strike the good man himself."

But there is no dissuading Lionel, and Dutcher, sensing this, prepares to leave. He stops in front of Rodney again; this time his words are bitter, rancorous. "How long's that school been around? Maybe a dozen years? We've been in existence 157. Rodney, I don't want to see this kid back here in the park after two years."

He stares at Rodney, spins on his heel and leaves.

Over at the Noble Drew Ali Plaza in Brownsville, a low-income housing complex he developed himself, Joseph Jeffries-El stands in the parking lot next to his sepia Mercedes; his three-piece white suit and tan sunglasses give him the look of a model from the pages of Ebony. He holds his palm out and catches a few of the first drops of rain. He is standing with Nathan Militzok, a white attorney who is seeking to negotiate a pro contract for Fly Williams, another one of Rodney's playground kids, now a 6'5" scoring machine for Austin Peay State University. The men step into a covered archway between two buildings.

Fly Williams had stopped by 20 minutes before and had talked for a while with some players who were waiting to go to a Moorish American League practice game in Queens. He stayed long enough to proclaim that if "Joe El says do something, I'll do it," but then he had left in his car saying he'd be right back. "Make sure you hurry," said Joe El, "we have to get out to the game soon."

Now Joe El has told the other players to leave. As he waits, Militzok becomes restless. He is an intense, humorless man with a quick frown and a businessman's respect for punctuality. But as 20 minutes drags into a half an hour and then 40 minutes, the attorney frowns more pointedly. "I'll tell you," he says, "some of these damn kids are in the toilet, ready to pull the chain."

Fly is off somewhere, cruising in his Cougar, the biggest status symbol he has ever had. "He likes to pull up to stoplights and just look around," says Rodney. Even though Fly has no driver's license he has further car plans. A teammate, who just returned from Austin Peay, had talked to a friend of Fly's at a local garage in Clarksville. "He was supposed to send Fly four new tires for his Cougar, but while I was there Fly called and said he didn't need them. He's got a Continental ordered."

Militzok paces back and forth and looks at his watch. He and Joe decide to leave without Fly after five minutes. The time goes by painfully. They wait another five minutes.

"I'm used to dealing with college players," says the attorney. "I mean guys who went four years, who are mature, who know what's up. I think these ghetto kids are afraid of failure, and that's why they subconsciously screw up.

"Take Joe Hammond over in Harlem, the big hero in the tradition of Herman the Helicopter, Manigault and the others. He had so many pro camps to show up at. But he never did. Why? Because if he didn't make it he wouldn't have the street rep in Harlem anymore—or the satisfied ego. And what else have these kids got besides their egos?

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