SI Vault
 
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
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
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

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

"I can trace it back to this great city shooter named Rabbit Walthour. He played in the old American League for a while, and everybody said he was the greatest guard ever. Then he tried out for the Boston Celtics and didn't make it. From there it was all downhill. He still turns up at a bar around 139th and Lenox, but he must weigh 270 pounds."

Joe El takes another look down the street and then, shaking his head, he and Nathan Militzok climb into the Mercedes and leave.

Rodney, looking tired with bags forming under his eyes and a slight stiffness in his gait, asks me to round up a game. I relay the message to a kid who jogs out of the park. Rodney then takes a few of his patented 30-footers, the same shot he built his mediocre playground career around nearly two decades ago. He watches four shots in a row go through, shakes his head. "I shoulda been a surgeon," he says, then walks over to the bench next to me and sits down.

He relaxes now, stretching in the sun and squinting his eyes to catch the action at every court. Boys come up to him and ask if he can get them in schools somewhere. "Yeah, yeah, quit bugging me. I'll ship this whole park off to college before I'm done."

Rodney has said that his payment is having coaches tell him he sent them a great one or seeing a boy warming up in Madison Square Garden. But this is also his reward: the local small fry pulling at his arms, pleading, showing through their subservience that he is a man of power and respect. "Rodney thrives on helping people he doesn't know," says Winston. "He'll give a bum a dollar before he'll give it to his wife."

Boys begin to drift into the park, coming from various directions, indicating by the haphazard pattern of arrival the route the messenger took.

Rodney shuts his eyes and tilts his face into the warm, late summer rays. After a few minutes he gets up. He shades his eyes and leans forward. His mouth opens with the intensity of his gaze. His jaw goes slack. He shakes his head once. He sees Winston leaning against the fence and next to Winston he sees a tall, angular figure wearing long pants and a light blue jacket. Rodney scurries ahead several yards and, observing the circular Youth Games patch on the jacket, doesn't even look at the unmistakable features of the long, dark face now turning in his direction.

"The King..." he starts to yell but stops midway, trying hard to maintain the composure he has ordered for himself.

Albert King has been in the park for several minutes now, chatting with Winston. Albert claims he'd just had "nothing else to do today," but his cheerfulness hints at more.

I walk up to him, rather cautiously, and say hello. I tell him I hope he didn't hold the incident at the agents' office against me.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19