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

Ever fearful of the city's destructive forces, Rodney had scurried around until he found a sequestered high school in a small Eastern town where he felt the climate would be perfect for Albert's development. Away from the violence, the drugs, the peer pressure, the squalor of New York, Albert could put his energies squarely behind his game. He would never miss a class. His nourishment would be good. He would be a local hero. Indeed, wealthy benefactors had already offered to move the entire King household to the town.

All this Rodney continually laid down in great detail. "He'll be like a white kid," Rodney claimed. "So what if they give him a car? Kids in California drive to school, don't they? They don't worry about rats and junkies, they have money and good food."

But the young ballplayer had balked at Rodney's version of paradise, was balking now, and the indecision added to his overall restlessness.

"I don't think I want to go there," he says. "I've never been away from New York and this is where all the competition is. The best players are out in the playgrounds, that's what I told Rodney. But then I guess you do get bad habits, too, like carrying the ball and fouling—I don't know. And then I was thinking about my knees and how the pavement messes them up. Especially since I grew too fast, a half inch last month. And then I play so hard here lots of times I'm too tired to do any homework, and sometimes I worry about the guys over at Fort Greene, the guys on drugs who want to get me with them. Rodney says this is my best chance to get out of the ghetto. But, I mean Brooklyn is my home, where I learned my game."

Albert fidgets, admitting he never realized there would be so much pressure involved. "Everybody's trying to tell me what to do, coaches telling me to go to this school or that one, go to Long Island, go to Connecticut, go to the Catholic League, go to private schools. People call so much I have to leave the house. They try to compare me to Connie Hawkins, saying I'm the next Hawk and that I'll get myself messed up the way he did.

"But that makes me mad. I'm gonna fight it. I'm doing better emotionally than he did—I got an 80 average now. And, now, look at me, I'm just a kid, I'm not even in high school yet. They say, ' Albert, what you gonna do when you get rich and famous?' Like they don't even think about me as a human being, just some sort of...thing. Famous? A million dollars? I don't want nothing, except I wish I had my own radio."

He has my radio now and he holds it in both hands like a sun reflector. Every time I bring-the radio to the court he politely asks if he can borrow it—"Let me keep your box, Rick"—and then he retires alone to a secluded spot. If there is a cassette in the tape compartment he amuses himself by taping his favorite songs directly from the radio and playing them back at full volume. One night after he returned the unit I played the tape out of curiosity and heard Jungle Boogie five times.

When Winston arrives at the park, still in his coat and tie from work, Albert hops in the car and they drive off. Albert slumps in the seat and turns the radio up until it sounds like an avalanche.

"Hey," says Winston. "I can't hear anything." Albert taps to the beat.

" Albert," yells Winston above the noise, "when you're a senior in high school, you'll be worth a million and a half."

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