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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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After a Youth Games tryout Albert is mobbed by the other players and forced into a position of authority which he handles awkwardly. Without conviction he becomes loud and abrasive; one senses that he sees through his own act. He talks about girls and money like an expert and tells one of the boys to carry his bag. He accepts their praise although it seems to make him uncomfortable.

At a candy store across the street the Brooklyn boys eat dinners of strawberry ice cream, cake and orange sodas.

"I think I'll tell Rodney I want $50," says Al loud enough for them to hear. "Yeh, I'll do that."

He continues to act cool like the others, several of whom are secretively pocketing candy bars and potato chips.

"I've got to tell Winston and Rodney to quit calling me," he adds. "Winston wants me to go to a little old school out of New York. I'm staying right here. I'm from New York."

Today is the Fourth of July and Albert comes by because Rodney has invited him to a picnic at Manhattan Beach. Since the beginning of the summer Albert has changed—becoming at once more timid yet more prone to anger and to sudden bursts of sarcasm. He is wary, edgy and continually on the watch for false motives. The effects of the pressures are clearly starting to show. Rodney's threats of imminent disaster if Albert stays in New York have become almost a form of challenge to him. He is talking less and avoiding discussions of his future almost completely.

At Manhattan Beach, crowded and ugly under a scorching sun, Rodney drags Albert along with him, first to the basketball courts and then through the masses of humanity to talk to some coaches he has spotted. Albert is reluctant, wanting simply to wade in the murky brown water and play with Rodney's children. Rodney is unconscious of the boy's feelings, leading him back and forth like a float in a parade.

Rodney gossips basketball in a ceaseless wave, stopping on the way back to chat with George Murden, a black coach in the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration's youth division. George has had teams play against Albert and is convinced he is unique. "He's much better than either Abdul-Jabbar or Hawkins was at that age," he says. "In fact, I believe he's better than any high school player in the city right now."

I have a small problem. A few days ago I loaned my radio-tape recorder to Albert and he has it now. "He takes it everywhere," Winston says, and offers to call Albert at work to make sure. He does and then calls me back to say that if I need the radio I'll have to ride into Manhattan and see Albert where he works for Lew Schaffel and Jerry Davis. "I told him you'll be coming," Winston says.

I wish I didn't have to take the radio back. Albert, I know, is at his wit's end, having nowhere to hide from the pressures of the basketball world—whether at school, the playgrounds or work—and the radio is a soothing balm for him. Yesterday's aggravation at the beach had unnerved him, and working in the offices of two big agents obviously eyeing him for the future has put him right on the edge.

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