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Still, Kim worried about her boy. She knew that academics were the route to a better life. She stressed the importance of mathematics, the sciences and, of course, English but was disappointed that she couldn't help Hines when he struggled with his homework. Whenever he showed her his classwork, Kim could offer only encouragement to work hard, to be a good boy. "It was frustrating," Ward recalls. "It was kind of me on my own as far as my mom not being able to help me as a child. I remember calling my mom stupid." It was up to Hines to call the phone company or the gas company when they threatened to shut off the service, not because his mother didn't have the money--Kim was, after all, working as many as three jobs--but because she couldn't read the bills.
Kim never took a penny in government aid, welfare or food stamps, and she says she never received a dollar in child support from Ward Sr. (Ward Sr. didn't return SI's phone calls; Ward Jr. says he talks to his father, a correctional officer at Green Oaks Juvenile Detention Center in Monroe, about once every two years.) "I've got pride," says Kim. "Really strong, more than anybody. I don't want to take any government money. Even though I live hard, I got pride. That's why I have to work hard. That's a mama's job"--she smiles--"to work hard for your baby."
She worked hard enough to buy a three-bedroom house nearby, when Hines was a teenager. (Think about that: a single mother saving for a $35,000 down payment from three low-wage jobs.) Hines decorated his new room with posters of Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson and Jerry Rice. As far as anything Korean on his walls, "it wasn't even a factor," Ward says, laughing.
Hines became best friends with a classmate, Donnie Evers, whose stepfather, Tom Reyneke, paid Hines's registration fee so he could play on Donnie's Little League team. It was immediately apparent that the stocky centerfielder with the rocket arm was a terrific athlete. When football season started, Reyneke signed him up for that as well, and Hines quickly established himself as the best player on the team. Likewise at Babb Middle School, Hines was voted best athlete in the eighth grade and then played varsity football as a freshman at Forest Park High. He describes his various playing fields as safe havens. "If you were the best player, people were going to love you regardless. People didn't look at race," he explains. "I loved getting voted best athlete in school because as the best athlete there was less teasing."
Kim hardly noticed her son's success as an athlete. When she lived in Korea the country was not the sporting power it would become. Sports were a distraction, she felt, nothing more than child's play. When middle-aged white men began turning up in the living room of that new home, Hines was ashamed of his mother again, embarrassed at having to explain to her in front of Nebraska's Tom Osborne and Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Georgia's Ray Goff that this was about football, not baseball--he would be selected in the 73rd round by the Florida Marlins in the 1994 draft--and that these men wanted him to attend their colleges.
"College?" Kim said. "We can't afford college."
No, this would be free, Hines told his mother. A scholarship.
"Free?" she asked him incredulously. "College for free?"
He nodded. "O.K., go," she laughed. "Play. Go play all you want."
As you see him standing there, in his FUBU jacket, Sean Jean jeans, Nikes, diamond-encrusted Breitling on his wrist, he looks the embodiment of the superstar athlete. There is the 10,000-square-foot, six-bedroom house in Smyrna, Ga., the five-bedroom town house in Pittsburgh, the Bentley, the Ferrari and, even more important, the beautiful wife, Simone, and their two-year-old son, Jaden. This is the American success story writ XL, what you would expect of a Super Bowl hero and All-Pro wide receiver. And as much as Ward takes pride in those achievements--and enjoys the fruits of the $27.5-million contract extension he signed last fall after holding out--he dwells on how he has been disrespected, has never been handed anything, has always had to work twice as hard as the next player. "I get no love," he says.