There is much
debate among officials from the NBA and the NFL, the leagues with the highest
proportion of black players, over how to help athletes from the inner city
acclimate to the world of professional sports. All agree that athletes often
spend their high school and college years—the time when most adults make great
leaps socially and mentally—in an athletic cocoon and end up ill-suited to
combat the pressures that lead to ghetto loyalty.
One prominent NFL
agent, who asked not to be named, said navigating through athletes'
neighborhood friends now takes up so much of his time that he turns away
clients he feels will be too tied to them. And even if an agent gives a client
good advice, it is often ignored because it comes from someone who is not from
the client's neighborhood. "I once had Warrick Dunn question some legal
advice I gave him," says Cornwell. "I told him, 'I don't tell you how
to tote the rock.' But very few people will talk to athletes that way for fear
that they will get cut off."
The NFL has
guidance programs for its athletes, and issues like the dangers of ghetto
loyalty arise in the annual rookie symposiums held shortly after the draft.
(After a player's rookie season, however, the responsibility falls to the
team.) Thompson, the former Falcons lineman, played a key role in the NFL's
rookie symposium in 2002. He spoke about his troubles navigating the wants of
his neighborhood friends. Three years later he was in a Georgia prison,
sentenced to seven years for attempted robbery. In the letter mailed from the
Wheeler Correctional Facility in Alamo, Ga., Thompson was responding to a
number of questions, among them, What advice would you give to young athletes
from similar backgrounds as yours? He answered, "Please don't allow your
neighborhood to swallow you."
BARON DAVIS knows
exactly how he avoided being swallowed by his neighborhood. In the seventh
grade, on the recommendation on an AAU basketball coach, he was recruited to
the Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences in Santa Monica, where his
schoolmates included actress Kate Hudson and other children of privilege.
"I was this kid begging other kids for 50 cents, but I was also learning
what it was like to be around different people and was exposed to new
things," Davis says. "I learned the world was bigger than where I grew
up, that there were these people I could trust, people at Crossroads and then
at UCLA who wanted to see me do well."
It changed how he
viewed friendship and his responsibility to the people of Watts, and how he
could best help them.
them an opportunity," Davis says. "I'll invest in education for them,
or if they are looking to get into some trade, I'll help them. If they keep
showing improvement, I'll keep helping them. Money is a way to help, but
opportunity is better than money."
circle consists of two childhood friends, Tremaine (Terminator) Ross and Kevin
(Bean) Bradley; two friends from Crossroads, Chad Gordon and Cash Warren; and
Rico Hines, a former teammate from UCLA. Bradley plays professional basketball
in Iran; Gordon and Warren work for Davis's production company, Verso
Entertainment; and Hines is an athletic-development assistant with the
Warriors, a job that Davis helped him get.
Ross is the only
one of the friends who could be an example of Davis's showing ghetto loyalty.
Ross moved to Charlotte when Davis was drafted by the Hornets in 1999 and lived
with him there. "It was his rookie year, and he needed that person he could
trust," says Ross. "I kept him organized and focused, but we were not
kids down there. I was showing him loyalty, but this was a grown-up
The difference in
his relationship with Ross, Davis says, and that of many athletes and their
neighborhood friends is that "Term never asked for one penny."
Davis had always
encouraged Ross to get into music production, and they had a recording studio
built in New Orleans after the Hornets moved there in 2002. When Davis was
traded to Golden State, in '05, Ross moved back to Los Angeles, and Davis
introduced him to several music industry executives. He now has a stable of
young artists such as YaBoy, a Bay Area rapper. "Term moved over to the
Westside [of Los Angeles], and it was hard for him. He was skeptical of
everyone. Even Rico and Cash, he didn't trust them," Davis says. "But I
encouraged him, and he took this leap and he ran with it. Now he has developed
his own relationships and is making a living in the music business."