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MARSHALL: I think about it every night.
Marshall went on to describe the Third Annual Safari New Year's Eve party, which offered regular people a chance to meet professional athletes for a $20 cover charge. The advertised hosts included Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith of the Nuggets as well as Darrent Williams and Brandon Marshall of the Broncos. It was 18º outside around 11:30 p.m. when Marshall and his crew arrived in a Town Car limousine to find a crowd waiting in the cold.
Remember how Javon Walker the exceptional tipper was treated at the club in Vegas: Security quietly escorted him past the line to meet with his personal bodyguard, and hardly anyone noticed. Brandon Marshall the rookie fourth-rounder got no such treatment in Denver. In fact, when he waved to the bouncer, the bouncer put up a hand as if to hold him back. And Marshall lost his patience.
"Damn," he said. "I put my name on the flyer and make them money off my name, and y'all going to, you know, leave me out here?" By the time the bouncer recognized him and escorted him to the entrance, Marshall and his friends had drawn the attention of at least two people waiting to get in the club. One was Little Willie.
Entire books could be written about Little Willie and the Tre Tre Crips, the cocaine-dealing gang from eastern Denver; the 11 unsolved murders that authorities suspected them of committing; the killing of a witness less than a month earlier; and the gang's eventual crippling in an April 2007 raid that was called the largest combined law-enforcement operation in Colorado history. Suffice it to say that Little Willie was raised by his grandmother; when he was 12 street thugs beat him with a gun and stuffed him in the trunk of a car; and now, standing 5'7" at age 23, he took immense pride in a set of possessions that included a $1,000 pair of jeans and about 25 pairs of expensive sneakers. He called himself Boss Money.
So Little Willie saw Brandon Marshall cutting through the crowd. And, according to trial transcripts, Little Willie said something like this: "We street n------, we got money too." And Marshall, trying to defuse the situation, jokingly threw it back: "Well, if I ain't the only one with money, then drinks on y'all tonight."
Little Willie didn't laugh, although his friend did, and Marshall told them to meet him at the bar. "Make sure those two guys get in," Marshall told the bouncer. Then he and his buddies went inside.
Upstairs in the VIP section they saw Darrent Williams, wearing that big diamond chain, and his five friends from Texas, wearing smaller ones.
Say what you will about the modern pro athlete and his entourage. But it serves an actual purpose. If Williams had gone wild in Vegas, there is virtually no chance he would have been kidnapped or robbed. His friends wouldn't have let it happen. Williams survived his childhood in Carter Park because friends and relatives shielded him from its ever-present dangers. And if he found some trouble now and then—like the time he allegedly shoved his high school sweetheart while they were fighting about their one-year-old son—most people were more surprised by the amount of trouble he avoided.
Given neighborhood conditions and his business acumen, Williams probably could have made a lot of money selling drugs. In other words, he could have become Little Willie Clark. Instead he got a job in the kitchen of a Southern restaurant called Grandy's, where he scrubbed chicken-fried steak crust off dinner plates for $4.75 an hour. He knew he'd make his money later, the right way, because he could return punts and interceptions as if fired from a gun. And after the Broncos drafted him in the second round out of Oklahoma State in 2005, he rode around Carter Park in an old Mitsubishi Montero, standing up, head poking through the sunroof, like a king surveying his kingdom. Carter Park rejoiced. His mother doused him with champagne.