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He says this in a theater on 34th Street in Manhattan, at the world premiere of Bobbito Garcia's and Kevin Couliau's New York street ball documentary, Doin' It in the Park. Pee Wee, now 67, chose crime over hoops and spent time in prison, but he knows about the Brooklyn boys. They came to the Rucker and showed what the other side of the river had. Moments after we finish speaking, a man comes up to Pee Wee, kneels down and silently kisses his shoes. Is basketball sacred in New York, or what? "My legs were trembling," says Pee Wee later. Even he had never seen such a thing.
Billy (Kangaroo Kid) Cunningham, raised in Flatbush near Foster Park, All-City at Erasmus Hall, ACC Player of the Year at North Carolina, ABA Most Valuable Player for the Carolina Cougars and then a star and coach for the 76ers, had the Brooklyn thing going. The joy, the exuberance.
"I remember running down Flatbush Avenue with Connie," he says of the old days. "We were going to shoot pool, and we were jumping at every movie marquee to see who could hit the letters."
Garcia, the 46-year-old DJ, baller, artist and filmmaker, says the globalization of street ball and the pro game has made style from one part of the city no different from that in another part. "I will say this, though," he states. "I've played in 200 or so of the 700 courts in New York City, and the only time the ball has ever been stolen—ever—was twice in Brooklyn. Once at Wingate Park. And once at Tillary Park. In the middle of a tournament. This kid ran in, grabbed it, threw it over the fence to his brother, and they ran off laughing."
Brooklyn, gentrified or not, will always have that edge.
Fly Williams and I are sitting in his black Ford Expedition not far from Barclays Center. He lives on Dean Street near Brownsville, and it is amazing that he lives at all. He's on his way to the doctor to get the screws in his damaged hip checked out. He is so skinny he looks ill.
"I was up to 272 pounds before I had my heart attack," he says. "It must have been water. Now I'm like 180."
We talk about old times, about how people in the know said he was as good as Michael himself at one time. We talk about the late Rodney Parker, about wearing four pairs of socks to cushion the asphalt, about the Nets being right here. "That is amazing," says Fly. "That is fantastic."
He rummages around in his backseat, stiffly leaning past the pack of Newports resting in the cup holder. He retrieves a large envelope, pulls out the X-ray inside, the one of his chest and abdomen, holds it up to the bright city sun.
There's his implanted defibrillator and wires. There's the shotgun pellets, scattered like pinholes in a bulletin board. We count. "Three-six-nine-12-15 ... 22 there," he says. I count another 30. Then a dozen. There's a lower pattern with a gob of pellets. They're everywhere. "Millions of 'em," says Fly.