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Basketball and Me MAG
I grew up in a rough neighborhood. The only girl on my block, I always thought I was one of the guys – until my family moved. I had just turned ten when we moved where all the girls were women before their time and the boys were trying to get rich the best way they could, committing any crime they could get away with, stealing from their neighbors and selling drugs to kids.
While we moved in, our new neighbors watched to see what we had – if we were rich or had just a little money. They watched every item coming off the truck to see what it was and where it came from.
I went outside the next day, eager to meet the neighbors. It was in the middle of the summer and I knew the streets would be covered with children laughing and playing. My mom was busy arranging the kitchen. Finally at 12 o'clock kids started to come out. I wanted to go in the house and just peek through the window to see what they were doing. But my dad was sitting under the tree next to me. If I had gone in, he would have known why. So I stayed outside under the tree. We sat for almost an hour before my little brother came to sit with us.
The boys across the street pulled out a basketball goal and I got excited. Basketball was the best thing in the world to me and I had never played on a real basketball goal. Before we'd used a milk carton or crate nailed to a tree with a five-gallon paint bucket. Here they had a real goal with the thick white nets and adjustable backboard. I was dressed in black and red basketball shorts, a black T-shirt, black socks and Michael Jordan basketball shoes, just like always, because I loved the game so much. I was ready to play if they asked. But they didn't. Instead they asked my little brother because they needed a sixth “man.”
All the girls in the neighborhood wore sundresses or shorts and tank tops with sandals. They played little games like pity-pat with their hands and sang songs that went with the rhythm. They also played with jump ropes. I was never into any of that stuff except jump ropes. I could jump rope really well. My dad leaned over and asked if I wanted to go play with the little girls. My mind was on the boys playing basketball. One of the guys shot the ball and the other, with his shirt off and shorts hanging halfway off, jumped to block his shot. The guy who was shooting the ball fell and got up in a rage yelling, “Foul, man, you fouled me.”
The boy who made him fall yelled back, “You ain't bleeding, so it ain't no foul. Just play and stop crying,” and laughed. That made me not want to play anymore.
The next morning I woke up to see if anyone was outside and saw my dad pull into the yard in his truck. He and my oldest brother, who lived in California and played college basketball, got out and pulled a big box off the truck. My brother had just gotten off the plane and was going to spend the summer with us. I was curious to know what was in the box, so curious that I didn't speak to him or give him a hug like I normally did. I was excited because I saw the box had a picture of an adjustable basketball goal with a clear backboard and wheels. I was so excited I had to wake my little brother to come see what Daddy had bought. We went in the back yard and put it together.
After we got our goal, people came to play. No one could play unless I played and that was no problem. I was good and everyone always wanted me on their team, except my little brother. I think he was jealous. In the neighborhood I was known as Lady Jordan or Little Sheryl Swoopes. The girls in my neighborhood came to our yard to watch and mess with the boys. By then I had made friends with them. We really never hung out together because we were too different. I was always playing basketball.
Because I always played, my skill increased. Playing with boys who were stronger, faster and could jump higher made me even better. It was just my luck that I was playing in the street one day when a guy, a clean-cut white guy (rare in my neighborhood) stopped and watched. When the game was over, he asked my name, what school I went to and, “How would you like to play for a traveling team?” I didn't know what he meant by “traveling team” but I was interested, since I liked to travel and play basketball. He explained to my parents, “She will be traveling all around America and playing with girls her age in various tournaments. She will be seen by college scouts and others. I know she has a long way to go before she starts thinking about college, but this is a great opportunity.”
“How much will it cost?” my dad asked.
“I'll pay for her. I will be her sponsor. She has the ability and the talent to go far and I want to help her get there.”
I was shocked that this white man (Coach Mike) was anxious to get me on his team. My parents reluctantly let me play for the Lady Warriors. We had uniforms and my dad bought me new Jordans. We took airplanes to all our tournaments and stayed in hotels. That was the best summer of my life – I won the MVP trophy at the Women's Basketball Tournament. I will always remember it. Since then I've known basketball is going to be my way out of the “hood,” and the only thing that will keep me from becoming a statistic.