Basketball Jones & The Education Game
Editor’s Note: The following poem is excerpted from Dick Barnett’s book Without Rhyme or Reason.
The brother turned the corner and got to the air, his extension was breathtaking as he slammed with a flair. The crowd was on its feet cheering his every move, his jumper was dropping long and deep, he was in a fine groove. He faked left, he faked right and went for the kill, this game of basketball is a monster thrill.
He was somebody when he hit the court, his invisibility disappeared as he gained support. The girls and his classmates admired his game, he attained acceptance and status and a bit of brief fame. He went to the court every day, honing his skills so he could make them pay. There were no off days and time to relax, his moves and touch had to be exact. Four to five hours a day the brother would put in, sun, rain, and snow was part of the toll.
At the end of this ritual my man was bad, his game was complete, everybody could be had. He was the talk and toast of the town, handshakes, publicity, and offers abound. But, his dedication had a regrettable flaw, his class work was shoddy, he couldn’t even draw. He had played during English class, he slept while they reviewed Math, he desperately called on his partners and classmates to help him pass. They couldn’t save him, he was too far behind, his vision was clouded, he didn’t understand time.
The recruiters asked about the SATs and came knocking at his door, he did not qualify in the education game, he could not score. His GPA was lacking, his communications skills were tacky, his essays were disjointed, and thought processes wanting, his confidence and self esteem were ebbing, his future looked uncaring. The brother dropped out of the education game, he declared that books, homework, and the whole process was for a bunch of lames.
He cared not for the legacy and sacrifices of King, Truth, Malcolm, or Dubois, he wanted it all right now, that was his choice. He ventured out into the cruel mainstream, without skills, knowledge, and the ability to reign. He faced rejection and repudiation at every turn, the brother found that the hip hop lifestyle did not put him in a position to earn. The brother became desperate, the chains, earrings, and baggy pants, was not acceptable attire when you are trying to advance. He looked around, and viewed his own face, he started to reason, my luck is bad because of my race.
He returned to the court that he knew the best once again, where the professionals live. He determined that he had the goods and savvy to topple that hill. They played a game unknown to the blacktops and the streets, where high flying acts are every play treats. Their physical bodies are hard and strong, their mental dedication separate those that do not belong. The death grip defense would not turn him loose, this was not the streets, this was for careers, dollars and fancy suits. They drop stepped, shook, and taunted the sage, his inexperience inflamed his impotent and precocious rage. He was not ready as they showed him the door, his options had run out and it was time to explore, backtracking on the education beat where real world circumstances and preparation discouraged defeat
It shouldn’t matter that I can’t add, read, or write, yo man, I know my game is wrapped tight. I can rap, I can sing, and I can hang with my partners as we do our thang. The streets are not as glamorous as I once surmised, I’m trying to go back to school and get my GED and hit my stride. The brother finally realized that education is the only game in town, and those that drop out are yet to be found. They live on the edges, fighting and hustling to survive, and too many find out too late, that classrooms, books, and teachers are no jive. There is a lesson to be learned as we look at this brother, unfortunately he is not alone, there are so many others.
— Dr. Dick Barnett is an educational consultant and former player for the New York Knicks.
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