I was always into sports and, as long as I can remember, felt that I had the gift of athleticism. My early sports experiences were in the driveway behind my house in Philly on Dorset street- 1-2-3-hold football, kickball, backyard basketball on adjustable courts. My first entry into organized sports was with baseball, which my dad coached at the local playground (and still does). I was incredibly bad at baseball to begin with– I mean can’t-catch-the-ball, never-make-contact-when-I’m-at-bat bad– but I became a contributor about 3 years in, and a full blown Rookie League star by the time I was 14 (the Rookie league age limit). The league I played in wasn’t a fast pitch league, however. It used a pitching machine, meaning the ball went right down the pipe every time once it was adjusted for each batter’s height. So I knew that moving up to playing vs. live pitching would be a challenge, I just didn’t know how inept I really was at trying to hit a pitched baseball. By the time I hit high school, I had hung up my cleats.
I showed interest in football around the same time that I started baseball. I ended up on the diamond, though, because football equipment was not cheap. My parents made sure we never needed for any necessities and also had lots of extras as kids, but springing for hundreds of dollars of pads and helmets was a bit too steep of an investment, especially with no guarantee from the coaches that I’d even make the team. I was quite fast though, and maybe woulda turned into a wide receiver if I had stayed with the pigskin. But I aint mad at all; basketball is prettier and careers last longer.
(One year in middle school, though, I did participate in track & field practices. I found out there that I wasn’t nearly as fast as I had once thought.)
My dad taught me how to play chess at a young age, and with guidance from a coach at Masterman Middle School named Mr. Shutt, I became pretty good at chess. My dad would take me to tournaments on weekends where I actually beat a few other players. I remember traveling with a couple of other kids to a weekend tourney where we stayed in a hotel in Jersey as a middle schooler. I also recall getting beat handily in all my matches that weekend. I was nice with it though; my dad once told me he didn’t even look forward to playing me any more because I had surpassed him.
If you’re from the hood, though, you know this: ain’t too many chess players you can name that came from your block. I naturally turned to sports as my outlet when chess just became too nerdy and “uncool” for me. Had i grown up in the ‘burbs, who knows what would have become of me. I think athletes make more money anyway though.
I started playing basketball at Finley Playground at around 14 years old, even though my mother had sent me to try out for bball teams at Finley beginning at 11 or 12 years old. I didn’t come close to making those teams. I remember crying after being cut on those fateful days; not because I believed I should be on the team, but for the embarrassment of seeing my peers (many of whom went to the same school as me and/ or had parents that were friends of my parents) make teams I wasn’t good enough to be a part of. The neighborhood I’m from, everyone played basketball between the ages of 10-20, HARD, and daily in the summer. So any person within a year or two of my age from Mt. Airy, I could see them today and not know a thing about their current life, other than their name and basketball-playing style from back in my teen years.
I started playing bball all the time after baseball practices on Saturday afternoons, and spent endless summer hours out on that blacktop, alone, practicing. I had no mentor- my dad was more of baseball player as a kid, and I had no brothers- and didn’t have Youtube or any type of free-advice giver online to turn to for ideas. I just kept practicing the things I saw the good players do, combined with what I imagined, until I was one of the good players.
The rest, as they say, is history.