Playground basketball's lost dream

In the late 1990s, I spent time with young, mysterious playground legend Booger Smith and Long Island University super-scorer Charles Jones during a scorching New York City week. Tiny ball-wizard Booger appeared at Tillary Park in Brooklyn, dazzled the crowd with his moves and passes, then vanished into the streets as silently as he appeared. Jones, who played for the Bulls for a while after college, sat with me on another day on a lower Manhattan bench, in the midst of a marathon playground playing schedule that had him scuttling about on subway lines, barely stopping to notice the disappearing soles on his overheated shoes.

He told me about drinking quarts of water, pop and Gatorade "and never once having to piss." He talked about losing himself in the game. About crawling into bed after showering at night, spent.

He talked about the playground as if it was a kind of miracle he was blessed to receive.

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