Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Streetball Legends Pt. 2...

Karlton Hines was a legendary streetball player form the Melrose projects in the South Bronx. This story is personal for me, because I played with this cat once at the courts right by Yankee Stadium when I was quite young. This is one of those days that I remember like it was yesterday, and it wasn't because I was star-struck because at the time I had no idea who he was.

That particular day I had called next on the court but there weren't any guys around to get a starting 5, so I figured I'd wait until guys showed up or would choose 4 from the losing side that was already playing.

The courts were across the street from the stadium down a small, grassy hill separated by two fences. An SUV pulls up and out pops 4 guys. They don't bother taking the long way around, they just jump both fences directly onto the court. They weren't allowed to park in front of the stadium so the drove right up on the sidewalk and kept it moving.

Karlton comes over to me and asks me if I had next. I said yes.

Karlton-"You got five?"

Me-"Nah, I need four."

Karlton-"Ah-ight. Us five then..." as he points to his crew.

In streetball there is a method to getting and staying on the court. You can bring as many guys as you can round up and go together, guys who you know can play. If you're missing a player or two you go to the park and hopefully spot a cat who has a decent enough rep so that he'll fit in to what you're trying to do, which is stay out there as long as possible without losing, because most of the time if you lose your first game it's over-you might as well go home because there will be so many other guys who have next that it'll be hours until you can get back on the court.

So I was a bit leery about having to play with guys I've never seen before. Would they be any good, I wondered?

After that first game ended, it was out turn. This is when the afternoon turned surreal. Karlton takes the ball and says, "Hit or miss on me" and shoots the ball from a couple of feet inside the half-court marker, way to the right. The ball swishes through the hoop without touching iron.

I tried to play it off, but it dawned on me that this guy was something else. Exactly "how" something else I was about to learn. The competition was a bit tougher this time around for the winners of the previous game and as it proceeded, things got heated.

It was impossible not to notice the fluidity with which this guy dribbled the ball in between and around 2 and three defenders with the ease of someone performing tricks with a yo-yo. Every time he shot the ball it would arc perfectly towards the basket without fail. The guy had perfect form, a form I've never seen before, certainly not out here on these courts which were at the time famous for the level of competition city-wide.

Only places like Rucker Park in Harlem and 8th Street in the Village had a stronger reputation, but that's because those courts had organized tournaments where many pros and ex-pros came to give it to each other. We always had top high school talent from the local area coming to play at the stadium courts, ballers home for the summer from junior college and a few division-1 programs, and super-talented cats who for whatever reason(usually due to the lethal ghetto cocktail of bad grades and an even worse attitude) never made it out. But this guy was the best I've ever seen, and this is no exaggeration.

During a break in the action at halftime, Karlton came over to me and says, "Hey lefty, when you see me underneath(the rim) just throw it up. I'll get it". I thought, "Yeah, whatever". When the game resumed I purposely looked for him and threw him a few alley-oops, which were terribly and hopelessly off-target, but it didn't matter. Hines just jumped and got it like he said he would. Didn't matter how bad the pass was, he out jumped everyone and either dunked it or caught it and, in traffic, would put it up against guys taller than he and lay it in off the backboard right in their faces.

I've played with plenty of talented ballers, but this guy left us all wondering the same thing-"What is this guy doing here? Shouldn't he be at a big-time college or the NBA?" He was head and shoulders above even the best that I've ever played with in the streets of NYC...

I found out all about him shortly before he was murdered. After not graduating from high school(he dropped out with 4 months left of his senior year and turned his back on an athletic scholarship waiting for him at Syracuse University) and spending some years as the leader of a drug gang, he supposedly was trying to get back on track to play in the CBA with an eye towards catching on with an NBA team. That dream died in a hail of bullets courtesy of "Pistol" Pete Rollack, the leader of the SMM Crew(Sex Money Murder) from the Soundview projects.

One of the reasons why I bring this up is not to glorify a guy who wasted his talent because he preferred the life of a street hustler. Very few people get to see something like this up close and personal, a guy so talented that he seemed like he was from another world. Despite the fierce pride we all felt as ballplayers, no one from the losing teams we played that afternoon really took it too hard, because they knew they had gotten hit by a category 5 hurricane.

A hurricane that unfortunately left this earth way too soon.

Here's to you, Karlton-the baddest motherfucker I've ever seen play ball in my life.

Here's the video-

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