Before Nike and Adidas began sponsoring AAU summer league teams that morphed into de facto farm systems for major colleges and the pros, there were guys like Rodney Parker. A ticket scalper from Brooklyn, this man made it his mission to develop players from his neighborhood and send them off to college.
He was the man with connections that ran the gamut from major college programs to small jucos in states as far away as Texas. If you were from Flatbush, Brooklyn and had a game, guaranteed Rodney could pull something off for you. This is clearly illustrated in Rick Telander's book "Heaven is a Playground".
There has never been a book written that captures the inner city streetball vibe like this one. Telander is a talented writer, a former senior writer for Sports Illustrated and current columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. What is amazing about his work is how he describes in intimate detail what life really is like for these inner-city youth and his honest portrayals of the characters and situations he encounters without a hint of condescension or pity.
Here is a list of some of the people featured in the book-
-Albert King, then a 14-year old prodigy from the projects and already 6'6" tall.
-James "Fly" Williams, voted one of the 50 best streetball players ever whose record-setting two years at Austin Peay State University put the small program on the map. Unfortunately he never made the jump to the NBA, and became more famous for the question "what might have been"...
-Earl "The Goat" Manigualt(above, left), THEE most famous Rucker Park streetball legend who ever lived and whose life story remains cautionary tale #1 for talented inner-city ball players everywhere.
-Rodney Parker(below, second from left), the man who helped so many young men from Brooklyn get into college. Some made it, others returned and fell right back into the streets. Many took advantage and remained ungrateful. But Rodney's enthusiasm never waned. RIP, brother-you will be missed.
-And last but not least is Rick Telander himself(pictured below, center). Telander spent the summer of 1974 living and breathing the environment in Flatbush, Brooklyn and even coached some of the guys he met at Foster Park as a team nicknamed "The Subway Stars". Telander returned the next year for a brief visit to see how the guys he wrote about had progressed. And as expected, Rodney was still out there-wheeling, dealing and just being himself. Telander captures Brooklyn like few lifelong residents ever could, and that is the biggest compliment I could pay him as a writer.