By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Yo, bitches, how you like me now?!
Like they did most summer Saturday mornings in 1992, Noel Bosh and his 8-year-old son, Chris, made the short drive from Lancaster up to the junction of Southeast Oak Cliff and Hoops Heaven, better known as the John C. Phelps Recreation Center. Shaped peculiarly like an hour glass and sporting two dunk-damaged rims that wouldn't pass YMCA--much less NBA--inspection, the old outdoor court was cement, gray, unforgiving, ugly...
And perfect for a wide-eyed kid falling in love with basketball. And for a Dad intent on bonding and bouncing with his kid. They played one-on-one. They laughed. They fouled. They sweated. They swished.
Recalls Noel, "Some of the best memories of my life."
Until the bitches showed up, that is.
It's at this point in our fairy tale we remind you exactly where Phelps is situated. From downtown, take Interstate 45 a couple miles south, just past the spectacular mountains of scrap metal. Turn right at the corner with the pyramids of rotten wood pallets. Follow Tips Boulevard, past the litter and the graffiti and the shards of broken glass, until it--sure enough--dead-ends.
That's where you would've found father and son, getting verbally harassed, physically hounded and unceremoniously kicked off their favorite court by a group of teenage thugs consumed by gangs, not games.
And you thought Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium was a tough place to play?
"We're just there playing, having a good time with some other kids when these guys come up and get up in my face, acting all crazy," says Noel. "I didn't want any trouble, especially with Chris there. But I sure didn't want to let them run us off that court either."
Says Chris, "It was just some guys trying to act tough, punking us. They wanted us to know it was their court, and for whatever reason, we weren't supposed to play on it. I'll never forget it. But back then I think it was a bigger deal to Dad than me."
To Chris, evacuating Phelps and relocating 100 yards across the street to J.P. Sparks Elementary School's puny playground was a change of venue that didn't mean much to his pre-ordained rise to fame and fortune through Lincoln High School, Georgia Tech and the Toronto Raptors. But to Noel, being bullied by those punks onto a cracked, sloped, weed-infested slab of asphalt with no shade and no nets was as indelible as it was embarrassing.
"I pray that some of those same jokers are here today," Noel says. "I hope they're waiting in line to get Chris' autograph or some of his free shoes. That would be justice."
Today, on another summer Saturday, those hooligans likely own an eternal roster spot playing for the Lew Sterrett All-Stars. And, as it turns out, Chris Bosh now owns Phelps--if not all of southern Dallas.
"He's a blessing," says Angelina Woodward, who arrives at Bosh's old swishing grounds to have him lay hands and assorted gifts on her and her three children. "He gives my boys somebody to look up to. He's a good basketball player, and he knows how to behave. People around here don't have that much. Sometimes folks get rich and we never see them again. Not Chris. He keeps coming back."
One of the best basketball players in the history of Dallas is throwing one of its best annual back-to-school parties. Sure, classes started a month ago. But when the host has been preoccupied trying to help U.S. Basketball win a gold medal at the World Championships in Sapporo, Japan, a cloudy, cool September morning will have to suffice for "Back to School with Bosh III."
"Chris knows where he came from, and he never forgets his roots," says cousin and Chris Bosh Foundation business coordinator Adriane Mayes as the caffeinated kids began swarming like ants on a half-gnawed Chick-o-Stick. "When he was a kid he relied on free programs and events just like this for fun. Now that he can, he's giving back."
Better late than never, Bosh is spreading good in the 'hood.
About 500 people, many arriving on foot, descend upon Phelps at 10 a.m. Children aged 7 months to 17 years are getting free haircuts and face-painting, hopping aboard Dallas Fire Department Engine No. 38 and dragging around goody bags stuffed with toothbrushes, T-shirts and school supplies. Adults are munching barbecue sandwiches. Teenage girls dance to Nelly blaring from the K104 promotional Hummer; teenage boys dunk and hang from the old court's rims.
In this era of swanky suburbanite Select Soccer, resourceful kids hoping to plug unexpected vacancies in their flag football team scramble up from nearby Robert Daniel Boren Park and yell to no one in particular, "Anybody wanna play?" There are boys in all genres of jerseys from LeBron James to Wes Unseld to Terrell Owens, girls with more personality and pizzazz than a soccer mom can squeeze into her SUV, and three too few white faces to fill a basketball starting five. But above all, there is electric anticipation.