By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Chris Bosh would never say it himself, so let us scream it for him:
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 bitchesshowed 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 theircourt, 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.
Surprise! The most popular leader in this neighborhood isn't Bush, but Bosh.
"He's my favorite player, but the Mavs are my favorite team," 13-year-old Terion Ford says between gulps of Gatorade. So, Terion, you must be torn. When Bosh's Raptors play your Dallas Mavericks, who do you root for? Deadpans Terion at 10:40 a.m., "Uh, both I guess. Do you know when Chris is gettin' here?"
Bosh isn't scheduled to show up until 11:15. But he arrived in 2002.
Never dreaming he'd someday rewrite the illustrious history of Big D's big men, Bosh began honing his skills in shirts-and-skins-and-scratches pick-up games at Phelps, Highland Hills Recreation Center and Hutchins Park. Built more Manute Bol than Shaquille O'Neal, Bosh and his wiry frame struggled even to make the freshman team at Lincoln. In the middle of his junior season, however, it clicked. He grew into his feet. Put on 10 pounds of muscle. His left-handed shot matured into a caress.
Basketball evolved into Boshketball.
"He just dominated," Lincoln coach Leonard Bishop says inside Phelps' gym. "He did what he wanted, when he wanted, at both ends of the court."
After a junior season in which he led Lincoln to a 32-3 record and third place in the state tournament, Bosh morphed from boy to man to monster. Averaging 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a senior, he powered Lincoln to a 40-0 record, the Class 4A State Championship and the national No. 1 ranking by USA Today. He capped his career with a 23-point, 17-rebound, 9-block performance in the title game, earning Texas' "Mr. Basketball" and McDonald's All-American.
"Looking back now," says Bosh, "it's still like a dream."
He must similarly succeed in the NBA if he hopes to top the list of all-time best Dallas products. The incumbent remains Larry Johnson, who bulled his way from Red Bird Rec Center to Skyline High School to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas to the Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks, where he played for championships, received a record $84 million contract and parlayed his charisma into the wildly popular Converse TV commercial character, "Grandmamma."
Somewhat soothing the pain of the Mavericks' frustrating, no, their maddeninglack of a championship, DISD schools have regularly born fertile front-court fruit since Johnson in the early '90s. Greg Ostertag (Duncanville), Kurt Thomas (Hillcrest), Tony Battie (South Oak Cliff), Kenyon Martin (Bryan Adams) and Ike Diogu (Garland) have each been first-round NBA draft picks with productive careers. And this season, Seagoville's LaMarcus Aldridge was drafted second overall by the Portland Trailblazers.
"Dallas is definitely on the basketball map," says Bosh, who grew up attending Mavericks games during The Three J's Era but admired more the understated, underrated styles of Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. "I just hope I have a career that keeps up and catches up with those other guys."
Today, though, Bosh is definitely the hunted.
Christmas in September arrives precisely at 11:30, just after Engine No. 38 parts the dance contest to make an emergency run and just as the 3-on-3 basketball game is rounding physical and headed for fisticuffs. Santa Claus shows up not in a sleigh but a cream-colored Escalade stretch limo. He is fashionably late, yes, but to those desperately searching for a positive role model or for those who waited three hours for T.O. to make a cameo at his football camps, Bosh is right on time.
Emerging in a red T-shirt, denim jorts, doorknob diamonds in each earlobe and customized blue Cons with "Texas Boy" emblazoned on the heel, Bosh is immediately engulfed by his flock.
Under the surveying sunglasses of personal security chief Jonathon McClinton, Chris signs autographs, poses for cell-phone camera pictures, shakes hands and kisses his baby--Mom Freida. Miss Plus America (longtime family friend Ann Rogers) is here in her crown. And 4-year-old Andrea "A.J." Strong is here in her crying. Reminiscent of Jeff Van Gundy clinging onto Alonzo Mourning in the '98 NBA Playoffs, A.J. runs and clutches Bosh's leg as though bracing for a spring tornado.
Finally calm enough to verbally express her affection, A.J. sniffles, "Because...I'm...so happy...to seeeehim."
Says McClinton, "He gets recognized everywhere we go in Dallas. But he's such a class act and so humble, he always makes time. The kid just doesn't have any enemies."
But, boy, does he have friends. Close, protective friends. Who make finding dirt on Bosh harder than discovering clean on Ron Jeremy.
"You're not gonna find much," says younger brother Joel, parading through the gym while playfully nibbling on his oversized gold cross pendant. "With him, it's all good."
Oh yeah? What about this cocky nickname, "CB4"? It's on some of Bosh's posters, and Freida even has it plastered on her jersey. More than just a hip collaboration between Bosh's initials and uniform number, it evolved from an old Chris Rock rapumentary about a fictional group parodying N.W.A., which we all know--well, don't we?--stands for Niggaz With Attitude.
In the movie--think Spinal Tap with humor--the gangsta group performs in prison cell block No. 4. Not exactly 50 Cent tough, but surely the moniker fuels Bosh with an alter-ego, or at least a hard edge? Right?
"Naw, man," Bosh says sheepishly in one of Phelps' vacant rooms. "Nobody calls me that."
Then what? The Dunking Dallasite? SuperBosh?
"Chris," he says with a shrug. "I know. Real flashy, huh?"
Kinda like Bosh himself. Not stylish but certainly substantial.
Unlike many of today's NBA stars, with Bosh you get no posse or drugs or bar fights or paternity suits or big ego. His drink is bottled water. His high school gang went by the name "National Honor Society." His vice: Blue Bell ice cream.
"I guess I was pretty strict on him," says Noel, 47, who divides his time among jobs as a plumbing designer, foundation volunteer and fiery youth minister specializing in addiction counseling at Dallas' South Central Church of Christ. "But he turned out pretty good. I didn't have to spank him after the sixth grade. I take some satisfaction out of his upbringing, of course. I couldn't ask for a better son."
Says Bosh, "I learned to do a lot of things myself because of him. Cut the grass. Fix things around the house. Save money. They were chores, but he convinced me they were obligations."
Born almost nine pounds and 20 inches, Bosh lived in Hutchins until the family moved to Lancaster when he was 15. The only lefty on the family tree, his athletic potential was uniquely noticeable.
"I knew he was going to be special when I was pregnant," says Freida, a computer systems analyst and the engine behind her son's foundation. "Some moms say they feel a kick. I felt jumps. I gained 75 pounds with him. And soon as he was born he hit the ground running."
Raised in church and reared on character, the Bosh boys--Chris is now 22, Joel 20--rarely found trouble. Except, that is, when Freida was an accessory to a series of household crimes. She gave the boys a Nerf basketball hoop, the one with the foam ball and the plastic hoop that attaches to flat surfaces via suction cups.
"I'd hear this loud crash from their bedroom, and sure enough, they knocked the closet door down again," says Noel, sitting outside the gym's front doors. "I bet I fixed that sucker 20 times. I'd start to get mad at 'em, but I realized they were just playing the game they loved."
Actually Joel, a starter at Alabama State in Montgomery, shares his brother's skill but apparently not his will.
"With him it's kinda take it or leave it," Noel says. "But with Chris, he's always been so focused."
So determined was Bosh to be around basketball that he kept Dad playing in a church league even when the old man's knees and jump shot begged him to quit.
"I could always see the spark in his eyes when it was time to go to the gym," Noel says. "Without him I'd have just sat around and done nothing."
Through their work for the foundation, the parents have found a way to keep close to their Toronto-based son. When Chris last summer signed a three-year contract extension worth $65 million--that should buy enough back-to-school rulers for at least another year--he pleased Mom by announcing a $1 million donation to a Toronto charity, Community Legacy Programs, and by establishing the Chris Bosh Foundation Book Club of Canada.
"This event is only the culmination of what the foundation does year-round," says Freida, who has an oral contract with Chris to read and discuss a new book each month during the season. "It's amazing what he's able to do and how many people he's helping. He's just a good boy."
Chris even asks Dad for advice, despite Noel's track record of father knows worst. He was vehemently against Chris transferring to Lincoln (a magnet school), attending Georgia Tech (in Atlanta) and settling down in Toronto (where?). In other words, he's 0-for-3.
"I still care what he thinks," Bosh says. "Doesn't mean I'm gonna follow through with it automatically."
Says Noel, "I've learned to trust his gut instincts. If he'd spent his life trying to please me, he wouldn't be where he is today."
And where exactly is Bosh? For now, he drives around in an un-pimped Chevy Avalanche SUV and lives in a South Side on Lamar loft apartment overlooking the Trinity River into his beloved Oak Cliff. Within the next few weeks he'll move into a million-dollar house in DeSoto, just a couple Tiger Woods' 2-irons from the gaudy mansions of Spud Webb and Tim Brown on Thorntree Country Club.
That's the beauty of Bosh--money, manners and moderation. "My biggest thrill is making people happy," he says. "Especially these kids. I see a lot of me in them, and it's a no-brainer to help them out."
Says Freida as she navigates the packed hallway toward the formal ceremony inside the gym, "Of all the things he's done, my proudest moments are when he graduated high school with honors and when he comes back to help the kids."
Fine, we give up. Harvest Bosh's stem cells, freeze his DNA, clone 100 of him and let's get on with amassing the perfect master race.
"Wait, I thought of something," Joel says. "Corny jokes. He's always telling those stupid jokes that make you groan. He actually thinks they're funny."
So the case against Chris Bosh begins and ends at "Knock knock..." At Phelps, personalities from Bosh's past, present and future agree that he's almost too good to be true.
Lincoln High School principal Earl Jones: "He was never in my office, not one time. Actually, I had him talk to freshmen who would run into trouble, because Chris had such a calming effect on everyone."
Agent Henry Thomas: "From the moment he stepped onto an NBA court he's been mature, thoughtful and articulate beyond his years. You just don't see kids at his age getting so involved, so committed, so enthusiastic with charity work."
Raptors coach Sam Mitchell: "He's one of the best guys on the court and one of the best guys in the locker room. The type of special kid you dream about building a franchise around."
Financial advisor Jeff Wiseman: "To have that kind of money at that age, he's extremely level-headed. I haven't yet had to talk him out of some silly impulse shopping spree."
As Bosh's bash moves inside the gymnasium, his legend grows.
Capping a year in which his foundation funded two free basketball camps, stocked Phelps' computer center with 12 computers and offered free, two-week SAT prep courses to 50 students, Bosh put the finishing touches on today's $25,000 expenditure. Through a random drawing five kids win computers. Lincoln, Phelps and South Central are awarded $1,000 checks. And everyone with enough patience to endure a line that snakes around the gym will walk out with a new pair of Converse.
"When I was young we just went to plain ol' camp. Just camp camp," says Bosh, now panning the packed bleachers with his video camera. "That's why this is so important to me. I want kids to remember this. And want to come back again and again."
Because he plays in friggin', freezin' Canada and because NBA training camps start next week, it's likely this is the last time Dallas can embrace Bosh before his Raptors visit American Airlines Center November 29. And because he's only a really good player lost in a really great draft class, it's likely Bosh will remain our secret just a little while longer.
"In order to become a superstar he needs to get to the playoffs," says Thomas, who also represents the Mavericks' Devin Harris and NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade. "To become a household name, he needs to perform on the big stage."
Even with the Raptors set on a world domination that would make The Family Guy's Stewie skeptical, Bosh won't get that chance any time soon. Or will he?
Instead of playing out his contract and next summer becoming one of the league's most coveted free agents, Bosh on July 14 signed an extension that will keep him in Toronto through at least 2011.
"I want to win an Olympic gold medal and maybe some individual awards down the line," says Bosh, the only player among the top five picks of the '03 NBA Draft yet to make it to the postseason. "But right now I just want to get the Raptors to the playoffs. That's as far as I can look."
After one terrific, teasing year at Georgia Tech, Bosh entered the NBA Draft as a skinny 19-year-old void of power or a true position. In what is already viewed as the most dynamic draft in league history, the Raptors picked Bosh fourth overall, three spots after LeBron James went to Cleveland and sandwiched between Denver selecting Carmelo Anthony and Wade falling to Miami.
Initially a gangly rookie lost in an obscure market, Bosh has blossomed into--scooch over a bit, Steve Nash--Captain Canada.
"Here in Dallas he kind of knows where to go to stay under the radar," McClinton says. "But in Toronto he gets mobbed every time he steps out his front door."
Though baptizing Bosh with a coaching change and two general manager switches in his first three seasons, the Raptors, who've acquired players custom-selected to complement his talent, are about to hand their new alpha dawg the keys to the franchise. The kid without street cred is becoming a poster boy. "Chris has been a great follower," Mitchell says. "Now he's ready to be a great leader."
At 6-foot-10 and 230 pounds, Bosh is still a small forward trapped in a power forward's body. Considering he was an All-Star last season and joined Houston Rockets center Yao Ming as the only players to average 22 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line, perhaps "trapped" isn't all that appropriate.
Bosh possesses Velcro hands, point-guard ball-handling skills, shooting range to 20 feet, uncanny defensive timing and moves in the low post that are as sneaky as they are silky. Bosh's total package is so alluring that it prompted Lakers coach Phil Jackson to get fined for tampering--in the form of heaping public praise on Bosh in an attempt to persuade him to refuse Toronto's extension offer. Bosh's skill set also earned him a prestigious spot on the U.S. squad that settled for bronze in Japan and last season made believers out of the Mavericks as a 29-point, 13-rebound wrecking ball in Toronto's overtime loss February 25 at AAC.
"To me he's already pretty special," Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki said after continually getting beat to the basket by Bosh. "He's going to be a great player in this league."
Bosh's next evolution: stronger in the paint, saturated in the media.
"I've grown up a lot the last three years," Bosh says. "I'm getting stronger. Playing down in the paint in the NBA is no joke. I used to get beat up pretty good. But those days are over."
Says Mitchell, "I don't want to hear all this talk about Chris being the next Kevin Garnett. We just want him to be the next Chris Bosh. That's plenty good enough."
Muzzled by a gym in which "No Dunking" replaces the squares on the white wooden backboards, some of the boys slip on their new sneaks and head out to Bosh's old court. Opposite the 3-on-3 UFC Octagon Match is a violent game of 1-on-6 in which fouls and ball-handling violations are enforced at a leisurely clip that would accelerate Mavs owner Mark Cuban's short trip to insanity.
With their treasured shoes packed neatly away, some players wear only socks. Others go barefoot. And, considering the level of their shorts, each seems convinced the court doubles as a modeling catwalk for boxers. Despite the tree branches guarding the left side of the basket, the 1 1/2-inch crevice through mid-court and the likelihood that they may mimic Bosh's past but not his future, the ballers are--just as Chris once was--content to be ballin'.
Ringing the court, children smile. Parents cry. Charities profit. Chris beams. And from crayons to Converse to computers to compassion, everyone leaves Bosh's block party with a precious commodity.
"All this stuff we're givin' y'all," Bosh yells out, pausing to find a balance between request and demand, "...please use it!"
Only one sight could make today more utopian: The karma train dropping off one of Noel and Chris' old antagonists from that Crass of '92. Even better, if one of their 8-year-old sons snags a Chris Bosh poster and sprints home to hang it on a prominent wall.
Says Chris with a wry smile, "Yeah, I hope they're here."
Yo, bitches, how you like me now?