#1 Song in the Country, Mr. Big March 3rd, 1992
Semi Finals: Game 1: Eastie vs. Boston Latin Game 2: Southie vs. Madison, MA
And so it was on a bitter cold still very wintery Boston morning our bus chugged down Morrissey Boulevard towards the waterfront college campus of UMass Boston. I saw a thousand cars in the parking facility. It was Saturday. This was college. This was the city. There was so much going on. The main attraction of course being the MIAA, D1 North Semi-finals an annual theatre of the city’s playground legends vying to be enshrined and barber shop chatter until the end of time. The Big Guy wasn’t as nervous as I expected his candor matched the stakes. There were two games to be played this afternoon. Both semi-finals contests that would decide who play at the fabled Boston Garden for the eastern Massachusetts division one state title. We were the second game. As security ushers us into the gymnasium towards our changing space I peered over the crowd and squirted a little 1 in my white bike Terry cloth spandex. I had never played in front of five thousand people. I loved the amenities that followed large sporting crowds. Smelling the popcorn, seeing the students, scouts, old timers, kangols, legends of the past established the continuum of what high school basketball in Boston was all about. We were inching very close to all of the marbles. Fuck rap fuck rap fuck rap My favorite part of investing my heart in the game of basketball and program at Madison was walking into the gym before a big game with my team. I loved that shit. I lived for that style. The pregame, gym bag, untied spotless game kicks, pumps, your personal hoody, the strings on it, how they fell, your headphones, walkman, your tracks, how you walked, smiled, the bleachers, body language and brotherhood of it all. In short it was great to be a part of a team.
It was within these highly staged moments where you knew right away who the legends were. And our point guard was one just like his brother before him his brother before him his father. And he was our brother and teammate and every day in practice Rashad made us better as we dreamed side by side. We had security. There would be no pregame bleachers this Saturday and we’d only be afforded a few moments to watch the squads before us take the court another reason I invested in basketball at Madison High, lay up lines. There were few “spots” to be an individual on a team sports, lay up lines and fast breaks topping that list. Style was everything the white man forgot in his manifest reconstruction of steam rolling the west like my lord JC in their own image, thank god for black people in this country
I couldn’t explain it at the time, our countries silver lining of slavery, ironies unique snap / spark of laughter almost always paved the way for a potential change of heart within the core confides of misunderstandings regarding physical difference that has haunted human kind since the original jump. And there we stood, representing Madison, the town of the great experiment within the experiment known as America, the wave of the west, fuck the Lakers. And as East Boston stormed the court past us into the howl of lay-up lines their two stars punched pounds with Rashad en route to their own history. I’d seen enough. I was happy. Jamal and Eggie were city legends and every year Boston produced a dozen. Jamal, the Bobby Brown of Boston high school hoops was the gem inside the gems an NBA worthy talent. Eggie whose head was shaped like an egg played Pop Warner football in Madison with us back in 1987, every year he switched his high school and it seemed won a state title. They were so very good. And no matter how hard we practiced we could never be the players they were. Part of it was the training grounds, the city. Part of it was god given metrics, athletics, but mostly it was the training grounds. For even in Jersey City a couple of average sized white boys were able to give their all and leave a footprint on this so very American game at every level they competed. We were nasty local unknown inside the city outside of our links from our most precious METCO program. Giving it everything was a given of this proof.
And like so much of my own pulse and story just a couple years later Jamal would be shot dead. Over a girl and Eggie was engulfed in his own problems out west on scholarship over a girl. “The Mormons are going to hang your old pal bunko.” My father said throwing down the Boston Globe’s legendary sports page with his egg mug shot on the cover before hitting the local barbershop, Tricon, papers, man. My dad always knew the kids I admired well might not make it to see 21. It was a fact that I’d simply refuse to believe as a kid. Therefore when it came in line with his math he always had to smugly point it out hoping that somewhere in the vestiges of brain computation I might miraculously listen. “He was framed dad, jury of his peers, Utah, come on, it’s Lloyd all over again!” I had no faith in our court systems. Being black is a bitch, dam. Of course for our own city star Rashad entering UMass Boston for the state semis was like the Oscars a true hoop boy of Boston. Theirs was a BABC (footnote) fraternity of legends everyone sweated “them” like people do when they want to be around an All-American consensus sure thing, attention. All under the comforting and cool nature of being able to say you knew him back when Boston casted a prolific albeit little known hoops legacy. And legends of the past and present would be on hand for today’s double-header, championship Saturday. The last time I was at UMass Boston was the last time Madison was here, 1988, the greatest team that never was. They lost one step away from the Boston Garden and every summer after the “Rollie” speech we’d have to hear the Big Guy share the story of 88, a cautionary tale of heartbreaking work that was drilled into our very child sponge like minds.
I was in the stands at that UMass matinee. We all were, the 80’s, god bless. We remembered the thousand M & M wrappers. We remembered Rashad in his Kangol patrolling the far sideline, in 7th grade holding a poster board sign that read, “The Lloyd Mumford fan club.” I remember the black Kango Rashad wore and what it must’ve felt like to be him on that day, the future of a blessed program with a brother who was headed to Nike camp. It was ridiculous. We loved Madison legends it was my first goal and that’s great but Lloyd, Sean, Rashad and a few kids before them were kings yeah in Madison but also in the city, the entire city of Boston, kings. And that was a different world. All my TV ideas, dreams, style and ambition stemmed from that most unusual collaboration. It was sacred. And we didn’t know any of that shit. The friendships were real. And it taught me everything I ever needed to know in the third grade. It was my ADD that got in the way or better yet, the fucking pink milk, they won’t sell it to me. Can you believe that?
What we remembered was the heroic come back.
What we remembered seeing the M & M boys by some accounts the best backcourt in the country for the very last time. We remember being happy for that moment in soft awe, the theatre and investment of it all for so many. We remembered the team that never was and why that was and how it scared us to death. They were our rightful idols fortunate’s charitable touch had graced us once again. Kids never get to know their idols. By the time it gets to the pros it’s boring it’s ending soon it’s guarded by a shower curtain costume that never really can come off. A real wedding you know what I mean? But it was bigger than that. It put me back on with Jesus. And that was huge. Good things happened to me when I played basketball. I might have something to throw away. Stay the course stay it was a comforting voice everything’s going to be OK. So Yeah we remembered UMASS Boston, I thought about it all away, one mistake, it was crazy.
We remembered the dream coming to an unfortunate end. We remembered how it felt. The Minutemen of Madison had one three state titles in the seventies the last in the Big Guy’s first year of coaching. And every year in the 80’s, Madison put out great high school teams chalk full of legends. They’d beat Patrick Ewing at Cambridge in the tournament. But the D1 state tournament was a minefield and each year they felt just short only what could’ve been. 88 would be different. They were twelve deep with good size and the best back court in America ahead of many a future NBA legend. This year was the Boston Garden our idols a little country, a little rock and roll their back up’s would’ve started anywhere else in the league. And this was always the case. But 88 was different. The hype, letters, fame, crowds, timing, program and we were part of it. Just like when Rolliew on it all in 85 at Villanova. As kids it seemed more like a fairytale than a camp. “Eh, Rollie got one million dollars to be the Rolaids guy cause he’s like always losing his mind.” By 1988 these were high times. The year Des dropped out of high school only to make a comeback the following year and get his very own article in the paper that now hung proudly in the directors office at Hayden where Des had been a staple like Magic and I since he was eight. Des would describe the student parking lot that year as a continuous cocktail hour that included black, white rich and poor. The word or faction of “poor” was always followed up by a slant to insinuate someone had their eyes on them in this Less than Zero collision course of a world he’d soon bring me inside. 1988, the state tournament, UMASS and Madison was the favorite all week until Friday. Their were three seniors he’d thrown off the team all in one afternoon for a full range of the off the court violations. Sometimes I would get mad still tore up years later about the loss, “why’d he have to throw all of them off?” “Yeah but if you can’t pull it together for one week you got problems.” Fucken Magic
The tradition, stars, program blue and gold banners would overcome the petty shortcomings of a selfish few. The Big Guy would say famously every summer at camp, “three guys put themselves ahead of the team, decided it was more about them and it cost them a state title.” The epitome of old school, it couldn’t be any clearer. And we’d be reminded every year at Summer camp, “You have to pay the price, it’s not about you, it’s a team, don’t do anything stupid, and while I will feel bad for you I have no tolerance for that type of stuff, drugs, not going to class, drinking, can’t go to class varsity at Madison ain’t the ACE program.” Four years later and this was now the electric atmosphere where we would strut our stuff inside of UMASS Boston on the waterfront for a perfect day. The blue collar and deeply embedded sports town that Boston was showcased itself on an afternoon such as this and I soaked in it, paying attention to everything. Every guy that ever played basketball in a town where nobody leaves was there. Kangols were common amongst white and black both kids and adults. Everyone it seemed in Boston was a bookie and the sports pages of the big two in town, especially when compared with other major city publications, catered to an influence that obviously was tantamount inside the hubs cobble stoned walls. Girls, press, cameras, coaches, and college scouts could not scatter my stern thoughts about my own nasty ability that got me here in the first place, it kept me focused. On this afternoon, in this gym, if felt like the entire world revolved around Rashad. He was a star. And his city not just Madison but the city loved him. He was just a big of a deal there as he was here in Madison. And as we sat in the locker-room with two cops inside with us, the Big Guy tore into his fiery pre game speech.
It was not to be. The curse continued. The game went by in a flash and our opponent South Boston had prevailed advancing in one false swoop to the Boston Garden. And just like that these state title dreams for our seniors were dashed. At halftime the Big Guy let us have it. He kicked, screamed and yelled. When we walked into the locker room at halftime there was a bloody dead rat on the floor of our meeting space with a note attached, “it’s all over.” I was laser locked on the rat’s fangs. Magic whispered, “holy shit.” How the fuck It wasn’t our day meaning it wasn’t Rashad’s day, you ride and die with your leader as a team. I kept thinking, this is over. It was time to kick back, tune out and start thinking about next year and my rap career. Right when I got to the point in my fantasy that Mark Walhberg and I join effulgent forces, form a group called “Dope Shit.” and set off as the opening act of the next New Kid’s Step by Step tour, Santo pinched me. Snapped back into the reality of current surroundings I heard the last breath of audio that exuded from a high-powered state final’s type of whistle (fox 40) and like that the ride was over as “Southie” fans flooded the floor. We could’ve used Kevin, Madison, the blessing and the curse up in this I wanted to curl up and cry it didn’t feel right. Charlie “Chuck” Williams who had just played his last game in a Madison uniform finishing his own strong career stood right up and tried to rally a team clap. In his raspy voice, “we have nothing to be ashamed of fellas. Keep your heads up high.” Clapping louder and louder to the disdained “Bart Eyes” of the Big Guy. “We had a great season, we had a great season team. Hold your head up high.” But it was of little solace to the kids that teamed the same state title dreams since their first camp with the Big Guy mans many since passed. And walking out of the locker room last I could hear the Big Guy remark, “Chuck’s a dog. He played like one today, what the hell is he clapping about? We just lost.”
No one speaks on the ride home as is encrypted in the Madison