Jerome Turner grabs his books from the seat and jumps off the school
bus with the pack of kids that live in his section of the public housing
project. It's a cold, dreary day. The sun is shut out by a solid wall
of grey clouds. Under this wall, the pack dissipates as the kids head
to their apartments. "Hey Jerome! Wanna shoot the rock?"
Jerome looks back and sees Malcolm Mitchell waving from the basketball court
across the street. He stands there with his books cradled under his arm, indecisive. "Come
on man! You ain't scared to lose, is you?" Jerome makes up his mind and jogs
across the street. "Naw, I ain't scared I'm gonna lose to you. That's for sure." He
places his school books behind the goal post as Malcolm takes a shot. They
both shoot a few and then start up a game in which the first to fifteen points
by ones, wins, but you have to win by two points. The game is tight with Jerome
and Malcolm keeping close basket for basket, and talking junk the whole way.
Soon the score reaches fourteen for Malcolm to Jerome's thirteen. Jerome has
the ball. "All right, Jerome Turner, the J-Man, is going strong. He's too much
for M&M." Jerome cuts to the right and goes up with a shot. "Block! M&M was
all over the J-Man's shot," says Malcolm as he takes the ball, Jerome quickly
recovers and chases after him. "M&M pulls back and puts it up. It's..." Jerome
just gets his hand in Malcolm's face, he turns to see, "Good!" The ball shingks
through the metal netting. "M&M wins it! The crowd goes wild, " Malcolm bows
to the imaginary crowd then looks slyly over at Jerome, "Hey J, you up for
another game?" "Naw, I gotta do some home-" "Oh man, you don't need to do no
homework." "Yeah I do, I got a math test tomorrow, on the multiplication tables."
"Man, you do so much homework I think you're nerding out on me. OK, since you're
dissing me today, you gotta shoot the rock tomorrow. How's that?"
They give each other high-fives and Jerome crosses the street back to the project.
The project is made up of twenty-odd rectangular brick buildings on a barren
expanse of dust. It was constructed during the Depression as part of the federal
work program, and hasn't been touched since. Jerome slowly makes his way through
the project to his apartment, N 8, where he lives with his mom and Sabrina,
his older sister. He sees Big Mark is back, hanging out at the end of building
K again. He swings just a little wide to keep his distance, but not look like
he's keeping his distance, and heads for home.
"Jerome! Is that you?" "Yeah Ma, it's me," Jerome yells back as he walks into
the apartment. "Boy, where you been? It's going on supper time. I was about to
worry," her voice gets louder as she comes into the room from the kitchen.
"I was playing ball with Malc, and then I saw Big Mark-" "Big Mark? I thought
he got put in jail. Now you stay away from Big Mark. You hear? Drugs, nothing
but trouble. I can smell trouble from a mile, and Big Mark puts up a funk. You
"Now, Sabrina's out baby-sitting tonight, so it's just us. And don't forget to
take the trash out before supper."
* * *
Jerome lies on his bed after supper. His room is sparse and somewhat
dirty. It is relatively square, roughly twelve by fourteen feet of cold
linoleum, criss-crossed with cracks and crevices. The once white walls
are bare with white squares, vague memories of pictures once hung. The
only light source is in the center of the ceiling and is turned on with
a switch by the door. Attached to the wall over the door is a small plastic
basketball hoop with tattered string and downward droop. Sitting in the
near corner is an old school desk and chair, carved up with endless initials.
Beside the desk is a closet from which a trail of clothes meanders its
way across the room toward Jerome on his bed in the corner away from
Jerome eyes the Nerf ball net over his door. Across the room, his schol books
lie on his desk . Jerome reaches around and his hand finds what it was looking
for. He picks up the orange Nerf ball, rolling it around in his hands, getting
the feel. He cradles it in his hand and launches a rainbow into the air which
finds its end through the net suspended over his doorframe.
Swish. And the crowd goes wild! The J-Man, Jerome Turner, has made yet another
incredible shot! He was hammered by the whole other team as he cut into the
lane, but somehow he still manages to make the shot. The J-Man picks himself
up off the hardwood and walks it off. He heads for the line to see if he can
ice the three-point play. On the line, he spins the ball in his hands and bounces
it three times, the J-Man has shot a blistering ninety-eight percent from the
foul line, so he looks coolly at the rim. He sets and shoots, it's... no good!
But look at the J-Man! He manages to get his own rebound despite his lack of
size. J is quick, maybe even the quickest. He snakes his way in and out of
the lane, pulls back and throws up a three-pointer. Yes! They're chanting, "J-Man!
J-Man!" as he goes back down the court, hounding the other guard. Yes, the
J-Man plays some tough D, he's in the running for Defensive Player of the Year,
as well as being one of the top scorers in the league. He's a shoe-in for Rookie
of the Year, playing with great poise and amazing finesse. He slants the other
guard toward the side line and forces him to pick up his dribble. The J-Man's
all over him, the other guard tries to pivot away, but J picks his pocket!
Leaving the other guard in his dust, J-Man takes off down the side line. He
angles into the lane and goes up. In mid-air he turns, pumps the ball down
to his waist and back up for a crushing reverse dunk.
Slam! "Jerome! What do you think you are doing boy?" yells his mom from down
The momentum of his dunk having carried him out into the hallway, Jerome stands
there with the ball at his feet and lies,"I'm doing my homework Ma."
"Now don't you lie to me young man. I know what it sounds like when you do homework
and to me it sounds like you playing. I want to hear you doing homework now,
you got that?"
"OK Ma, in a minute."
Less than a minute left. The crowd is on the edge of its seat. Despite another
outstanding performance by the J-Man, his team is trailing by three points
in the deciding game of the championship. It's anyone's game. Even if they
do lose, J-Man's a strong candidate for tournament MVP. Coming out of the time-out,
the other team puts the ball into play. J jumps all over the guard and the
ref calls a foul. This gets the crowd going as the arena fills with boos. Despite
the pressure, the player sinks both of them, putting J-Man's team down by five.
J gets the ball and takes off down the court, he crosses half court with the
clock reading thirty-five seconds. He passes to his forward at the top of the
key, heads down the lane, around a pick, and breaks open to the corner. The
forward returns the ball to J. He spots up at the three point line and pulls
the trigger. The ball is up... Good!
The place is going crazy. Down by two with twenty-three seconds left, the J-Man
and team go to full court pressure. The other team manages to get the ball
to the off guard right in the base line corner. J-Man and a teammate quickly
trap him, but he jumps up and launches it to a forward on the other side line.
The forward takes the ball up court and gets past half court in time. Ten seconds!
Steal! The J-Man comes from out of nowhere and whisks the ball away. He turns
and breaks for the basket. The off guard heads to meet him. J fakes left, goes
right, gets a step on the guard at the top of the key. Three seconds! He pulls
up in the lane. Two seconds! He's side swiped by the off guard as the shot
gets off. One second! Foul! It's up.. it's.... Good! The arena explodes as
the buzzer goes off. J picks himself up as the noise dies down. He toes the
line, bounces the ball three times. Rolls it around in his hands, getting the
feel. He cradles it in his hand and launches it into the air. A spiraling rainbow
that's looking for its end.
Swish! "Jerome! What did I just tell you boy?"
Jerome quickly picks up the Nerf ball, tosses it on his bed and sits down at
his desk, "I'm doing it Ma."
"No you ain't- "
"Yeah I am, I'm sitting at my desk."
"Well you better be. I want to hear some homework."
"Yes Ma," Jerome turns and faces his books. The cheers of the crowd echo in J-Man's
head as he concentrates on the multiplication tables.
2 x 2 = 4 2 x 3 = 6 2 x 4 = 8.
The stark light leaves the room with few shadows for anything to hide. The
dirty walls, the cold cracked floor, the bed, the pile of clothes chased into
the closet, the net, the old brown school desk, the young black boy with his
books. The Nerf ball teeters, rolls off the mattress and across the floor as
the World Champion does his homework.