MNR: The Best of the Best
My fascination with the city of Paterson, NJ began about 20 years ago, when I came back up top to live after life in Virginia. Now, I was already somewhat familiar with the city [in name only] because I, like the rest of Black America, saw the movie Lean on Me at some point in time. Fair Eastside…
I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I saw the movie for the first time as a kid, the first thing that came to mind was that there was no way on earth a public school could be that crazy on a day-to-day basis. Boy was I wrong. Over the past couple decades, I’ve befriended a male and a female who both attended Paterson Eastside during the actual era of the film (mid-80s). Both went on to become educators. Both affirmed that Eastside was every bit as crazy as the movie revealed, if not crazier (WTF?). And when I finally made my way to P-Town to witness with mine own eyes…oh my (three googly eyes emojis)
I used to ride through Paterson with my uncle on a semi-regular basis. He had “friends” around the way, and he’d bring me along with him on visits. Other times, we just rode through Broadway and inhaled the sights and sounds. At the time, I was knee deep in those 100 Blocks, and we were under siege by the NYPD. The pigs were on some real bullshit, as evidenced by their “Stop and Frisk” and Red Zone initiatives. Red Zones were places defined by the mayor as high crime areas in which he assigned double the manpower on all shifts. The day-to-day effects were noteworthy, meaning they were hellish on us. For all of us in the projects at the time, that meant all types of harassment, from being pressed for standing outside our own buildings and/or being in the project plaza late night, to all-out assault for smoking outside. Undercover DTs loved to run down on MF and slam them on their necks before cuffing and arresting them. They harassed us ceaselessly. Paterson, on the other hand, was a utopia for fuckery. I saw heroin being distributed in open market fashion, from the Alabama Houses (RIP) to diverse street corners throughout the city. I once saw a couple strolling along on some random street on the Eastside, casually rolling a blunt in public in broad daylight like it was 2021. I couldn’t believe it! At the time, doing that type of shit meant being at risk for a sho’ nuff ass whooping and trip to the precinct and bookings. But not in Paterson.
Sadly, little has changed in Paterson in the last two decades. Crime is still a serious problem. Drug dealing/addiction, gang shit, and homicide are the dominant motifs. In that time, a whole new generation has been born and raised within the city limits. They inherited all of these problems. And, if anything, things have only gotten worse. But what about the children? Who’s there to protect the children in these situations and circumstances? Often, it comes down to grandparents and coaches. Strong emphasis on coaches.
Paterson has always been a breeding pool for great athletes, from Larry Doby to Tim Thomas to Victor Cruz to some kid you’ve yet to become acquainted with. That brings me to the thesis of this blog – the athletes of Team Best.
Team Best is one of the six teams that play in the Uptown Kidz Basketball Summer League in Englewood, New Jersey’s Mackay Park, aka The Jungle. They are 3-0 so far, and (in my opinion), the best team in the league, respectfully. They razzle and dazzle with ease; they have become a must-see attraction for fans of the league. Now that’s cool and all, but upon further examination, Team Best is nothing short of amazing. According to someone with intimate knowledge of the situation, most if not all the ballers on Team Best come from extreme circumstances, circumstances that even those of us who come from tough circumstances would agree are extreme. Yet, these kids travel to Englewood and put on a show every time they touch the court. The best players, #7 and a kid who said to call him Sim, are brimming with Division I talent. They regularly finish the break with highlight reel dunks. They shoot 28 footers like Dame Dollar or Chef Curry. They win and win big. But if you were to only look at facial expressions and demeanor, you wouldn’t know if they were up big or down 30. They embody a special brand of even keel, a type of calm usually associated with fighter pilots. I was mistakenly told that Sim had completed his high school career and was off to a prep school; I found out yesterday from Sim himself that that wasn’t true. Sim is a rising senior at Paterson Charter, a school that didn’t even exist when I first became acquainted with P-Town. I heard another kid on the team yell across the cage to another kid that he had to go because he had school in the morning. When asked about having to attend summer school, the young baller replied that Paterson Charter has one of those C-F type situations where anything less than an A or B is a problem. He didn’t receive an F, but he also didn’t receive an A or B. Wow! Good wow! Think about it: these kids are really out Paterson striving for success. They could easily attend other nearby parochial or non-public schools which would require much less academically. Instead, they are at an upstart school thriving amidst an academically strict environment. That says a lot to me. Those young men REALLY want to make it. I support every step of their journey. I’ll always root for my 07631 guys first and foremost, but those kids from Paterson have etched a place in my heart. Long live sport. Long live knowledge. Many blessings.
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