Dad Wants 10 Year Old Son to Have a Normal Childhood while playing basketball.

By Gregory Moore
Updated: July 19, 2006

SAN ANTONIO – When Howard Jenifer went on national sports talk radio Wednesday morning, he wanted to set the record straight as to why he trains his son, Justin, so hard.

“No parent wants to run their child in a training regimen like was reported in that story,” Jenifer said in reference to a Washington Post story entitled, “Courting 10-year-old basketball prodigy”. Jenifer is probably feeling the heat of the media now descending upon him and he wants to shield his family from the eventual onslaught that may be coming. Well there’s only one problem with him trying to ask the media to bequeath his request: he began this process the moment he allowed his son to take a headband from Scottie Bowden.

There’s no secret that I despise guys like Bowden. Bowden is what I call a ‘shoe pimp’. His job is to go out and search for that special kid that Adidas may want to encase those talented feet in with new shoes. What Bowden does is basically ‘bribe’ brand loyalty to talented kids. It’s nothing new. Sonny Vacarro began the process a long time ago but now the three major shoe companies, Nike, Reebok and Bowden’s employer have refined the practice and made this a battle zone that no one could have expected. The battleground was once grown men and maybe trickling down to high school kids but today Bowden and his cronies of shoe peddlers are targeting a much younger audience. In this day and age it’s anyone below the age of 15 years old.

Bowden, Vacarro and others who have these rating services say that it’s the inevitable for being in the type of business that they are in? My question is what business are they in that would have a grown man basically prey upon the youth all for the loyalty to a sneaker? I really question it because Bowden is a principal at a middle school in Baltimore, Maryland and surely there is a set of bylaws within the Baltimore County Public School system. Surely Dr. Joe Hairston is aware of what one of his principals is doing and grave consequences that could arise from a trusted official in the education field may face if any impropriety was ever found.

But even Bowden can be put off of the main road of blame for the time being because there’s an organization that is being poorly represented that is as much the blame as anyone else I could point a finger at. That organization is the Amateur Athletic Union. An e-mail to the union’s senior sports manager of boy’s basketball programs, Joe Crawford, was not immediately returned. What the e-mail wanted to know in question was the rules of sponsorship, company affiliation and recruitment of players. The reason why I sent that e-mail was because I wanted to know if sanctions could be handed to anyone who tried to recruit outside of their area. I have looked at the AAU’s codebook for rules on this matter and I’m still trying to find answers on this matter.

LOOKING FOR SOME SORT OF ACCOUNTABILITY So why am I stirring up a story that is trying to not have legs? Because parents just aren’t getting the message. Howard Jenifer want the best for his son and nobody can blame him but he, like so many others, are being sucked into this cesspool of shoe sharks and companies who don’t have the moral compasses to realize that 10-year-olds don’t have the buying power to purchase $200 sneakers. In a sense I really can’t blame Bowden for much of Jenifer’s ‘problem’ but Bowden’s boss, Darren Kalish, can definitely be held accountable for reaching this low on the basketball talent plane. Kalish’s assertions that you have to get them early in brand loyalty is nothing more the usual excuses a drug dealer or pimp may tell someone who is trying to understand why they sell poison to a 14-year-old boy or why they have hooked a 16-year-old runaway into a life of impoverished despair. I think that if Kalish and Adidas was serious about honing brand loyalty, they could go up to the high school level and get the same results.

Accountability ability also has to come from some outside forces that have a little more pull on AAU than the parents. I’m talking about school districts, the NCAA and the NBA. It’s ironic that the words of David Stern’s state of the league address seem to reverberate in my writings right now but this story about Justin and his dad are the very reason why Stern is saying what he saying. The very fact that Carmelo Anthony is funding an AAU team in his home town and they have this crazy budget of five figures to recruit and travel is reason enough to start implementing some rules on what is acceptable practices of ‘giving back’ to the community. When Sam Cassell gives young Justin $100 for making jump shots, then it is time for the NBA to have some heart to heart meetings with the players about tampering and giving off the wrong impression. Cassell didn’t help Justin’s mom or dad in raising that child at that time; he literally crippled them.

The NCAA also needs to start cracking down on these early recruiting letters. ESPN’s Outside the Lines had an episode on this very topic of tracking kids early and it was down right eerie. To have college head coaches send out letters to kids who are barely out of middle school or early high school years and yet they are getting letters of interest from these coaches. The NCAA says that it wants to crack down on such communications but yet they are not doing anything about this because even they know that there is big money in this process.

Ironically that’s the bottom line here; money. If it wasn’t little Justin being in the spotlight, it would have been little Johnny or Kaseem or Ivan. The shoe companies don’t give a damn about these kids and parents need to wise up and realize that. For the shoe companies it is all about making a sale. If Jenings decided that his son wasn’t going to become a ‘shoe slave’ to Adidas and not play for an Adidas sponsored team, do you think that would stop the other two from trying to woo them over? Of course not. To these big companies it is about brand loyalty but being loyal to the person you are wooing is only as good as long as they are either in your back pocket or they are extolling the type of skills you are willing to sink money into. Justin’s mom, Kisha Hull, said in the piece that she didn’t want her son to be bought and sold but guess what? He’s already well on his way down that path. He won’t be the first kid and he definitely isn’t going to be the last.

If Jenings thinks that all of this attention is going to stop overnight he’s mistaken. This is the very thing that I have railed against for years since writing on this site and on being on the radio airwaves. The education of parents as to the inner workings of competitive sports is something that still overcomes a lot of them. What would be nice is to have some sort of governing body to protect the parents who are truly wanting their kids to have fun playing amateur sports from the business side that has become the shoe wars. I wish the Jenings family all the luck in the world of finding that normalcy. It would be nice to write about Justin’s exploits when he is, let’s say, seven to eight years older than what he is now.