Greg, Kevin, or Michael?

By Walik Edwards
Updated: June 27, 2007

Basketball Hoop CALIFORNIA — I had some time on my hands and needed a quiet place to turn off my brain for a while a few weeks ago, and I stumbled upon intermittent applause. It happened often enough that I was intrigued enough to check it out.

I made my way through cobblestone walkways and trees, and there were several hundred people, predominately black, sitting on white chairs, while there were about 30-50 young black men and women on a stage all dressed alike — black robes and a kinte cloth sash draped across.

It was the graduation ceremony for black student graduates representing California State University at Northridge. There were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, friends, grandmothers and grandfathers, guardians, and all the nine decked out in their Sunday best.

Ironically enough, it was Sunday, and it looked like most of them came directly from church to the ceremonies. Those who didn’t were constantly reminded by the pastor leading the proceedings that next Sunday should be reserved for a little worship at the nearest house of prayer.

As a black man, it always takes me back to see our people gathered in a place for positive celebration — I’m not saying that it never happens, but I saw people who were dressed for the occasion and some who were dressed just to hang.

I saw people hanging on to every word the graduates had to say, and some who couldn’t show love because their cell phone needed it more — in other words, it brought different people of different attitudes together, and everyone was present because they all understood as a people this was an important event to be at.

I was tuned in to all of the stories. The majority of the graduates had overcome great strides to be able to slip on their caps and gowns that day. Whether it was surviving South Central or Hurricane Katrina, the journey to becoming a college graduate did not come easy for this group.

Then a young man named Michael stood up. I understood that he was the top student of the group, and he had a “story to tell.” He told the crowd that growing up in South Central, he heard the odds of becoming an academic success was slim — but he didn’t listen.

He moved like stealth away from the poisoning that is gangsta life in his “hood.” He worked to make money while pushing himself, not to just finish school, but to excel at it.

He had to take multiple buses to get from South Central to Northridge every school day (this was the equivalent of your grandparents telling you that they had to walk to school in the snow with no shoes on, losing a toe every 10 days, and having to replace the toes with marshmallows, and having to paint the marshmallows black so they matched the rest of the foot).

In other words, it’s not a fun trip, and the drive isn’t that great either. As a young child, his mother was killed by senseless violence, and in less than a year, his father was felled by the same nonsense — both weren’t targets, just collateral damage.

At this point, he had to gather himself to be able to go on. His aunt and uncle stepped up and raised him, giving him the encouragement to be the best he could be.

He was equally broken down momentarily thinking about all the friends he lost to violence, but he picked himself up to finish his speech, and make every person out in that field proud of him, proud of the people that raised him, proud of the person they came out to honor, and proud to be black.

Why the long story about graduates from a school that only gets props in the Los Angeles area?

The NBA Draft makes me think about this. You see, there are people who continue to praise kids who had the blessing to parlay height into developed basketball skills into a good slot in an NBA draft.

While I’ve stopped my crusade of education over NBA riches based on my growing up where the majority of kids did their “4″ before entering the draft, because there are too many hard luck cases that justify this jump, I won’t just surrender the thought that millions of dollars is better than education.

Can’t do it. But when I hear someone say, “Why should he stay in school?” My brain reels off about 15 reasons in about 3.7 seconds.

The answers range from, “It’s time for him to make money.” or “He’s done all he can do here,” and while I never read the literature where we came with a book of instructions telling us that we had a particular time to do things, and if he walked out of there without a degree, then NO, he didn’t do all he could do.

But you can’t fault Greg Oden and Kevin Durant because their promise makes for excitement in all of Association fans, and they are already millionaires without being drafted yet.

There’s no one to blame. Maybe society’s ambivalence to even out our class structure to bring society closer to one another, giving people who have thrown hope out of the window some hope, is a suspect, but no one’s to blame.

This is how the Association has their business set up now, and we have to deal with it. But ask me whose loved ones burn a little more intensely at the end of the day, and I would bet on the people who back the young men like the Michaels of the world who chose not to be victims and brought this improbable dream to all that love him.

The Odens will be happy as well, but they knew this was coming from a long ways away. They’re just happy he survived one year in Columbus to make it to this point.

To Oden’s credit, he’s acknowledged that he has been blessed to be a big person, and he likes to play basketball, not loves it, and he would have been in med school without the seven feet of height.

I’ll congratulate all of those underclassmen who will be NBA millionaires in a very short time, but I’ll spend most of my time running around like Jim Valvano in ’83 looking for someone to hug — looking for a Michael to hug.