I have a pair of old, white Reebok high-tops continuing to gather layers of dust. For years, they got plenty of use, back when I was playing basketball two, maybe three times a week. How I got them and what I think about when I see them now border on tragic.
I had a friend who was a basketball coach at the time. He knew I played hoops and asked if I had a good pair basketball shoes. I really didn’t and he said he had a pair. There were girls shoes, size 14, but they would fit a size 10 1/2 guy.
So for 20 bucks, I had a pair of girls size 14 white high-top Reeboks in which to play hoops. The friend who sold me the shoes had been quite a story in himself — the first black student council president at Bradwell Institute, a star on the basketball team, a college graduate, and then someone who fell into a bad cycle, living on the street and caught up in substance abuse.
But he got himself straightened out, went back to teaching and coaching and even worked with at-risk kids to see they didn’t follow the path he once did. No other coach I’ve known has been as prone as he was to quote Shakespeare after a game.
And then he fell off the wagon again. Hard. He really never got back on it. I would see him from time to time, mostly when he came by the office to bum my pocket change off me.
Earlier this month, he was trying to cross a road on foot. He was caught between two cars. He didn’t make it. He died right there on the road, a tragic ending to a tragic tale.
I look at those shoes and think of what he was, what he could have been and of a friend I’ll never get to see again.