Above the Crowd

It had to be difficult growing up.

It’s hard enough to blend in with the rest of the kids. When you tower over them, a whole new level of angst and anxiety enters.

Since I wasn’t in Harlem in the early ‘90s, I’ve no way of knowing when the basketball desire surfaced in young Anthony Jordan Luis Henriquez Roberts. All I can do is peruse the public record and make some educated assumptions.

In the 21st century, there are multiple tracks for young ballers. The Clent Stewart/Will Spradling track: Public high school star, college ball, real world.

The other end of that spectrum is the Michael Beasley/Ben McLemore track: Guys who are so good, AAU and the perfunctory year in college are mere stepping-stones to the Inevitable Mountain of Cash and Adoration (the NBA’s caps).

Hundreds of others land somewhere in a vast netherland between. Where the end game is not inevitable, but OMG is it hopeful.

Good enough that as youngsters they take their talents to the high school equivalent of South Beach. In J.O.’s case, to the tony suburbs of Port Chester and then an ivy-covered prep school in Winchendon Freaking Massachusetts, with AAU ball thrown in to attract the college recruiters.

Port Chester lies equidistant between Rye, New York (birthplace of Barbara Pierce Bush) and Greenwich, Connecticut, which claims Truman Capote. It’s only 25 miles between Harlem and Port Chester, but physical distance is a poor measurement of societal culture distinctions.

One of these things is not like the other:

Barbara Bush, Truman Capote, Jordan Henriquez.

Life in high school tends to be dominated by a universal struggle for admiration. The primary concern is to fit in. But what if you’re 7 feet tall and surrounded by educated-class kids raised in privilege? One can assume J.O.’s culture featured a bright line between the adult world and the kids’ world. Here, parents tend to think the cares of adulthood will come soon enough so let ‘em play.

Then he gets to Manhattan, Kansas and encounters yet a third culture when he begins to rub shoulders (or in J.O’s case, elbows) with the self-effacing, others-driven, sons and daughters of toil. 

Here’s where I’m going: Like all 23-year olds, J.O. can take the best parts of all these experiences and mold a life’s direction.

Somewhere along the path to the precipice, I’ve transformed from a mere sports fan into a human being with emotional attachment to these young athletes. Their sliver of time in the spotlight is so finite.

J.O. has two more games remaining in the regular season, then however far we go in the tournaments. Senior Night tonight and his Wildcat career record shot-blocking days at Bramlage Coliseum will be history.

When he’s on, J.O. is an artist. When he misses the pass or clanks the dunk, the pre-precipice approaching fan(atic) in me will sometimes surface and because I have all the answers, I think he should be better. Then my wife reminds me he’s 23 years old and did I make any mistakes when I was 23?

Uh…  a couple.

The K-State media guide tells me J.O.’s majoring in social science with an emphasis in education. From that, I deduce that he is others-driven.   

Today, if you watch closely, you can see his angst and anxiety manifest itself. The guy wants nothing more than to contribute. He looks to his teammates for affirmation and support.  

We all suffer angst and anxiety. We all want to contribute and look to our teammates for affirmation and support. Few of us are athletes on display.

Rise above the crowd, my friend.