The little chocolate doughnuts were in a box, next to the coffee urn. Normally, high schools don’t provide food for their assemblies, but today was special, all these TV crews, radio people, sports writers. A table was arranged near the front of the room, and a reporter set down a microphone, alongside a dozen others. “Testing 1-2 . . . . . . testing 1-2,” he said.
Suddenly, the whole room seemed to shift. The guest of honor had arrived. He didn’t enter first. He was preceded by an entourage of friends, coaches, his grandmother, his aunt, his baby brother, more friends, more coaches and his girlfriend, whom he identified later as “my girlfriend.” She wore a black dress and jewelry and had her hair pinned up, as if going to the prom, even though it was mid-afternoon and math classes were in progress upstairs.
Her boyfriend took his seat. He wore a stud earring and a colorful jacket. Only 18 years old, he was the largest person in the room, 6-feet-9, 300 pounds. It was for his body — and what he could do with it — that these people had come.
“Good afternoon,” Robert Traylor began, reading from a sheet of paper. His voice was deep as a businessman’s, but his words were those of a nervous teen. “I’d like to welcome everyone. . . . My dream is to play in the NBA one day. . . .
“I’ve chosen the college that can best help me achieve my dream. . . . “
The crowd held its breath. For three years, a parade of grown men, employed by major universities, had been coming to Detroit to watch Robert Traylor play. They called him at home, they called his friends, they called his relatives. They showed him videos, promised him stardom. They wooed him like a golden child.
Now, the payoff.
“The school I will be attending,” Traylor said, “will be the University of Michigan. . . . “
The room erupted in applause. U-M got 2 blue-chippers
Down the hall, sitting alone by a computer, was another high school senior named Kevin Jones. Like Traylor, Jones is black, lives in Detroit, and is being raised with no father in the house. His mother supports the family by working as a janitor.
Like Traylor, Jones will also be attending Michigan next fall — on a full scholarship.
But unlike Traylor, Jones, a thin kid with a disarming smile, got his scholarship for studying three hours a day, getting the highest grades, keeping his attendance over 95 percent, and never violating school conduct rules.
Kevin Jones is the most important currency in the city of Detroit, a kid with a brain. He did not announce his college decision at a press conference; he had to wait for Michigan to accept him. A letter finally arrived at the house his family shares with another family in northwest Detroit. He peeked through the envelope and saw the word “Congratulations.” He smiled. His grandmother hugged him and said, “I’m so proud of you! I’m so proud of you. .
. . “
Back at the press conference, reporters were yelling questions:
“Robert, when did you decide on Michigan?”
“Robert, do you think you’ll start?”
“Robert, what did the Michigan coaches say?”
Traylor smiled at the last one. “I don’t know. I haven’t told them yet.”
Not that it mattered. At that moment, it was being announced all over the radio. He’ll stay the course
This is crazy. A press conference for a high school ballplayer? What message are we sending the other students at Murray-Wright High School, who were peeking through the doors, wondering what the fuss was about?
Don’t misunderstand. Robert Traylor is a bright young man with a special talent. But a press conference about where he will dribble and shoot? Isn’t there enough spotlight on these kids already? Besides, encouraging inner-city teams to shoot for the NBA is like encouraging them to win the lottery. Most will be disappointed.
Several years ago, a high school star named Chris Webber had one of these press conferences — and two years later, he held another to say he was leaving school for the pros. Someone asked Traylor about that Monday.
“I hope (I can) leave college in two years,” he said excitedly.
Later he tried to correct this, but everyone knew what he meant. In his dreams of swimming in NBA waters, college is the diving board.
It is more than a diving board to Kevin Jones. He has no plans of leaving early. “I want to study business and open my own one day,” he said. He showed a resume he had done himself. It noted his awards in the Navy ROTC, and his computer literacy in IBM and Macintosh systems.
This is no nerd. This is a good-looking kid who hears bullets in his neighborhood and remembers what his grandmother said, “When there’s trouble, just keep walking.” He works hard, because he was taught to work hard, and he doesn’t read off a sheet when he says, “One day, after I get my business going, I’m gonna come back to this school and teach math.”
Which is more important than coming back to sign autographs.
The doughnuts were mostly gone now. Traylor’s aunt was being interviewed, so were his friends, who mugged for the cameras. Traylor himself posed, wearing a maize and blue Michigan cap.
Down the hall, the computer flipped on, and a young man began a new application for room and board money. He started with his name, “Kevin Jones.”
No offense, but if there had to be a press conference Monday, it should have been his.