Memphis: Birthplace of dreams for Trail Blazers
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- This afternoon, two young Trail Blazers are taking a trip back in time. LaMarcus Aldridge stands in the lobby of their Memphis hotel, waiting on teammate Ime Udoka to come downstairs.
Black History Month has arrived, and with it, another opportunity for Bowles to teach. He's in charge of the Portland Trail Blazers off the court, which, given their recent history, is a difficult but vital job. He's new to this position, and he wants his guys to understand where they fit in a daisy chain of great men and women who sacrificed everything to give them a chance to chase dreams. He wants the NBA players to understand what they are. "They are the fulfillment and the promise of praying grandmothers and grandfathers who swept floors," he says. "And with that comes a sense of responsibility. You should carry yourself with a sense of dignity and nobility." At Fisk University, Bowles studied his history. When he lived in Atlanta, early some mornings he'd walk down from his loft, taking his own trip back in time to the Ebenezer Baptist Church. It's where Dr. King preached. "There's junkies on the street, broken glass and it reeks like urine up and down Auburn Avenue," he says. "You can smell the Church's Chicken, but when you go in the old Ebenezer and you sit there, you feel it. You feel the essence." That's a feeling he will never forget. It was a feeling of togetherness, a connection between himself and the fathers of the civil rights movement. In that room, the man who made millions rise with his words still floats above the pews, his spirit asking the question: What are you doing to carry on my legacy? It made Bowles appreciate what so many others had sacrificed. As part of his new job, he's trying to make the players feel what he felt in Ebenezer. Just a week or so ago, he had some of them, including Darius Miles and Travis Outlaw, make family trees. They traced their roots all the way back to pre-Civil War. He made them look on paper and see a relative who'd been a slave. "For all of us," Bowles says, "our great-great-grandparents were born in bondage. It was thoughtful and it was reverent and it was shocking to some of them. Some of them even had an issue articulating that or getting that out."
They learn about Nat Turner, the Virginia slave whose visions led him to kill white owners. When Turner and his gang were caught, they were hanged, and then -- as the tour guide, Adrian Maclin, puts it -- brutalized. Bowles breaks in, turning to the players. "They boiled them and made them into wallets," Bowles says. "Skinned them and turned them into wallets." That gets everyone's attention. "Is that true?" Bowles asks the guide. The guide laughs. "There are certain parts of the tour I'm not allowed to speak about," he says, nodding. "Feel free to interject."
Aldridge looks at the statue of Parks. She could be his grandmother. He appreciates her more than he did a few minutes ago. There is admiration in his voice when he speaks."It takes somebody who's tough to do it," he says. "Exactly," Harvey says. They walk past the bombed-out wreck of another bus, past photos of angry white faces at lunch counters, past metalwork from the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They listen to gospel singers belt out freedom songs. "Hip-hop was freedom songs when it first came out," Bowles tells the group. "Now it's about how many cars you got," Aldridge says. Finally, the tour nears its crescendo. The group winds its way up. They arrive at room 306. Everyone is quiet. This is holy ground indeed.
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