By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
You could see the frustration one night when the Flights took the court against a team that included Kevin Brooks, recently of the Denver Nuggets; Rodney McCray, the former Rocket who led the University of Louisville to three final fours and a national championship; and Chris Morris, the Utah Jazz player who, during the NBA finals this year, did a better job than anyone in covering Michael Jordan.
The Flights were far less celebrated -- a squad comprising mostly college and overseas players. Dwayne, the most obscure of all, posed the toughest matchup problem.
He worked a few of his "patented" moves on Brooks -- the shuffle-and-shoot, the herk-and-jerk. When he shot, his hand hung in the air like the head of a swan; an instant later, the net hissed like a snake. Brooks soon gave up the job to a shorter, quicker West Texas State alum named Jerry Singletary. Dwayne began calling, "Clear the door!" then, and his teammates backed away with their defenders. Singletary endured some humbling lessons in one-on-one.
In years past, Dwayne would score his usual 30-odd points, yet his team would often lose. The difference now is in the passing, the way he uses his teammates like tools to take apart the foe. The Flights play as a team, Dwayne explains, which is how they are able to beat such odd assortments of talent as this.
In losing to the Flights again, Kevin Brooks kicked the ball in anger and received a technical foul; Chris Morris at the free-throw line listened to Dwayne calling him a "scrub"; and Jerry Singletary erupted in a fit of profanity that forced him from the game. Standing on the sidelines, Singletary cussed Dwayne, as Dwayne sank the free throws, laughing.
Afterward, Rodney McCray sat scowling at the floor. Chris Morris spat his professional opinion of Dwayne Rogers:
Another agent came courting. He spoke to Dwayne a dozen times, but Dwayne still couldn't remember his last name and had lost his phone number.
Mike Springer encountered other problems selling Dwayne. The player was nearing the end of his career, and there was no way to document what that career had been. The Pro/Am glory was officially meaningless. The statistics were not comprehensive enough, and the team had never held practices or run plays. As smooth as it was, it wasn't technically organized basketball. Dwayne after all these years was still just a playground legend, and how do you sell a legend to people thousands of miles away? How do you know the Legend will travel that far?
There was a way around it, and it was Springer who told Dwayne of one more chance. A group of dreamers had announced something called the Southwestern Basketball League. They hoped it would one day rival the NBA, but in its first season, the players would earn about $1,000 a week to work on any of six teams. One of those teams would be the Galveston Storm. Tryouts would be that Saturday....
It seemed the dream to answer a dream -- a chance to show what he could do, to play and make money and eat his mama's cooking. But Dwayne was unsure. They probably already have their team, he said. And what about his work? At the box factory, he had become head man on the machine that cuts across the width of the cardboard. If he had to work, he had to work, said Dwayne. "A bird in hand is better than two in the bush."
The week before the tryout, he went off to another tournament and came home with another MVP trophy. Andrea wasn't happy, but this trophy came with $150, so she let him keep it.
That Saturday, after all, was not a day for empty boxes. The Legend did indeed show up and endure the second tryout of his life. About 70 others were competing against him, and was he nervous?
"Naw, man," he said. "I was playing ball. I don't do no panicking."
In the scrimmage, his team got behind, and Dwayne took them over and onward to victory. The week that the Flights finished as champions again, with Dwayne the league's leading scorer, the news came that he made the Storm's first cut. There would be many cuts to go before the season began in November, but Dwayne is "an outstanding athlete," pronounced Coach Alonzo Bradley, and who knows?
If Dwayne makes the team, he thinks the coach will like him, because "I got offensive skills." If he doesn't, and he never makes a living at basketball, what then?
"Do you think I'm going to be moping around? Naw," the Legend said. "I'm going to go on living like I always been living -- satisfied.