They played two-on-two for money in the Trinity Gardens Park. It began when they declined a game against two much taller strangers and were asked, why -- were they scared? Smooth and Ice began hanging from the rims after that, and three games later, one of the players was telling a bystander, "Man, these two little dudes just whipped us for $100."
"Man," said the spectator, laughing, "Dwayne's about the best around."
They never won that much again, because word traveled. When they heard about a park in the Fifth Ward where people were playing one-on-one for $500 a game, they went there, bluffing the money, sure that Dwayne could not be beaten. Everyone believed it; no one would try.
Anthony, meanwhile, had not left the organized game, and he went on to become a junior college all-American at Wharton. He tried to get Dwayne there, but Dwayne says, "I was working, and I wasn't going to quit working for no college."
He had found a job as an electrician's apprentice, making $9 an hour. "Well," he recalls saying to himself, "that's what I'll do," and Dwayne dropped out of high school midway through his senior year.
A couple of years later, after he was laid off, he took a job as a roofer, using none of his electrician's skills and making less money. After that, he loaded and unloaded trucks for five years, and then began digging holes, pounding stakes and laying foundations. When work was done, he always went to the place where everything was easy.
He has played in more leagues and won more championships than he can remember. Hearing of some small weekend tournament, he and his friends would pile into their cars, drive all night across Texas or into Louisiana and win it. Once, he came home with a stereo, but the usual prizes are trophies, which he has begun giving away in favor of keeping only the T-shirts. His son and his sisters sleep in these, and he wears them wherever he goes:
West Land YMCA League Championship
First Place, Rosewood Louie Nelson Aqua Festival
MVP, Wendel D. Ley Family YMCA 1986 Men's Halloween Basketball Tournament
MVP, First Annual Outlaw Tournament
MVP, Men's Major Division, Texas Amateur Athletic Federation State Tournament 1996
It seems that everyone wants Dwayne on their team, and on some nights, he might be playing in two leagues. Tony Hardy managed to corner him and get him on his side, and just to keep him there, the assistant purchasing manager at Action Box offered him a job.
"I had to, man, had to," Hardy explains. "I went from a team that lost every game to a team that won all but one. I'm telling you, this guy can flat-out play."
The pay was $1 an hour less than Dwayne was earning 13 years ago, but it was an inside job with benefits, and he was proud to find it.
"Whatever I'm doing," Dwayne says, "I'm always thinking about getting to the top."
After a day of making empty boxes, on those days he isn't playing basketball, Dwayne comes home to a one-bedroom apartment and takes his place on the couch. There, with his son, he watches cartoons and shoot-'em-ups, and sinks into a netherland of sleep, until his wife Andrea comes home to make dinner.
Then more sleep, and then another day begins.
The best that Andrea can say about working as a prison guard is, "it pay my bills." After seven years of marriage, she no longer swells with pride when people say her husband should be playing in the NBA. She no longer watches him play, and she is the reason he doesn't bring his trophies home. Dust collectors, she calls them.
"Ain't bringing no money," she says, "ain't doing no good."
If they had more money, she would buy a house, go to school, pay off her car and open a savings account. If they had more money, he would get a bigger place to live and a newer truck, "and that's all it'd be," says Dwayne. "I'd basically try to live the same, you know."
People began saying years ago that Dwayne was scared to leave home. He denied it -- said he'd go anywhere, as long as he could get back. But then he turned down the chance to play in South America ("They was having that war and all, and I wasn't going to put my life in jeopardy''), and then he turned down Indonesia. After that, everyone was pretty convinced Dwayne would always be a homeboy.