Longform

The Legend

Page 4 of 5

At first, Andrea agreed that Indonesia was just too far. Then she began considering the bills they could pay, and she decided he should go. It was like a trip to the moon, said Dwayne. The offer came in a phone call from a man he had never met, and for all Dwayne knew, "he might be sending me to Indonesia to get cremated." But he was going to go, until his mother began crying. "It really got to me, you know?"

He called the stranger up and said he just couldn't leave his family like that. "You've got to be kidding!" said the stranger, and he slammed the phone down in the Legend's ear. Andrea called the agent back, but he was rude to her, and the chance was gone.

"It was just too sudden," says Dwayne.
"I was highly upset," says Andrea.
"I ain't turning nothing else down," says Dwayne.

This July, Sam Cassell signed a six-year contract with the New Jersey Nets for $21 million. Last July, Dwayne's Pro/Am team beat Cassell's, 89-84, and Dwayne outscored him, 35-21.

Since being invited into the Pro/Am league nine years ago, Dwayne has guarded the likes of Kenny Smith, Avery Johnson and John Starks. Sam was the best, but "I go at all of them like they took something from me," Dwayne says. Herbert, who runs the league, says the pros, too, play especially hard against Dwayne. "They really try to shut him down."

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:

"He sucks!"

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."

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Randall Patterson