Franklin’s Star

Maybe we never will…

Anthony Toulson was the best basketball player I had ever watched in person. We grew up together on Franklin Ave in the Bronx. At the age 12, he was already being picked to play with the older guys on their teams for basketball, while the rest of us, including myself, had to sit on the bleachers and watch. He was fast, smart on defense, super athletic. It was a sight to see this young kid playing point guard for all these adults. His talents in basketball made him known in neighborhoods outside of our own. Fulton, Washington, Webster, Crotona, Prospect, Co-op City… They all knew who Ant from Franklin was. When I got a little older, around fourteen or so, I started playing basketball a little more seriously. Ant recognized my game and took me to a lot of tryouts with him. We were on a lot of the same summer league teams, traveling together, practicing together. I studied him, watched his game, paid attention. But as good as I got, he was always that much better. I began to get noticed in the same neighborhoods as Ant, but his skills, his talent, it just allowed him to shine so bright. There was no doubt in my mind, Ant was a star. One day he dunked in a game on someone and I just stood there on the court in awe. Everyone around us was yelling and screaming, the courts were going crazy, and I just stood there quiet as a mouse. Ant ran past me on the court to get back on defense and just winks. No words, not overly emotional after the amazing play he just made, just a smile and a wink. 

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Over the next few years Ant and me were like Batman and Robin. I was fine playing second because second had perks. I shined because he shined. On the courts, if he was picked 1st, I knew I was going to be picked either 2nd because people didn’t want us together, or 3rd because Ant would say, to whomever picking, “Get Sheem”. His high flying and athleticism complemented my ball handle and shooting ability. All I really had to do was bring the ball up the court, get past my defender, and look for Ant. Most likely he was cutting to the basket or standing outside for jump shot. A game plan that was simple and effective gaining us win after win, trophy after trophy. Off the court the perks were great too. Ant didn’t travel to these courts on foot. At 15, he was already driving his moms jeep. And then later, his stepfathers Tahoe. I was always in the passenger seat, pulling up to games with the music blaring, eyes on us… it felt great, people knew we had arrived. Then when the games were over, there were the girls. So. Many. Girls.. Everyone loves a winner, especially females. Ant is practically married now and a father, so I’m gonna leave out a lot of what it was like to be 16/17 with a damn Tahoe. But the trips to Virginia, Connecticut, Jersey, Upstate… Life was good for a couple of teenagers. 

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I was certain Ant was going to the NBA. It seemed his path was destined for it. He had the skill, he was known throughout, and like I said, he was already a star. But the NBA proved to be just a dream. I don’t know if it was a dream of my own and the people around him for Ant, but Ant with all his talent and skill didn’t make it to the NBA. His highest level was college. And after the passing of his mother, who treated me like family,  Ants love for the game seemed to diminish. Like a chef with all these great recipes in his mind, but no longer the desire to cook. The greatest basketball player I had ever seen in person is now a family man. He has a steady job and plays pickup basketball games every now and then. His legend behind him but remains intact by the memories of those who got to watch him play, watch him fly, watch him win. I watch the game on TV and always compare players to Ant, always wondering what could’ve been. I go to the courts as the adult now often always looking for the next Ant, but his skill was different and he was special, hard to replicate his style of play. Every now and then I’ll see a pair of kids working together and it’ll remind me of us. And then I start to think how we would’ve killed them on the court, then and probably now.  Ant is happy. His life is how he pictured it and not how we all did, and that’s good enough for me. But every now and then I get that itch and I wonder if he does too? I wonder if I learned and studied enough to finally beat him one on one lol. Maybe one day, we’ll get to play each other again. Maybe we never will. Doesn’t matter. Cause in the words of the character Flip from the movie “Above the Rim”, They can’t erase what we was…

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