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I have always had a passion for basketball. As a youngster I spent most of my days hanging around the run-down basketball courts of Perth Amboy; it was there that I first laid eyes on the boy who, in my opinion, was the best ballplayer to emerge from that area. Joe was only a sophomore in high school; but not only was he playing in a men's summer league game; he was dominating the game. His hands were lightning fast; his long-range jumpers and dazzling dunks always whipped the crowd into a frenzy. He was as strong as a bull yet as graceful as a butterfly, floating through the air on the first day of spring. Watching him play was like watching a human highlight film.
I remember the crowds flocking to the hot courts to get a look at the phenomenon. Coaches from every Division One school in the country came with scholarship offers for the six-foot, six-inch man-child. It's hard to believe that, though the future seemed so bright for Joe, it was truly dark and empty. This sixteen-year old boy seemed to be carrying the world on his shoulders. That summer Joe accepted a full scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. After an outstanding freshman season, the pressure grew; everyone expected the freshman sensation to carry the team into the playoffs. The pressure was not the only thing growing for Joe; so was his drug habit. The addiction that he had been able to hide was now slowly taking over his life.
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After a stellar four years at UNCC and a short pro-career, Joe came home. Forced to deal with the realities of life, his addiction grew out of control. It seemed the cross Joe carried was too heavy for any mortal man to bear. The one-time hero of the community was now an enemy of society who resorted to purse- snatching and shoplifting to get his next fix. The same police officers who had escorted him through the mobs of fans at the state championship game were now fingerprinting him after break-ins and armed robberies. The autograph seekers who had flocked to the courts after every game now clutched their purses and ran the other way. The kids who had ridden on Joe's shoulders, as if he were a circus pony, were now told to stay away, for fear that they might catch his deadly disease.
Today I still frequent those same run-down courts. I'm not sure if it's for the love of the game, or maybe I'm just hoping to catch a glimpse of the next Joe. At times I can close my eyes and see him leading the fast break, draining the long-range jumper, or tearing the rim down with one of his thunderous dunks. The faces on the court change, but the story remains the same. The war on drugs is no different than a war between the superpowers: both leave behind casualties. Today, Joe's final resting-place is the meadow of Alpine Cemetery; the stone on his grave reads: "To my friends and family, please forgive me." It's ironic that even in death, Joe is still trying to please someone.