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  •   Draft Day Dreams Take Different Shapes

     Emanuel Pinkney never has been to a pro game and didn't know about the NBA draft, but he plays basketball whenever he can.
    (Craig Cola - washingtonpost.com)
    By John P. Martin
    Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
    Thursday, June 30, 1999; 6:30 p.m. EDT

    On NBA draft day, the distance between basketball dreams realized, dreams just planted and dreams long derailed stretched in a triangle across a half-dozen Washington blocks.

    At one corner was the MCI Arena, where a block party bounced, more than 10,000 fans gathered and 58 young men waited to be christened as the NBA's newest crop of millionaires.

    A quarter-mile up Seventh Street stood Darrell Lee, 4-feet-8-inches tall with a soft smile and some smooth moves. He got his first basketball at 3 – a purple rubber thing, small but weighty enough to stay on course on a windy afternoon.

    Now he's 10 and has five balls, including the red-and-black Michael Jordan orb he carted from his apartment across the street to the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center at 7th and P streets NW.

    Just after noon, Lee edged through the torn cyclone fence and past the beer bottles and other courtside garbage to one of the rims that still has a net. He and a friend were lofting shots when an older man with sunken eyes stumbled across the playground and, with slurred speech, invited himself into their game. Sensing few options, the boys let him play.

    The intruder wasn't much of an obstacle; time and again, Lee dribbled the ball around his back or through his legs, and easily dashed past the man.

    Lee said usually plays a few hours each day, or into the night, if his older cousin is around to keep an eye on him. He didn't know about the draft a few blocks away, but remembers going once to a Wizards game when he was much younger.

    These days, he sees most of his basketball on television, bouncing between two channels when there's more than one game to watch. He tries to steal moves from the pros, from old idols like Jordan and new ones like Kobe Bryant, but insists he's got a few of his own.

    Lee's career will begin this fall. He plans to play guard for Seaton Elementary School and confidently expects to go further, maybe even reach the draft day spotlight one day. Millions of others share the same dreams, he knows, but "I know if I really believe in myself I could beat them."

    Emanuel Pinkney's career ended after middle school. Now 18, he spent a few hours yesterday trying to pass some skills to his 7-year-old brother, Dimitri Jackson, and a friend, Deangelo Edwards, on an otherwise vacant court off New York Avenue NW.

    Pinkney said he used to be a stronger player. Only 5-foot-7-inches, he said had just learned to dunk when he was shot in the right knee after a game about three years ago. His description of the incident is brief: "Wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

    His father didn't want him to go to the hospital, Pinkney said, so his brother poured some liquor on the wound and wrapped it tight.

    Now he wears a black brace over the knee. The entry point is still scarred and Pinkney said he sometimes feels the bullet inside, especially when he comes down hard on the knee.

    He's never been to a pro game and didn't know about the draft downtown or the millionaires waiting to be crowned. Still, he plays when he can and yesterday still came preciously close to stuffing the ball. He was teaching the boys how to complete a layup.

    "They don't quite got the rules down pat," Pinkney said.

    Dimitri knows enough about the game to have a favorite player. His answer: "My brother."

    © Copyright 1999 washingtonpost.com

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