By Jack Mirkinson
The Brownsville Recreation Center takes basketball seriously. When you walk in, one of the first things you see, nestled in between the fish tank and the cage for Juliet the lizard, is a cluster of large trophies celebrating moments of glory.
The basketball court is right at the front of the building, too. At 1:05 this afternoon, about 10 people sat in the otherwise empty stands watching a man in a blue jersey talking to a woman and a cameraman who was filming him. The cameraman was decked out in full hipster regalia: plastic frames, plaid shirt, tight pants. The woman had long dark hair, a magenta scarf and a wide smile.
This was part of a promotional campaign by the department store Kmart. The store has its own line of shoes and apparel, called Protegé. Kmart is sponsoring a coming streetball tournament, in which the players will wear Protegé shoes and Protegé jerseys.
The player in front of the camera was Aaron Williams. He said his nickname was “The Problem.” The cameraman bantered with him, asking him questions, like what his favorite move on the court was, or what he liked most about streetball. The woman stood by, smiling and texting on her phone. At one point, she moved a table that was in front of Williams, explaining that she wanted to see “his full ensemble.” She pronounced it “on-som-blay.” In the stands, two other men waited to be filmed, a stash of orange shoeboxes strewn around them.
The gym walls are covered with murals. Paintings of civil rights heroes, like Rosa Parks, share space with images of two Dianas — Diana Ross and the Princess of Wales. There is a giant skull with basketballs tumbling out of the mouth. One of the paintings shows a smiling, middle-aged black man in a grey sweatshirt, holding a basketball. The director turned to one of the men sitting in the stands and asked, “Who’s in that picture?”
“Steve Harvey,” the man said, then added, not entirely keeping a straight face, “He used to play ball here.” (Steve Harvey, it should be noted, grew up in West Virginia and Ohio.)
The woman’s face lit up. “I knew it!” she said. “I knew it.” She turned to the cameraman and said, “Hey, it is Steve Harvey. I told you it looked like him. He used to play ball here!” By this time, the people in the stands were laughing. One pointed to another picture on the wall and said, “Yeah, and that’s Jay-Z.” The woman noticed none of this. One of the men waiting to be filmed got a basketball started shooting hoops with Williams. The woman kept her focus on them as they passed the ball back and forth in their Protégé clothes and shoes.