Posted on May 08 2019
High School athletes now routinely occupy corners of the internet. Zion had millions of followers on Instagram before he set foot on the Duke Campus. There was a time when like wrestling or other marginalized sports High School Basketball was regional. I knew everything about Northwest Indiana Basketball. I knew the stats of local stars, records of teams, and the best coaches in the area. There were a few areas of the country that could garner a wider audience but I don't remember a national story until reading about NYC High School Basketball in the 90s. In fact, it may have also been the first time I had ever heard of the Dominican Republic as a country as well.
The first name on that list was Felipe Lopez. From the New York Times, "TV stations are all lined, Channel 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, ESPN, CNN, you name it -- it's like he's got cameras down his throat. Everybody wants a piece of him. Even Bobby Knight came to see Felipe, and Bobby Knight is known to never come East to see a player." This was in 1991 when he was ranked ahead of Iverson as a high school sophomore. It is almost hard to comprehend but he was an enigma in the best way. I remember searching the page of SLAM for scraps of information. When he was on the cover of SI or there were stories written about him it was clear that he would be a star on some level. I think that fact remains today despite what you would have to consider and underwhelming pro-career.
Many will also remember his St. Johns time as a disappointment but I cannot understand that characterization. Not every athlete will meet and surpass expectations. Ask Bryce Harper about expectations right now. When he was on the court he was a player that kept me watching even if his performance never quite met conisided with what I expected. From my 2019 vantage point, he is Andrew Wiggins or rather Andrew Wiggins is the modern Felipe Lopez. Had he come up in the one and done era he would've likely had Wiggins career. There are simply intangibles that make NBA players fit the NBA game if a player doesn't that exact skill set they may never reach the potential their athletic prowess might suggest.
Rather than simply focus on what didn't meet expectations I need to sidebar to one thing about his time that did. The St. Johns uniforms were and are absolutely iconic. I'm not sure I can think of 10 uniforms in my head before getting to these. The color, the graphic, the logo, I love everything about these. While not everything is a branding exercise his arc certainly could provide a template for which companies work with these historic athletes to catapult themselves and their wider university into a national framework. I am looking forward to putting on a pair of these shorts this summer and hooping outside.
It is an absolute please to revisit stories that have taken on a bit of legend. If you haven't already you should watch the 30 for 30 - The Dominican Dream. The take away from the film is an important lesson as an adult. It isn't the most glamorous story and it certainly would've had a more flowery ending had he ended up an NBA Superstar. Even with that, his story of perseverance and life success are just as important. I tell students all the time that there have only been 3,000 or so players in the NBA in the last 50 years. To make it there means you are incredibly successful. He has used his time in basketball to carve out a successful life instead of letting other peoples expectations become the defining moments of his life he has set and met his own expectations after basketball.
Aaron Meyer aka "The Suit"
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