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2022.01.28 22:35 tomomalley222 BEFORE KOBE ... IT WAS SULTAN

Kobe was a freshman when I was a senior. Sul was a grade behind me. Both were incredible athletes and just all around good guys. Sul lost his path but then found it again.
"In the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center, a man wearing a black jacket and carrying a mysterious past cupped Kobe Bryant’s right hand in his, pulled him close, and hugged him warmly.
It was late on the night of Dec. 1, 2015, a couple of hours after the 76ers had beaten the Los Angeles Lakers in Bryant’s final basketball game in Philadelphia. He had announced that he was retiring at the end of that season, his 20th with the Lakers. The revelation had transformed the team’s schedule into a farewell tour for him, and he was feted in no other NBA city that season like he was that night: a latticework of soft pretzels awaiting him at his locker, courtesy of the Sixers’ training staff; a pregame ceremony and jersey presentation featuring Julius Erving and Bryant’s coach at Lower Merion High School, Gregg Downer; dozens of his Lower Merion teammates and classmates in attendance, several of them crowding close to Bryant now in the game’s aftermath, including the man in the black jacket.
Julius Erving (left) and Gregg Downer (third from left), Kobe Bryant's coach at Lower Merion High School, present Bryant with a framed Lower Merion jersey at his final game in his hometown in 2015. Bryant wore 33 while at Lower Merion.Read more
The mystery was not in the man’s identity. He was still as lean and lithe as he’d been in high school. A thin, fuzzy beard carpeted his face. Everyone there knew who he was. Everyone liked him. Some knew him well, or believed they did.
Sultan Shabazz had been two years ahead of Bryant at Lower Merion, popular in the hallways, a guard on the varsity basketball team — arguably the guard on the varsity basketball team, the Aces’ flashiest player, the one who should have been their star in the early 1990s, in the program’s last pre-Kobe era. Hell, he could have been, maybe should have been, Kobe before Kobe, before Bryant had expanded everyone’s notions of the quality of player who could come out of a suburban high school with a spotty basketball tradition.
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Shabazz, though, had not finished his career at Lower Merion, had not played much in 1993-94, his senior season. He suffered an ankle injury, but there was more to his absence than just his health. He would not show up to school for lengthy stretches. Had he even graduated? While most of his teammates had connected with him on social media in their adulthoods, learning through Facebook that he was an elementary school administrator now, what had happened to him in those intervening years, and what was he up to in high school? Most of them didn’t know for certain, and at Lower Merion, there had been these rumors …
“What’s going on, man?” said Bryant, clad in a gray hooded sweatshirt, as he returned Shabazz’s hug. “My man told me Suly was coming. How you doing, man?”
Shabazz dropped his head sheepishly, then raised it again.
“I’m all right, man,” he said. “Working hard, man.”
Six years have passed since that interaction, their last. Wednesday marks two years since Bryant’s death. Shabazz keeps a video of the encounter on his phone. The video can serve as an offer of proof to anyone who asks him or overhears him talking about his friendship with Bryant, anyone who hears him making the assertion that seems too wild to believe — the assertion he made in the late spring of 2020 while sitting at a lunch table in an Ardmore restaurant.
“I was better than him,” he said.
You need validation? Go talk to the people who knew them when. You need evidence? Here’s the video. You want to find out why Kobe Bryant ended up spending two decades in the NBA and becoming the best basketball player in the world and why Sultan Shabazz, at 46, has found peace and stability and his calling in life only in the last few years? Settle in for a story.
The price of bad habits
Shabazz was born into a world of people who lived dangerous lives. In 1961, his grandmother, upon learning that his grandfather had stopped paying the mortgage on their West Philadelphia house, fired six gunshots at him as he sat in his favorite living room chair. Was she trying to hit him? Was she trying just to scare him? Her intentions remain a family mystery, but she slipped the pistol into her purse, climbed into her Cadillac, and sped off.
On April 3, 1972, his mother, Aginah, was at Club Harlem in Atlantic City, among 500 spectators watching a performance by the soul singer Billy Paul, when 20 revolver reports crackled throughout the club. Her boyfriend at the time, regarded by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office as “one of [the] lieutenants” in a heroin ring, and four other people were killed in a shootout between rival drug gangs.
Three years later, just after she herself joined the Nation of Islam, Aginah married Sultan Shabazz, the imam of Mosque 12E at 52nd and Walnut. Their son, named after his father, was born in January 1976.
The younger Shabazz described his father as “a very known man throughout the city, looked out for a lot of people, gave them housing and clothing,” the kind of man who, by his mere presence and the respect he commanded, could quell a neighborhood dispute that threatened to turn violent. That was one side of him. This was the other: He was a cocaine addict.
» READ MORE: When Kobe was held scoreless for the summer and other things I learned from a new book | Mike Jensen
Aginah said that she would arrive at their home in Germantown to find him sitting at the kitchen table, freebasing. He would steal her grocery money, then disappear for a week or more. The couple soon separated; years later, Shabazz Sr. died of heart failure. Aginah moved herself, Sultan, and his sister, Yonzetta, into a seventh-floor apartment on the west side of City Avenue, in Wynnewood. Ten years older than Sultan, Yonzetta was later acquitted of murder in 1999, having spent 18 months in jail, in what police alleged was a drug-related contract killing.
After earning money for years by cutting and styling hair in her basement, Aginah opened a salon and sold her own homemade holistic hair-care products. The demands of her work, she acknowledges now, pulled her away from Sultan, limited her ability to mind and parent him. In Germantown, the culture and curriculum of his Muslim elementary school, she reasoned, had at least provided him some discipline, some academic and religious rigor. But neighbors still would tell her that Sultan, no more than 10 at the time, could be found pitching pennies and throwing dice with men and older kids, and she’d scurry out to Wayne Avenue and scoop him up. My God, she thought, I’m going to have a gambler for a son.
Interview with Aginah Shabazz, mother of at her home in Wynnewood, PA on Tuesday, September 21, 2021. She is the mother of Sultan Shabazz, former basketball standout at Lower Merion High School.ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
In Wynnewood, his habits were no better. He’d skip school, tote a pillow and blanket down to the apartment building’s bottom floor, curl up by the vending and laundry machines, and spend all day there sleeping. As he got older, he’d head to the playgrounds and basketball courts in his neighborhood or in Ardmore or around the city, especially in West Philly, to learn the sport and hone his skills. Aginah signed him up for the Penn Valley Junior Sports Association. Sports would keep him occupied, she figured, and he played as many as he could: basketball, football, baseball. All of them came easy to him, basketball easiest of all.
But at 11 and 12 years old, away from the courts and the playing fields, he began to gravitate to a certain kind of male figure, one who, in his mind, wielded significant amounts of power, prestige, and wealth. There was allure to him in that image.
“My mom would say, ‘If you’re leaving this house, take your brother. You’ve got to watch your brother’,” Shabazz said. “So I’m riding with my sister. I’m seeing the guys she likes. The girls in my family, they all get excited about these kinds of guys. In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to be one of them kind of guys.’ If the guy was standing next me, he had clothes. He had money. He had the girl. I wanted to be that.”
The God of Lower Merion
After Joe Bryant, Kobe’s father, retired from his professional basketball career in Europe, the Bryant family moved back to Wynnewood in the fall of 1991. Kobe enrolled as an eighth grader at Bala Cynwyd Middle School and immediately became the best player on its boys’ basketball team. At the time of Kobe’s arrival, though, someone else had already established himself, by consensus, as the school district’s rising hoops phenom. Someone else had already scored 60 points in a Penn Valley Junior game as a preteen, starting coaches and parents and peers whispering and wondering how good he might turn out to be. Someone else was already the god of basketball at Lower Merion High School.
» READ MORE: The sides of a teenage Kobe Bryant that few got to see | Mike Sielski
“Before Kobe, for my generation of guys, it was Sultan Shabazz,” said Doug Young, who had been a teammate and classmate of Shabazz’s. “He was the greatest player I ever played with. He was like the tough Black kid who could do all the crazy, amazing moves and had a great crossover and hung in the air with style. That was something that, for us suburban white kids, was a sight to behold. He was the first basketball deity in my life.”
Such athletes had been rare throughout Lower Merion’s basketball history. The program had last won a state championship in 1943 and a district championship in 1978, settling into a lengthy stretch of mediocrity that reaffirmed the stereotype of high school athletics on the tony Main Line: Soccer and lacrosse were the sports that counted, and Lower Merion was too rich, too comfortable, too soft to produce an elite basketball program.

Bryant’s tenure at the school, of course, changed that perception and that reality forever. During his four years, the Aces won two Central League titles, reached the district final in his junior season, and ended their district- and state-championship droughts in his senior season. A month after that state title, Bryant announced that he was entering the NBA, and from that moment on, Lower Merion has remained among the top boys’ basketball programs in Pennsylvania. “He taught us how to win,” Downer said after Bryant’s death.
They hadn’t learned yet when Downer was hired as head coach in 1990 — the same year Shabazz entered Lower Merion as a freshman, his dazzling reputation preceding him. When he was told that Shabazz had spoken about his career at Lower Merion and discussed who the school’s star had been back then, former Aces point guard Evan Monsky asked a question:
“Did he say himself, or did he say someone else?”
He said himself.
“He’s not lying,” Monsky said. “Sultan was awesome. Growing up in Lower Merion, if you’re a good player in second or third or fourth grade, there are no NBA aspirations because no one goes to the pros. It’s not like growing up in Coney Island and seeing Stephon Marbury and Lance Stephenson: ‘Ooh, that’s my ticket out.’ You’re going to become a doctor or lawyer or whatever. You don’t even think about going to the pros.”
With his showy, tenacious style of play, Sultan Shabazz (right) helped Lower Merion's boys basketball team qualify for the 1992 district playoffs.Read moreFile photograph
Shabazz did. One of his teammates, Matt Snider, would indeed go on to become a pro athlete, but not in basketball: Snider spent three years in the NFL. Shabazz was different. He put hoops first. “There was talent there,” Downer said, “unchanneled and raw.”
In the hallways, he was the cool, right dude, affable, popular, with an ego that made his friends chuckle. One year, Downer held a preseason meeting for the team after school — freshmen standing in the back of the room, cool upperclassmen sitting in the front. “And Sultan’s going on and on about how he’s going to get himself a scholarship to Syracuse,” Monsky said, “and this kid named Clarence Shippen, who was a very intellectual kid from Ardmore, kind of a funny, nerdy guy, says, ‘Sultan, you can’t even spell Syracuse.’ And Sultan goes, ‘I’ll spell it when I get there.’”
On the court, though, he played with an edginess, a street sensibility, that most of the other players lacked and that made up for his relative lack of height. He stood just 5-foot-11.
“I always wanted to play against the best,” Shabazz said. “If you had a name and your name was up there, I’m guarding you. Downer knew that. Anybody who had a name, he knew that was like fire for me. ‘Sudie, they’re talking about this guy such and such.’ He’d put his name on the board. I’d be like, ‘Him? I’m guarding him, right? That’s who I’m guarding.’ He’d be like, ‘No, no,’ but when the game started, off the tip, I’d go right to that person. He knew that, and I’d shut the guy down.”
In a January 1992 game at Ridley High School — Lower Merion’s primary rival in the Central League — the Aces trailed by 11 points with less than six minutes left in regulation. The team’s sixth man as a 10th grader, Shabazz scored 11 points over a four-minute stretch on an array of drives and midrange jumpers in rallying Lower Merion to a 67-57 victory. In one sequence, he stole the ball from a Ridley player and dropped in a layup as he was fouled, then flipped his middle finger to the seething crowd.

“That’s what made me love Sul so much,” said Guy Stewart, who played guard at Lower Merion and was a year behind Shabazz. “He was so into the moment. I’m more from the suburbs, so when you see a Philly guy playing ball, you’re like, ‘Oh, man, I want to see what he can do.’ And him doing that also meant that he didn’t really care about school and all that. If you care, you’re not going to put your middle finger up to parents of another school. But that was him. That’s what made Sultan, Sultan.”
Lower Merion went 20-5 in that 1991-92 season, and with both Bryants entering the program the following fall — Kobe as a freshman, Joe as the jayvee coach — expectations for the team were higher than they had been in years. Shabazz, a junior, and Kobe became fast friends, their personalities and perspectives on basketball at once complementing and contrasting each other. “I thought Kobe was mirroring Sultan,” said Corella Berry, one of Bryant’s friends at Lower Merion. “He would admire Sultan. He was interested in anyone who played basketball.”
In the school cafeteria, the two would sit with their teammates at lunch. While Shabazz snacked on chips, Bryant would ask everyone, You gonna drink your milk? then line up half a dozen of the little cartons on his tray so he could chug them down for the calcium and protein. Bryant would spend time in the weight room, trying to strengthen his pipe-cleaner arms and legs into cable wires. He would stay after practice to shoot hundreds of extra jump shots, then interrogate Shabazz about his refusal to do likewise: Sul, why don’t you work on your game?
Sul didn’t think he needed to. Sul hadn’t grown up as Kobe had: living in the Philadelphia suburbs and the Italian countryside within a stable, two-parent family. Sul didn’t have a father who had played eight seasons in the NBA, who could pass on that basketball experience and wisdom, who could teach his son that discipline and structure and work ethic were essential to any athlete’s development into greatness. Sul regarded that measure of preparation as something close to cheating — an Iversonian way of learning the sport and earning one’s bona fides in it. Sul had put in his work on the playgrounds, and he let his God-given gifts take care of the rest. Why do you need to lift weights? I don’t. Why do you need to practice your footwork? I don’t. Doesn’t your game come to you naturally? Mine does.
He brought Bryant with him to West Philly several times, to the outdoor courts, to a bare-bones gym at 57th and Haverford. “I would tell the guys, ‘Listen, this young guy right here, he next. He’s going to be good,’” he said. “But I didn’t know he was going to be one of the greatest players ever.”
Then he’d challenge Kobe himself. Come on. Let’s check it up, play one-on-one, and see what you’ve got. “He couldn’t beat me,” Shabazz said.
Kobe Bryant and a player who could match him … on the same team? No wonder expectations were high … and the 1992-93 Aces failed to meet any of them. Lower Merion went 4-20. Bryant was such a ball hog that some of his teammates began to resent him, and he missed the final few weeks of the season after fracturing his kneecap. Shabazz tore ligaments in his left ankle and missed the team’s first few games, then allowed his grades to slip so badly that he ended up on academic probation and couldn’t play.
“He could not practice for a week, be eligible on a Friday, come in a game, drop 25, and have all the charisma in doing that as well.”
Guy Stewart, former teammate of Shabazz and Bryant
His weekend games of one-on-one with Bryant happened less frequently over time, too, as Bryant began to figure out why Shabazz was spending so many afternoons and nights in West Philly and as Shabazz began to see that Bryant had a future in basketball — the kind of future that Bryant needed to protect, the kind that Shabazz was throwing away.
A life in ‘the game’
As it extends west, Master Street sweeps across the city, a thoroughfare of delis and Chinese restaurants, rowhouses that need reshingling, and crumpled cigarette packs that travel on a breeze like tumbleweeds. Shabazz will drive along Master now and again. He’ll cross 57th Street. He doesn’t linger. There are still shootings there, still drug-gang rivalries. His past creeps too close. None of the old neighborhood looks the same anyway. He’ll cross 58th Street. Where there used to be abandoned lots, houses now stand.
Flashbacks crackle in his memory. Damn, I used to sit right there. I used to do my thing right there. He’ll cross 59th Street, 60th, 63rd, the intersections and minor carrefours where he sold marijuana, cocaine, crack, heroin — heroin for just a short while, but heroin just the same. Heroin tripled your sales and your profits. Heroin was where the money was.
And God, the money came in a gush: $5,000 a day, $6,000, sometimes as much as $7,000, Shabazz just one of many tributaries and distributaries along a river of drug cash flowing throughout his crew and, in turn, throughout the city.
He first manned a corner when he was 12 years old. Enamored with those powerful men the women in his family favored, he would hang out with an older cousin and her boyfriend. “I wanted to do what he was doing,” Shabazz said. “He was like, ‘You sure?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’” So the boyfriend made it as safe for Shabazz as he could. He set him up in a house on Haverford Ave., surrounded by older guys. Protection. His cousin objected, but it was too late: The kid was in the game. He’d bounce from West Philly to North Philly to South Philly, with different guys every time.
“All about the money, man,” he said. “All about getting noticed, being known.”
Why didn’t Shabazz stay late after practice like Bryant did? Why didn’t he take his bound-for-greatness teammate up on his offers to work on his game more? Because at 5 o’clock Shabazz was usually showering, changing, and bolting to hop in a friend’s car or catch the SEPTA 105 bus to West Philadelphia. He’d be up all night, out all night, smoke weed to smooth out his itchy fatigue, and be back at school the following morning … on the days he showed up at school. “Was there one week, not there the next,” Monsky said.
He’d have a friend or cousin hold most of his money. He could bring only so much of it home. Where would he keep it? Where could he hide it? Aginah had hired a maid to keep the apartment tidy, and one day, cleaning up Shabazz’s room, the maid found a revolver under a pile of his clothes. He was 16. Aginah called a friend of hers, a state trooper, to lecture her son. “It was a scare tactic,” Shabazz said. “She was trying to teach me a lesson.” One he didn’t learn. He got himself another gun, a silver .45.
“In these streets,” he said, “you knew: You have to have it. You don’t want anybody to come take your stuff. It went from fighting one-on-one to carrying guns. We had to evolve.”
He has never been shot, he said. But shot at? Yes. “Might go somewhere for a concert or a carnival, something happens. Get into something with a group of guys, leads to ‘I’m gonna see you later.’ Who gets to the corner first? When we see each other, we pull out our guns.”
His teammates guessed that he was involved in something unsavory, but they generally left their suspicions unspoken. “I had heard rumors he was dealing,” Young said. “That’s not something you’re going to ask somebody.” They’d see him in the hallways at Lower Merion, dressed top to toe in Ralph Lauren Polo or Purple Label, none of them aware of his morning routine: Wake up. Shower. Put on the clothes he had worn the day before. Drive to the department stores on City Avenue, to Saks or Lord & Taylor. Buy a brand new outfit. Slip into a dressing room. Change. Drop the day-before clothes in a bag to take them to the cleaners or give them away.
Maybe he’d go to school or practice or that night’s game. Maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he didn’t have the time or freedom to cross the threshold back into the safety of his teammates’ world. David Simon could have written him into a screenplay.
“He always dressed the part, but nobody ever really knew,” Stewart said. “People had thoughts, but I don’t think the team as a whole had an idea of that. He could not practice for a week, be eligible on a Friday, come in a game, drop 25, and have all the charisma in doing that as well.”
His talent was still there, still obvious. Through July and August 1993, in the Ardmore Summer League, he could be a one-man fireworks display for his team, Showtime: 20 points one night, 29 the next. But he couldn’t stand the structure and discipline and responsibilities of being a high school basketball player. Downer would get on his case, bench him, suspend him, tell him that he wouldn’t play until he improved his grades and became more reliable. The admonishment did no good.
“Sultan was hard-nosed, passionate,” Downer said recently. “He liked to win. But I don’t know if [the drug dealing] surprises me.”
The coaches and players loved him, but they couldn’t depend on him, and by the time Lower Merion was ascending under Downer and with Bryant — the Aces went 16-6 in 1993-94 and qualified for the district playoffs — Shabazz had dropped out of school and dropped out of their lives. Perhaps a Division I scholarship, perhaps a professional career overseas, perhaps something more — all of it was gone. And so was he.
“You would see how really good he was, and then you would have a sense of ‘What if?’” Stewart said. “What if he was really into school? What if he would just lock in and put the work in? Because he never really worked hard. It was all natural to him. If he would have just put the same amount of work in that Kobe did, he would have definitely been somewhere.”
A decision to be better
Kobe went somewhere. In 1995, Kobe and Lower Merion went to the District 1 final, losing to Chester. In 1996, Kobe and Lower Merion went back to the district final — this time, beating Chester — and went to Hershey, winning the program’s first state championship in 53 years. Kobe went to the NBA, to the Lakers. Kobe went to seven NBA Finals, winning five of them. Kobe went to Beijing and London for the Olympics, winning two gold medals. Kobe went into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Shabazz went back to the corners and answered questions about Kobe.
“All of the talk was, ‘Sul, that’s your young boy. That’s your young boy. Lower Merion, Lower Merion,’” he said. “You ask anybody, I introduced Lower Merion to the city. The city never knew about Lower Merion. There was no reason to know. I would play ball and do what I do in the city, and they’d be like, ‘What school do you go to?’ I’m like, ‘Lower Merion.’ ‘Where the hell is Lower Merion?’ Once Kobe got Lower Merion there, it was like, ‘Yo, that’s the school Sultan went to.’”
“If he would have just put the same amount of work in that Kobe did, he would have definitely been somewhere.”
Guy Stewart, former LM teammate of Shabazz and Kobe
But he didn’t go there anymore, and with every passing day, he was another step removed from the normalcy of that life: from school, from basketball, from those friendships. On Valentine’s Day 1997, Shabazz’s cousin Lovell Smith, who was 18 years old, was shot and killed at a house on Roosevelt Boulevard. Shabazz didn’t go to the funeral for fear that police would be eyeballing the attendees, and he considered hunting down the shooters and avenging Smith’s murder himself. “I was in a rage,” he said.
Fourteen months later, Shabazz was arrested when police raided an apartment and seized more than $2,000 in cash and $4,000 worth of crack and marijuana. It was the first of Shabazz’s two arrests between April 1998 and October 2003. He declined to discuss them in detail — court records indicate he served probation — but the incidents belied the truth of that period for him: He had started to turn his life around.
He earned his high school diploma at Philadelphia Academy, a charter school, and it wasn’t long before his mother was lobbying a family friend who worked at Cheyney University in Delaware County to grant Shabazz admission — and lobbying her son to give college a try. He got in and enrolled in time for the 1999 spring semester. The emerald grass that stretched across the university’s 275 acres was unlike anything he’d seen before. This is a campus? he thought. It was far enough away that he could escape the corners and close enough to retreat home if he couldn’t cut it.
For the first year, he volleyed between the old and the new, between the familiar hazards and the unfamiliar hopes: majoring in physical education, still hustling at night as he always did, driving from campus to the city and back again, frequently skipping class. “I was fighting demons,” he said.
Then he received a letter from the school, a notice that he was failing his courses, and for once, he cared. For once, he didn’t want to flunk out. Was it the setting, the shot at a fresh, clean start? Maybe. Or maybe it was something else, something simpler. Sometimes a man just has to decide to be better than he has been.
“I’m like, ‘Yo, I’ve got to do something. It’s going to be that or this,’” he said. “I just had to make a choice.”
As a 23-year-old freshman, gray already flecking his hair, he tried out for and made the men’s basketball team. During the 2000-01 season, as Kobe Bryant was scoring more than 28 points a game for the Lakers — for a team that would win its second consecutive NBA championship, beating the 76ers in five games in the Finals — Sultan Shabazz led the Division II Cheyney Wolves in assists, with 99.
A long way from what might have been
All around Sultan Shabazz, children were running and jumping and screaming with joy. In the modest courtyard outside Kearny Elementary School in Poplar, the bell to start the day was just about to ring, and the students were wired, and Shabazz was taking care to keep his eye on them, to stop them one by one for a hug or a fist bump or a question about their home lives.
“Jay! Who loves you?” he said to one before turning toward another. “What’s up, Jojo? Gonna have a good day?”
Long gone were the Ralph Lauren shirts and the flash and the high-wire act from his nights in West Philadelphia. He wore a white golf shirt and khaki pants, the anodyne outfit of a school administrator. From his home in Lansdale, where he lives with his wife and daughter, he drives to work every day in a black Lexus that’s more than 10 years old. He has been the climate manager at Kearny for six years. Climate manager is a softer term for disciplinarian, but even that word is too hard and sharp to describe his role at the school. One morning, he might go from classroom to classroom to make sure every boy and girl is wearing a proper school uniform. Another, he might stop by the homes of several absent students to learn why they weren’t in school, to make sure Kearny’s dress code isn’t the least of their problems.
“This is where I’m supposed to be. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Sultan Shabazz, on his role as Kearny's disciplinarian
There are roughly 300 students at Kearny, from kindergarten through eighth grade. Does he know all their names?
“Almost,” he said. “Almost every kid. You have to know their names. Building relationships with them is going to go a long way.”
After Shabazz graduated from Cheyney, his mother suggested he find a job that allowed him to work with children. He did, as a phys-ed teacher at a charter school, and he ricocheted from one such place to the next — charter schools, youth facilities — before settling at Kearny.
He keeps a fountain in his office, water burbling and running down a slope of artificial rocks, and always has a steady stream of R&B or jazz music playing. “It’s for my students,” he said. “They come in, and they’re here.” He raised his right hand over his head. “They’re used to people addressing them to be there, too. I’m here” — he lowered his hand to his face’s level — “when I address them.”
He doesn’t make a point of preaching about his personal history, he said. The seventh and eighth graders at Kearny are the ones who deal with the same “stuff from the neighborhood” that he did. So he talks to them but goes only so deep. He tells them that he would hang on the corners, that he would get involved in things he shouldn’t have, that it wasn’t good, that he neither honors nor regrets it. “It got me to where I’m at right now,” he said. “There were only two options from that: You’re either going to go to jail, or you’re going to get killed. I was spared my life, and I have to do something.”
In the years after he left Lower Merion, Shabazz showed up from time to time for a big game and talked his way into the locker room. He even did it once in the spring of 2006, before the team’s district-semifinal victory over Plymouth Whitemarsh, as the Aces were making a run to a PIAA championship, their first since Bryant and the ‘96 team won theirs. Downer would let him address the team, and Shabazz would deliver a rousing speech, telling those kids about the days when he was playing for Downer, how different it had been before Bryant had helped establish a standard of excellence that the program had maintained ever since. “Here he comes, right in front of the chalkboard,” Downer said. “I’ve got a pep talk. The assistant coaches have a pep talk. Sultan’s got a pep talk.”
His connection to Lower Merion is stronger now through his presence on social media, which allows him to keep in touch with his friends and coaches and teammates. He is active on Facebook, each post an eraser stroke that makes the full picture of his life easier to discern, that wipes away the smudges of mystery that still stuck to him in 2015, when Bryant’s farewell to Philadelphia was cause for an unofficial Lower Merion reunion. Look at that video clip on his phone, he’ll say. Look at him and Kobe together. Their hug was genuine. Kobe’s smile was genuine. “He was happy to see me,” Shabazz said.
The clip captures a moment between two men who regarded themselves as friends and equals, a moment made forever bittersweet by Shabazz’s past and Bryant’s future. Whenever Shabazz and Monsky see each other, Monsky always chides him, Man, you know you’re supposed to be in the NBA, and he’s not the only one who remembers Shabazz as a teenager and wonders how differently things might have turned out for him.
Shabazz himself used to wonder, too. He used to watch Bryant, read about Bryant, celebrate Bryant’s triumphs, and the memories of his own basketball career were for a while small torture sessions — reminders of choices that he couldn’t change, choices that required time and distance before he understood that he wouldn’t want to change them. Bryant got the roar of the crowd and the spotlight of fame. Shabazz got the calming trickle of a fountain and the unseen satisfaction that only an educator who reaches a student in need can know.
“I looked at Kobe’s situation and always said, ‘Dang, I was on that path, but I chose another lifestyle,’” he said. “And I was better than him! I never got down on myself, but I always said, ‘Damn, what would my life be like?’ But now, nah. This is where I’m supposed to be. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
It is a long way from where he might have been. Once, that truth would have brought him shame. At last, Sultan Shabazz can be proud of it.
Editor’s note: Mike Sielski is the author of the book “The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality,” published this month by St. Martin’s Press.
Staff contributors
Reporting: Michael Sielski
Editing: John Roberts, DeAntae Prince
Digital: Kerith Gabriel
Photo: Rachel Molenda
Video: Monica Herndon, Astrid Rodrigues
Copy editing: Jim Swan
Audience: Caryn Shaffer
Jan. 26, 2022

Mike Sielski
I write columns and deeper stories here and books in my spare time. My latest, "The Rise," is about Kobe Bryant.
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2022.01.28 22:35 astralrocker2001 The things that matter: CREATIVITY and the Dynamic Human Spirit that REFUSES TO SUBMIT.

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2022.01.28 22:35 Jashuman19 Agent 181708 going sleeper. Thanks for a fantastic year, 504. I'll never forget you guys. (I don't have my badge yet, so I'm just using garlic powder.)

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2022.01.28 22:35 hailthenecrowizard Nick Gage is a good color commentator

I've become a big GCW fan since I watched Cardona beat Gage last summer. I decided to check out Cagematch and bought Tournament of Survival 666 cause I do love deathmatches and it was one of the highest on Cagematch.
Nick Gage's commentary is really good! Calling moves, talking psychology in the context of kayfabe, knows when to shut up or interject, etc.
I hope he can transition to that role when his body breaks. I'm sure he thinks he's invincible but christ, he's like Tanahashi's age and has to be in eorse shape. Different types of injuries and yeah he was in prison for years, but deathmatches will kill your body over time. Would love to see the dude be a Taz type role in 5 years or so. The charisma bleeds over to announcing 100% just like Taz.
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2022.01.28 22:35 FrigidDonut Tracksuit Hero AFK is out

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2022.01.28 22:35 MadVeggie My wife (soon to be ex wife) of a year and half cries every time I bring up an issue.

First of all, we are already going through divorce so this is all sort of irrelevant to an extent. But I need to know for future information. Anytime we get in the car (I’m a very chill person) she finds a way to get me so frustrated and upset. Whether it is something she said, did, or how she said it (usually all three) and when I tell her “It just really hurts me when you do X and it makes me really upset”. I usually say this with a tone that’s serious but I’m not yelling but I’, like I said, upset. She then proceeds to tell me to stop yelling at her, take a breath, she wants to hear me take a breath, then talk to her in a calm tone of voice. I then repeat what I said slower and softer, she then gets mad and says “I CANT HEAR YOU”, I then get frustrated but repeat what I said as calmly as I can. She then gets mad that I’m talking too slowly and to “get to the point”. At this point I tell her “Look you did X and it’s upsetting me.” Then she gets starts to yell and tell me I’m yelling and being mean and starts to cry. I have gotten to where I almost feel nothing when she cries because THIS is how we get to the crying. I’m just upset now and she proceeds to tell me what an asshole I am because I’m not coddling her. It feels manipulative and I feel like a dick for not responding in a positive soft way when she is crying… am I an asshole? Is she manipulative? What does this look like?
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Reddit is great
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2022.01.28 22:35 TerdDuckin Curaleaf Continues to Roll Up the Cannabis Industry

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2022.01.28 22:35 HelloHello6449 Honestly there’s nothing wrong about being annoyed by all the complaining about the writing

We’ve already read all the complaints. Everything posted is just the exact same complaints except reworded a little bit. No shit we’re tired of seeing it. At least come up with an original thought or present your complaint in an original way.
All the posts complaining about the exact same parts of the last chapter are just as annoying as the “You got Wakatsuki Takeshi’d” posts
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2022.01.28 22:35 Therapsid Mr. Chest Fluff

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2022.01.28 22:35 Vibranium2222 Bill Kristol blasts Trump's Supreme Court Criteria: "What about Trump limiting his picks to a list produced by the Federalist Society, a private group led by unaccountable individuals funded by dark money?"

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2022.01.28 22:35 cesga_0218 [Highlight] SGA gets a clear path to the basket and explodes to the rim!

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2022.01.28 22:35 FrostyTheBot Benchmade shipping time

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2022.01.28 22:35 ImpressEmotional7206 Any old school players here? Mw, mw2/3?

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2022.01.28 22:35 rs16 Whose comfort do we prioritize?

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2022.01.28 22:35 undertale_trash234 Do Not Stand At My Grave And Cry - by alexia-neo

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2022.01.28 22:35 Electronic-Link-4021 I got 7 kills

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