April 14th, 2012

As Close As I'll Ever Get

I was reading Sports Illustrated just now before bed, the Hunger Games soundtrack blasting in the background, when I came across this passage about former Arizona Wildcat Andre Iguodala in a story on this year's Philadelphia 76ers:
Iguodala grew up in Springfield, Ill., at the height of the Bulls dynasty, and patterned himself after Scottie Pippen. He was not the leading scorer at Lanphier High, where he deferred to a gunner named Richard McBride, or at Arizona, where he averaged 12.9 points and set up sniper Salim Stoudamire. "He likes being the guy who does everything else," says Lawrence Thomas, a coach in Springfield who has worked with Iguodala since ninth grade. His road roommate at Arizona was team manager Jack Murphy, and before Iguodala left after his sophomore year, Murphy gave him a copy of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. "I didn't want him to ever think he went unrecognized," says Murphy, now an assistant at Memphis. Iguodala, who churns through three books at a time, had already read it.
Jack was my student in the fall of 2000, but stayed in touch afterwards, stopping by to talk basketball on a regular basis. I treasured those conversations, which taught me a great deal about the game -- not to mention Jack, who was doing a remarkable job of turning personal adversity into the life he had long desired -- and also helped me feel more rooted in a community I was still reluctant to claim membership in.

Years later, after he had finished his undergraduate degree, Jack returned to me while enrolled in a graduate program to ask if I'd be willing to direct him in an independent study on African-American literature. I don't know that he needed much help from me -- Jack was always very inner-directed -- but I do remember talking to him at length about my love for Invisible Man and the excessive length of the chapter I devoted to the novel in my doctoral dissertation. It's a real treat, well over half a decade later, to see evidence of my legacy as a teacher in such an unlikely place.