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I'm Tryin' to Get Money Like Felipe Lopez

So rapped the Beatnuts back in 1994. That's when Lopez was a big deal in New York. And that's around the time Susan Orlean wrote about Lopez for the New Yorker (actually, her profile appeared in the spring of '93):

White men in suits follow Felipe Lopez everywhere he goes. Felipe lives in Mott Haven, in the South Bronx. He is a junior at Rice High School, which is on the corner of 124th Street and Lenox Avenue, in Harlem, and he plays guard for the school basketball team, the Rice Raiders. The white men are ubiquitous. They rarely miss one of Felipe's games or tournaments. They have absolute recall of his best minutes of play. They are authorities on his physical condition. They admire his feet, which are big and pontoon-shaped, and his wrists, which have a loose, silky motion. Not long ago, I sat with the white men at a game between Rice and All Hallows High School. My halftime entertainment was listening to a debate between two of them — a college scout and a Westchester contractor who is a high-school basketball fan — about whether Felipe had grown a half inch over Christmas break. "I know this kid," the scout said as the second half started. "A half inch is not something I would miss." The white men believe that Felipe is the best high-school basketball player in the country. They often compare him to Michael Jordan, and are betting he will become one of the greatest basketball players to emerge from New York City since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This conjecture provides them with suspended, savory excitement and a happy premonition. Following Felipe is like hanging around with someone you think is going to win the lottery someday.

At the moment, Felipe is six feet five. He would like to be six feet seven. His shoes are size 12. He buys his pants at big-and-tall-men stores. His ears, which are small and high-set, look exaggeratedly tiny, because he keeps his hair shaved close to his skull. He has blackish-brown eyes and a big, vivid tongue — I know this only because his tongue sometimes sticks out when he is playing hard, and against his skin, which is very dark, it looks like a pink pennant. His voice is slurry; all his words have round edges. He is as skinny as a bean pole, and has long shins and thin forearms and sharp, chiselled knees. His hands are gigantic. Walking down the street, he gets a lot of looks because of his height, but he is certainly not a horse of a kid — not one of those man-size boys who fleshed out in fifth grade and whose adult forms are in place by the time they're thirteen. He is all outline: he doesn't look like a stretched-out average-size person — he looks like a sketch of a huge person which hasn't yet been colored in.

On the court, Felipe's body seems unusually well organized. His movements are quick and liquid. I have seen him sail horizontally through thin air. High-school players are often rough and lumbering, and they mostly shoot flat-footed, but Felipe has an elegant, buoyant game. He floats around the edge of the court and then springs on the ball and sprints away. When he moves toward the basket, it looks as if he were speed-skating, and then, suddenly, he rises in the air, lingers, and shoots. His shot is smooth and lovely, with a loopy arc. Currently, he averages twenty-six points and nine rebounds per game, and he is within striking distance of the all-time high-school scoring record for New York State. He has great court vision, soft hands, a brisk three-point shot, and the speed to take the ball inside and low. He is usually the fastest man in the fast break. He can handle the ball like a point guard, and he beats bigger players defensively, because of his swiftness and his body control. When he is not on a court, though, the way he walks is complicated and sloppy. He seems to walk this way on purpose, to make light of his size and disguise his grace.

Before I met Felipe, people told me I would find him cuddly. Everything I knew about him — that he is a boy, that he is a teenage boy, that he is a six-foot-five teenage-boy jock — made this pretty hard to believe, but it turns out to be true. He is actually the sweetest person I know. At some point during our time together, it occurred to me that he could be a great basketball hustler, because he seems naive and eager — the ideal personality for attracting competitive big shots on the basketball court. It happens that he is not the least bit of a hustler. But he is also not nearly as naive and eager as he appears. He once told me that he likes to make people think of him as a clown, because then they will never accuse him of being a snob. He also said that he likes to be friendly to everyone, so that no one will realize he's figuring out whom he can trust.

Great piece.

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