The Cautionary Tale of Ezekiel Cross

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Alright, I’m going to get this out of the way right now so that you can temper your expectations moving forward. Aside from the title, this piece has absolutely nothing to do with Power. That’s right, I shamelessly used the main character from one of the most popular shows on television to draw your attention and get you to read this article. GOTCHA BITCH!!!! (Dave Chapelle vc) In all seriousness, what Zeke is currently going through on the show is indicative of what so many young athletes are confronted with in these situations. Oftentimes, it is to the severe detriment of the athlete.

In case you don’t watch Power, first let me offer to buy you a TV and get you a STARZ subscription. But for clarity’s sake, I’ll explain the aforementioned’s predicament. Ezekiel Cross is a highly touted collegiate basketball prospect. His family is involved in “extracurricular activities” but the matriarch wants to pivot and Zeke’s NBA career is her insurance plan to ensure that change of direction. He’s now being pressured to go into the draft before he’s ready and before he wants to under the pretense of “The family needs you.” Now every situation like this isn’t due to a drug dealing family wishing to go legit but the results are just as damaging in many instances.

Throughout my time coaching AAU and high school basketball and just by spending the majority of my life around the game, I’ve seen this play out several times. I’ve seen parents plant the seeds of bearing the financial survival of the family on the shoulders of children. Many adults crumble under the pressure of providing for a family. Imagine what that feels like to a kid that has to prepare for a chemistry test in the morning. It’s one of the most selfish acts one can do. It’s a crime on several fronts. The first being that it robs a young athlete of the ability to simply enjoy the game they love. If your son (or daughter) is that good, then basketball will become more business than pleasure much sooner than they’d like regardless. Now with these greedy ass parents, the vultures circling disguised as AAU coaches, trainers and handlers and every blood-sucking leech in between, these kids are being told that they will one day save their relatives from monetary ruin when they’re still in elementary school. That’s why we have bozos putting out rankings for 3rd graders. It’s why kids who pretend to be Power Rangers at recess come home to their parents filling their heads with pipe dreams of playing for a top Division I program and in the NBA. Robbing these young people of their childhoods because you think they’re going to save you from a lifetime of bad decisions makes you scum. No way around it.

The stupidity behind it all is that the plan is more than likely not going to work. If you’re banking on your 7th grader earning millions in the league, then stop right now. Take every penny you planned on putting towards any training, travel, equipment, etc. for basketball and just start buying lottery tickets. Your chances of success will increase exponentially. There are 450 jobs in the NBA. I hate to be the one to break the news but your kid ain’t getting one of them. Actually, let me take that back. I’m delighted to be the one to break the news. Maybe it will sway you from this idiotic path before it’s too late to change course. There’s still time. Because all you’re going to do is sour your relationship with your child for absolutely nothing. And even if by some miracle they achieve the ultimate goal, the damage that will be done along the way isn’t worth it. They’re going to hate you and end up not giving you a dime anyway. So what are we even doing here?

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand there are some instances where families are in dire straits in regards to money. I know many people have been able to successfully change their families lives through basketball. But attaching their ascension in sports to financial liberation has unintended effects. It puts people in a constant mind frame of servitude. The “I have to take care of everyone” mentality takes over and that opens the door to users and people constantly running up with their hands out. And don’t bother being upset when they succumb to begging. It’s the way you trained them. Since you put the ball in their hands the message was clear. Achieve the highest level of success in basketball so you can monetarily provide for everyone close to you. So when they’re shelling out money for their friends wack mixtapes, funding designs for their lame t shirt ideas or even popping thousands of dollars worth of liquor bottles in the club, just remember it was you that set them on this path long ago. And I’m not against taking care of folks when it makes sense. If I had a never ending supply of money, no one in my family would want for anything. But alas I don’t. And neither do a lot of these guys who spend recklessly in the name of charity and goodwill. But it’s been ingrained in them since childhood. They’ve been groomed to be the bread winner, knowingly or otherwise, for everyone around them. It’s a mundane existence at best.

Another seldom told aspect of this type of situation is what happens when the kid doesn’t make it. When the kid is riding high, they’re everyone’s favorite. The social media posts are plentiful. Everyone that’s ever accidentally brushed up against them in a gym proclaims “That’s one of my kids.” But the second they don’t make it or even if there’s a momentary bump in the road, the kid is abandoned. It’s a cold world out here man. You have people giving free training sessions to the best 8th grade prospects because all they’re thinking about is the opportunity to sit at their table on draft night. Seriously bro, you don’t feel like a complete asshole doing things on a quid pro quo basis with a 13 year old? Selfish and unsavory people have turned youth basketball into a meat market. It’s shameful at best and vindictive, conniving and evil at worst. Unfortunately it won’t stop because people are always going to see bartering their child’s future as a reasonable exchange for potential fame and fortune in the pros. Then there’s the dudes who got cut from JV in the 12th grade living vicariously through their children or the children of others. These are the kind of people you serve your children up to when the value of their athletic journey in your eyes is purely transactional.

We have to do better man. We have to nurture these kids’ love for the game instead of trying to exploit it for personal gain. This attitude is extremely counterproductive anyway. It leads to burnout. When I see people bragging about waking their 9 year old kid up before the sun rises for a basketball workout, I just shake my head. That kid is going to be over it by the time they get to high school. Then what happens to your meal ticket? More importantly, what happens to the undeserved resentment you now have towards the child who never asked for any of this and just wanted to play basketball? My advice is to stay away from this line of thinking mainly because if you have this line of thinking then more than likely, you have no idea of how to navigate the process to begin with. So, you will end up entrusting your child’s advancement to another dummy that has no idea how to navigate the process. And in the end, you’ll be right back where you started.

All in all, we have to stop licking our chops at our young athletes. It’s a kid not an ATM.

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