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Championship dreams
by Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti / March 31, 2004

Seth M. Ferranti

GORILLACONVICT.COM
Soul Man is the world's leading prison basketball journalist. He also writes for Don Diva, Elemental, Vice and Slam.
If you want the 411 on convicts, street legends, prison gangs, the mafia and life in the belly of the beast, check out gorillaconvict.com/blog
Check out Soul Man's first book Prison Stories and watch out for Prison Basketball, out in March 2007.
You can e-mail him at info@gorillaconvict.com.

From the inner city ghettos to the NBA, when you're talking hoop dreams, it's all about the championships. You can have mad skill, killer hops and handle, or the monster slam dunk. But if you don't win, it doesn't matter. What happens when you juxtapose thuglife with hoop dreams? I'm talking about basketball gangstas in prison. They still hoop, still ball, even if they're prisoners of the War on Drugs. But is it still all about winning? Even on the inside? When you have a ten-year mandatory-minimum sentence are championship dreams still important?

FCI Fort Dix is a cluster-fuck of convicts, snitches, INS detainees, mobsters, studio gangstas, white collar criminals, punks, playa haters, crackheads, whalers, and thugs. Over 4,000 prisoners of all nationalities crowd within the low-security prisons' double-razor-wired fences. The inmates are housed in twelve-man rooms, dormitory-style in the
crumbling dilapidated buildings that once housed army cadets completing basic training on the converted military base.

The prison world is one of negativity. One of tensions and anger. Ignorance and hate. But as prisons go, Fort Dix is pretty tame. Most inmates have short sentences, are awaiting deportation or are long-term prisoners at the end of their bids. Stabbings and violence are relatively infrequent. The prisoners at Fort Dix have one eye on the street as they prepare to re-enter society or journey back to their country of origin.

Still, while locked up, the inmates look for something to relieve the boredom and monotony of prison life. Entertainment is at a premium on the inside. There's not a whole hell of a lot to do. Prisoners can watch TV, read a book, or go to a prison-rec-league basketball game.

The first thing you notice when you enter the gym is the amplified, rambling trash-talk. The man on the mike is Noodles and he calls it like he sees it. Noodles is the organizer, commissioner, and de facto personality of the league. Between his rapid-fire dialogue, Dr. Dre's "Ain't Nuthin' but a G-thing" blasts from the PA as the players warm-up, shooting lay-ups.

Noodles told me he would always know who came to play that night by watching the layup lines. "Dudes that came in bullshitting, you could tell," he says. "When they came in serious, it was showtime." And in the gym at FCI Fort Dix during the 2000-01 Winter A-League intramural season, there would be mad showtime.

During the games the gym would be crazy packed. Dudes would be getting there early. Trying to get courtside seats. Pounding on the stands. Jumping up and down, stomping their feet, and going nuts.

On the floor it was standing room only as prisoners crowded around the court cussing, hating, gambling, and giving props to players or dissing them. With the music, the microphone, the excitement, the adrenaline, and the play-by-play, the tournament was bananas.

The games represented an interlude, a break form the pressures of prison life. A time for the crowd and the players to forget their sentences and problems. A time to relax. To be taken away and escape the reality of being locked up. The electricity brought the diverse prisoners together as they transcended the prison complex through the spectacle of the game.

Picture a high school gym packed with prisoners: drug dealers, bank robbers, parole violators, felony gun possessors, and deportable Dominicans, Colombians, Chinese, Jamaicans. The crowd would live and die with each crossover, spinmove, three-point shot, slam dunk, or behind-the-back pass. The screaming prisoners would release their tensions and feed off the atmosphere created by the games – and in particular, one player, Ron Jordan.

THE LEAGUE

New Jersey O.G.'s Smooth and Mustafa decided to assemble and coach an A-League team for the winter season. Nothing special, just something to represent them and their unit, 5703, on the compound. They wanted to keep it real, though. These two convicts did ten years together at Rahway – a brutal New Jersey State Penitentiary in the 80's experiencing vicious blacktop battles and much drama – before meeting up again in the feds.

Smooth was the passionate, vocal, crazy-type. He would rather have played than coached, but he wasn't the youngster he once was. Mustafa was a calm-devout Muslim who didn't lose control. Staying focused as Smooth stormed the sideline at games yelling and screaming at his team, the crowd, the refs, and opposing players. They made a good coaching tandem – Smooth's fire and Mustafa's ice.

The coaches recruited the uptown players – Pup, the veteran, and Ron Jordan, the gunner – as the centerpieces of their team. They knew Ron would be firing shots, but they figured he would buy into their team concept. "He ain't never seen a shot he didn't like," Noodles says of Ron. "It's like smoking weed; he would put it in the air." Rounding out the team were Baby Shaq, a complimentary inside presence, Solo, the human jumping jack, and Capone – also known as Conan the Destroyer – a physical, monstrous presence in the paint.

As the season started, Smooth described his coaching philosophy: "Taking a group of guys is like putting together pieces of a puzzle. You have to critique them, make changes, and find out what chemistry is needed."

After an 0-5 start it seemed chemistry was lacking.

Ron Jordan was out of control. He was forcing his game, shooting crazy threes, and trying to please the crowd. He would shake his man, step back, shake him again and instead of going to the basket he would step back and shake his man again. Ron would hit him with the crossover, bring it back between his legs, and cross his man over again. He wasn't satisfied with one move and the bucket. He wanted to juke the whole team. His Rucker park antics and unconscious constant shooting proved detrimental to the team and alienated his teammates as the losses piled up. "Ron didn't pass the ball," Mustafa said later. "He had to learn to pass the ball. He had to learn to trust his teammates."

Smooth agrees. "Ron Jordan had an Allen Iverson heart," he says. "He tried to do it all himself. The guys didn't want to play with him." Even the crowd hated on him, shouting 'You don't play no D, you jacking rec. You shoot too much.'" The word on the pound was that no one wanted to play with him. Ron even told me how some Chinese and Spanish cats would come up to him after games and criticize him in their native tongues. When Ron inquired what the fuck they were saying, a bilingual inmate would translate: "He say, 'you shoot too much.'" It got so bad that even the police, when counting, would stop and tell Ron he shot too much.

Mustafa and Smooth considered folding the team as Noodles ridiculed them on the mike. He dissed them saying they were coaching a B-League team. They even considered trading Ron Jordan, but Pup, Ron's homeboy from Harlem, wouldn't hear of it. Pup was known as Hard2guard due to his offensive prowess and scoring ability. He'd been around the system – almost ten years – for a crack conspiracy charge. Pup is a smooth character, a veteran of penitentiary ballcourt battles. The cerebral type. "It gonna be rough," Pup tells the coaches, "This what we started with. This is how we gonna finish it. Understand what I'm saying! Don't worry. We got Jordan. We gonna ride him to the championship."

Later Ron confides: "If it weren't for Pup I would quit or go to another team." This statement shows the loyalty these two uptown cats shared, but Ron still needed discipline in his game. "It's all about me, " he'd say. But his game was wild, chaotic, out of control. It mirrored his life on the street.

THUGLIFE

Young black male – synonym for criminal, thug, or predator – Ron Jordan was born Ronald Paul on August 20th 1972 in Harlem Hospital. He says his dad was "a stickup kid, straight gangsta" who was slain in 1980, shot seven times in the chest when Ron was eight. "When I was a kid, " Ron says, "he hit me with like $30, $40 and I would go to school and buy a wad of candy."

Ron was raised by his maternal grandmother with two sisters and two cousins in Harlem. He saw his moms periodically and got involved in the drug game "pitching and running" at age 16. His moms used to say 'it's history repeating itself' as she witnessed Ron submerging into the street culture that took his father's life. Ron's days consisted of smoking weed, selling crack, roughing people off, and getting money, but his one true passion was playing basketball.

"When I'm on the-court, nothing else matters," Ron says. He mentions the tournaments and courts he frequented: AL-Murf, PAL, Riverside, Gauchos, Milbank, 145th Street, Harbor, Kingdom, Yonkers, and West 4th. He smiles as he explains how he "was hitting crazy threes, dropping 77 in Harlem, and not passing the ball to nobody."

He tells me, "Nigga's still got tapes of that shit," as he names the street legends he balled against. Names like Mike Boogie, Terminator, Master Rob, The Dancing Dugi, and Marc Jackson roll off his lips as he says, "I was going around playing in tournaments and making a name for myself." But it didn't last.

His moms died in 1991 and this tragedy set in motion a slew of arrests and convictions that culminated in his incarceration today. "When my mom died I didn't care about what happened to me," he says. "I decided to go all out in the game." And he's not talking about basketball.

At 18, shortly after his mother's death, he was arrested with 21 vials of crack cocaine. Later that year he was robbed and shot in the stomach with a .380 for $1,500. "I woke up with a tube going into my nostrils and down my throat," he says. His stay at St. Lukes Roosevelt Hospital lasted six days and Ron claims, "the bullet is still in me." After he was shot, he says, "that's when I really started carrying guns. It was either gonna be me or them."

At 19, he caught his first gun-possession charge and did a year at Greene Correctional Institution in upstate New York. He hit the streets again in '93, had a two-year run, and caught another crack charge. As he served a 3-6 year bid at Rykers Island and El Mira, he was indicted on an Attempted Murder charge, which he eventually beat. He was paroled in '98. A couple of months later his grandmother passed and he caught the fed charge. He went to trial still mourning her death. Ron was convicted of Felon in Possession of a Weapon and sentenced to 92 months in the feds. Thinking back on his life Ron reflects, "I believe God's been merciful, because I should've been dead or in jail for the rest of my life."

Ron Jordan kind of rocks back and forth as he talks. He describes himself as "fearless, determined, and at the same-time tugged-out." His hands move, conveying his thoughts as he points his finger in agreement, or stands up to emphasize a point. Every move is deliberate. No motion is wasted.

He looks at you from under his eyelids with a kind of half-smile that hints at some secret knowledge. Then he looks at you directly almost daring you to say something or to question him. It's like when he's balling – daring you to beat him, to guard him, to stop him. He likes to keep people off balance in life as well as basketball.

He walks like a gangsta – not an animated ghetto walk though – but with a gait that belies natural and lethal grace. Almost like a panther. Sleek, powerful, quick, athletic. The kids a b-baller, but he's built like a football player standing 5-foot-11 and weighing a solid 210 pounds. He can be quiet and respectful, but playful like a child. He has a wicked sense of chaoticness that conflicts with his maturity. He can be combative, argumentative, and confrontational – but also is easy to get along with.

He presents himself as confident, self-assured, focused, and smart. He laughs, but doesn't really smile, as he mocks and "gets rec" on other prisoners. He confides to "a lot of anger built inside, a lot of hurt and pain," which formulated his character. Prison put halt to his wilding and misadventures in the game, but thuglife still manifested itself, seeping out of him when he plays ball.

THE ABUSER

As the season went on, Ron's team underwent some changes. Players were added and chemistry developed. Pup recruited another uptown baller, T-Ferg, who was a strong-chiseled, defensive-minded, team-oriented point guard. At first T-Ferg was like, "I can't play with Ron Jordan." But Pup convinced him saying, "I'm in a war, little brother. I need you."

"The whole controversy was like a challenge to me," says T-Ferg. He wanted to show the whole compound that he could win with Ron. T-Ferg was like, "Yo, I'm coming to play. We gonna put it on these niggas and bust they ass." Another piece of the puzzle was added when Smooth and Mustafa traded for Titanic Mike, the tall, long, rangy, shotblocker and rebounder they needed.

"They really started clicking with Titanic Mike and T. Ferg," says Noodles. But also a slow transformation was overcoming Ron's game. Before Ron would come down, gun, take on three dudes, and lose the ball. But all the hating, losing, bickering, and criticisms had their effect. Ron started passing the ball, letting the game come to him, and picking his spots. As the weeks went on the game started showing him love. Slowly he turned into the Abuser.

It was a gradual transformation. Noodles started noticing a change in Ron's game. "At first, it was the extra pass. Then you could see Ron started working his game into the flow of the game." Finally when Ron started abusing his opponents consistently Noodles coined Ron the Abuser.

Noodles told me that whatever guy guarded Ron would get that sad look in his eye, like a spouse suffering from domestic abuse. By the end of each game Ron's man had that battered look. Like they were ready to file a police report or something. They were like, "I had 'em." But Ron had abused them all day. Noodles came up with this catch phrase on the mike which he started using when Ron Jordan played. "What do you do when there is an emergency and you need a basket?" He would ask the crowd. "Dial 9-1-1, the Abuser."

The Abuser paralyzed defenders. Exploited them and dominated them. He would cross them over, stick and move, shake, spin, twist, and power his way to the hoop. The crowd would go postal, stomping their feet in ecstasy. "Ron Jordan is the best player on the Fort Dix compound," said Smooth after one particularly ferocious game. Mustafa took it one step further though saying "He's one of the best cats I've seen in the system. He's unstoppable. He could of played pro ball."

The team, finally in sync, went on a winning streak. Destroying opponents with confidence and flair. Ron was skating on cats, dribbling so low to the ground he seemed about to fall. He was taking it to the hole strong, getting bumped in the air with two dudes draped all over him as he twisted underneath the rim to get the dence. And one. When Ron did a move like that the crowd would roar, even if he missed. There were a lot of Sportscenter moments with Ron Jordan.

In prison, basketball comes down to a series of territorial and geographical battles. "Niggas is gambling on these games," says Pup, and the team to beat on the pound, the only one with an undefeated record, was 5741. Their star, Perry the Machine, was widely considered the best player on the compound at the time. But the crowd favorite was Ron Jordan, the man with the Harlem Globetrotter game. His antics had turned into a love/hate relationship with the crowd.

In the Fort Dix gym the motto was "Go hard or go home." That's how you had to carry it. There was no static, no drama, and no beefs. All that fighting shit was out the window. As Pup says, "Everybody there to watch the game." And the game the compound wanted to see was 5741 vs. 5703, the Machine vs. the Abuser.

5741 was the odds on favorite but 5703 was riding a four-game winning streak. Ron Jordan and company were looking to knock off the Machine and his co-horts. Both teams were talking big shit and the betting action was heavy in 5741's favor. The Abuser was ready though, ready to make a statement, and before the game T-Ferg tells him, "We in Harlem right now B. My park, you know what time it is. Showtime."

The Machine came out aggressively playing tight D on Ron. Ron used his aggressiveness against him though, as he put the ball over and behind the Machine's head with both hands – not once, but twice in a row. Then Ron wrapped the rock around the Machine's waist and behind his own back, faked right, and as the Machine stumbled, confused, Ron stepped back and hit the three.

"It was like a Kodak moment," says Noodles. "You don't understand the beauty of the moment until the picture is developed." 5703, behind Ron Jordan, then proceeded to crush 5741. Handing them their first loss and throwing into discussion who the top baller was.

After the win Ron's name manifested itself on the compound. Ron Jordan the Abuser. Antics of Rucker park mixed with Jordans. A Harlem, NY city game. Razzle-dazzle, tricks, making the ball appear like a yo-yo on a string. Basketball theatrics. Cats looked silly and foolish trying to check him. They would be getting in arguments on the court. "You guard him. Fuck that, you guard Jordan. I'm not getting clowned."

Shit was off the meter, but Ron still had to win the title to justify all the hype. He had to prove to himself that it was all about winning. He had to reign in the chaoticness, the wildness. He had to assert his discipline and conquer his Tasmanian devil like impulses. It definitely was all about championship dreams, but in his reality it was about so much more.

The season finished with 5703 as the favorite. They advanced to the final to play 5702, which boasted a three-pronged attack of Joe Black – an offensive wizard, catch-me-if-you-can, who played at light speed – and the Rain Man, a 6-foot-6 slam dunk maestro. 5702 took the first game in the three-game series, but 5703 evened it up in game two behind Capone, T. Ferg, and Ron Jordan.

Now the stage was set for the final game. Winner takes the glory. Loser goes home. Of that game Ron says, "I love pressure. I felt that this was the game I had to really show up. When I was playing that game, it felt like my life depended on it."

And he played like he was on death row, scoring 60 points in a shooting clinic. He added 16 assists and 15 rebounds. "The last game, the 60 points, Ron put his stamp on the game," says Mustafa. "That was for the fans. He made them all believers."

T-Ferg summed it up: "The man that everybody hated and doubted. The man that everybody said shoots too much. That same man shot great, and scored 60 points." Ron Jordan shares the dream of every rec league player, imagining he is in the NBA. The only difference is he actually might have had the chance because he definitely has the ability.

At FCI Fort Dix, Ron was the talk of the pound. Everyone was conversating about him. In the units, at Unicor, in the chow hall. It was all, "Ron Jordan this, Ron Jordan that." So much so that one morning the prison's kitchen supervisor asked his inmate workers, "Who is this Ron Jordan?"

Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti, federal prison number 18205-083, is housed at FCI Loretto. Previously he resided at FCI Fairton, FCI Fort Dix, FCI Beckley and FCI Manchester. He has been a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com since 2003

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