"He is the best I have seen in 10 years of being down in the feds. Ron is a legend because prisoners from all the other prisons have heard about him".
Seth M. Ferranti, the inmate number 18205-083 at the Fairton prison, is the "official" jail basketball reporter in the country.
His game stories talk about the basketball battles that take place behind the prison walls. He is at the Fairton penitentiary now, but he first saw Ron Paul at the Fort Dix prison in New Jersey. That's where he began to write about the impressive game of a man he dubbed as "The Abuser."
Ferranti describes what basketball in prison is like with accuracy.
"The games are physical and also a testing ground because besides playing basketball you are also in prison and can't afford to be seen as weak."
Hits, pain, honor, survival. In jail, basketball is one more strength test. One more battle in which the one who commands respect wins. But Ronald Paul has become a legend there because of his dribble, his shots, his passes.
TALKING WITH "THE ABUSER"
After clearing some hurdles (see text to the right), we got to communicate with Ron Paul.
A few years ago, he was sentenced to 92 months in prison for the possession of a gun. He'll be out on November 18, 2005. And he wants to change his life.
He wakes up at 5.30 every morning. He runs several miles and lifts weights until 7.30, when he starts working as a data processor. He finishes at 15.30. At 18,00, he goes to class. He is trying to get a college degree. He doesn't play basketball every day. Just wants to stay in shape. Basketball is a way to escape from his reality and earn the respect of those who play with him or see him play.
"Sometimes I feel like a legend, but personally I don't think I am. I would think you would have to be in the feds for at least 10 years or more to be considered a legend. At first, before my mates play against me, I don't see it as respect, but after they have to guard me a few games, I see the respect," Ron says.
Paul was raised in Harlem. He didn't play varsity ball, just street ball. He grew up on the playgrounds of Milbank, Laguardia, 145th Street... He learned the game there. Anarchic, brilliant, tough.
"My game style to me is unique. I have my own style," he says. Never had a coach, only opponents after his guts. His basketball persona was shaped on the court.
"Some people say I look like I'm going to fall every time. I like to take other peoples' styles and put a little twist to it, but one main player I watch and tried to imitate (besides Michael Jordan) is a playground legend called 'Sundance.' He can shoot from anywhere on the court, but what made him so good was that he made people jump when they thought he was hooting, but while they was in the air, he was either making a lay-up or shooting a jump shot 5 feet from them. My game is like his, but with a little razzle-dazzle to it," Paul says.
"The Abuser dribbles down court. All drunk like. Almost falling down. Crossing over his man. Stepping back. Crossing over his man again. Stutter-step. Head fake. By this time his man is draped all over him but the Abuser shrugs him off like a rag doll, steps back, and drains the three, all net. Butter. He takes his ballin' as serious as he does his bid. And this man has done some prison time. El Myra, Rikers Island, Clinton, Otisville, and now Fort Dix. Home of the illest B-ball tournaments in the system. And the forum where the Abuser creates mayhem on the court."
Ferranti wrote that about his protégé not so long ago. He's written much more.
BASKETBALL TO THE DEATH
According to Seth M. Ferranti -- he's already done ten years in prison and won't be out till November 12, 2015 -- each prison has several leagues. One in the summer, another one in the winter... Each sector has its own team and its own name.
Ron Paul's prison is one of the biggest in the country, with a population of 4,000 inmates. They play in the prison pavilion. The Fort Dix pavilion has capacity for around 1,000 people. The league is said to be one of toughest in America.
The pavilion was packed with inmates and prison workers on one day of November 2000 -- a day of glory for Ron. He'd had big performances before (60 points, 38 points, 13 assists...), but none like that day. Word of his feat would soon spread. It was Game 4 of the Fort Dix Finals. Paul's team -- the 03 Sixers -- was leading the series 2-1. With two minutes left on the clock, the other team decided to give up. They retired. There is a non-written rule in jail: the mercy rule. A team can retire to avoid further humiliation. The other squad was trailing by just 17. But they had been completely abused by Ronald Paul. 65 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists. 15 three-pointers. Crazy.
"I could not miss. The reason I consider this my best game is because everyone was saying I don't pass the ball and get my team into the game, but that game it seemed like I was making the right decisions at the right time."
Respect. That's pretty much all he gets with this. Any other privilege for the basketball star? "Other than extra sodas, nothing," he answers. Rules are the same for everybody. They are not allowed to use the e-mail. They are transferred from one prison to another frequently (in fact, he was moved to another one when this article was in works). It's a hard life. Basketball is one of few ways to entertain oneself.
For a talented baller like Ronald Paul, it's even harder to play basketball in prison. Although he has dominated in the last three years, it's tough to play there when you are 5-8 and you are facing guys with nicknames like "Baby Shaq," "Big Mike the Terminator," "Conan the Destroyer" or "Big Capone." You get the picture. For a player whose strengths are dribbling and shooting, everything is more difficult.
"To me, a jail match is just a little harder because when people see that it's hard to stop you on the court, people will try to hurt you. I've seen people get their leg broken, fall straight on their head, nearly get their eye taken out. You just have to play hard and look out for those things or just don't play," Paul says. Shawn Bradley wouldn't be a good fit there.
That's life for an unknown basketball legend. A guy who got into trouble and went from watching Michael Jordan play against the the Knicks at the Madison Garden to being confined in a place where the only pro basketball you can see is on TV.
There is no fame, but there is a lot of glory.
"Thuglife. Prison ball. Where the game represents more than just winning or losing. The games are battles -- fought by soldiers. Not only do you have to win or lose -- you have to do it in style. You have to put your stamp on the game. To become a prison basketball legend -- you got to have substance," Seth M. Ferranti once wrote. "The Abuser" is certainly one. No better way to explain why.
Enrique Peinado writes for Gigantes and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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