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The myth of Purple
by Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti / September 18, 2005

Seth M. Ferranti

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.

This cat's name has been ringing bells in the penitentiaries for the last 15 years. From coast to coast, when dudes speak of legendary prison ballers they talk of one man: Purple. His myth is as grandiose as it is mysterious. Nobody knows his real name. Nobody knows where he's at or if he is still alive. But all that hasn't stopped the myth from spreading.

The legend has grown taking on a life of its own as the feds closed down Lorton, the notorious DC jail, and transferred prisoners methodically into the federal system for more than a decade. Dudes from Lorton would be boasting of Purple, who created such a tremor with his game that NBA scouts came into the DC jail to see him do his thing. That's what they say, at least.

After hearing about the exploits of Purple for so long, I decided to finally track down some of those in the know to find out the real deal. To that end, we got with some penitentiary veterans who did hard time behind the wall at Lorton to get the 411. Let’s go back in time to the early 90s. In Lorton, they called it the Purple Show.

"Watching Purple was like watching a dream," says Oscar, a Lorton veteran who has done almost two decades inside. "All action, all Showtime, all the time, back in the day. I'm talking 89, 90 and 91, when I had the pleasure to see Purple at his peak. He was nothing short of magnificent. During my 16 years of incarceration, I have witnessed some good basketball players, some great basketball players and one phenomenal basketball player. That particular player is Purple."

Laruan, a prison legend himself, echoes his homeboy's sentiments. "He was one of the best that came through the joint," he says. "He was the best that came through Lorton. His game talked for itself."

Tone, another DC cat, backs up Laruan's assessment of Purple.

"He can play. If he didn't get caught up or nothing, he could of made the pros. He was a do-it-all type of player."

"What I mostly remember about Purple," says Big Sid, a Youth Center 1 Varsity team player and Lorton convict, "was the electrifying moves he displayed on the court and the flamboyant numbers he used to put up, game after game."

Oscar concurs in reverent tones: "Purple would score 40, 50 and 60 points time after time. When he would score 30 points, everyone would label that as an off night for him."

Big Sid, who played against Purple, tells what it was like.

"When you think that you shut him down or out of the game or did a good job of containing him and keeping him in check, at the end of the game he's had a quiet 30-35 points and double figures in assists. Because that is what we thought we did to him in early 1992, but we lost the championship game to him and Occoquan 3."

Laruan breaks the legend down: "Purple's about 6-foot-3, he can handle the ball, shoot, he can do all that."

"In his repertoire he possessed quickness, finesse and wits," Oscar says. "Purple also had a deadly offense to go along with his tenacious defense. He had a jumper that I haven't seen the likeness of, explosiveness when attacking the basket and plenty of hang time just in case other players were foolish enough to hang around the rim waiting for him to bring it to them."

And forget the Lakers, when Purple played it was Showtime.

"The gym would be packed, just to see a Purple Show, as other prisoners called it," Oscar says. "Because Purple’s performances on the court was symbolic to him having his own show."

The shows were so prolific that they attracted outside attention.

"They had a lot of scouts coming through Lorton in the late 80s," Laruan says.

Oscar elaborates: "Because of the unique capabilities he possessed, Purple's popularity grew and others outside Lorton took notice. I recall an incident when NBA scouts came into the prison to see this guy do what he loved to do."

But nothing ever amounted of it. Purple did his time and grew older as the years passed by. All his exploits lost in the belly of the beast as mythical lore of the magical Purple.

"I had the pleasure of playing against the great Purple and getting to know him," Big Sid says. "He was a Lorton legend in his time but as he got older and age became a factor, he started to lose a step naturally, but he still managed to show signs of greatness and brilliance. Not to mention prolific boxscore numbers that would put younger men to shame. That man Purple is a prison legend for real."

Sid’s words speak volumes for the man, the myth and the player whose name is still ringing bells 15 years later. His exploits aren't preserved on DVD, will never see the SportsCenter highlights and he'll never do a soft drink or shoe ad. And in truth, nobody even knows his real name.

But Oscar sums it all up in closing: "Purple, wherever you're at, you need to know that you deserve the title as the finest prison basketball player. I speak for myself and the other thousands of cons who set your props out."

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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