Meet Lance

The streets of Coney Island pulse with the sound of off-speed dribbles. The depressed neighborhood has produced ballers of a different breed, bent on proving the hardscrabble lifestyle can yield some indomitable spirits. Stephon Marbury was the first of this class because he seized his city by making hard drives to the basket look second nature. Although Starbury had come from the cloth of Mark Jackson, Rod Strickland, and Nate Archibald, Coney Island forged in him an unseen ardor that was wholly individualistic. Previous New York guards had thrived on their ability to get into the lane, draw defenders and then spread the ball to waiting teammates. Stephon began to see that he could score at will, and saw no benefit in deferring to others if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Others of his generation would adopt this philosophy, particularly Allen Iverson, to whom observers drew comparisons. But this tempestuous style and attitude hurt more New York guards than it helped them. Omar Cook, Lenny Cooke, Andre Barrett and Erick Barkley saw the windfall of the hype machine when their lacking jumpshots and overly aggressive play only brought them as far as college success and premature NBA draft decisions. Media’s dangerous power to create players out of amateurs has specifically made monsters in the big metropolis. There can be no results save if these players learn to mitigate their own sense of individual perseverance with the construct of a team game. Simple science indeed but hard to practice when your life is based on conquering an environment with little help from outsiders.

I first heard of Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson in Bobbito’s Bounce magazine. The Coney Island native is a terror to New York playground vets, already gaining praises from Rucker Park regulars. It doesn’t hurt that he splits his time between there and another basketball breeding ground, Lincoln High School. Marbury and Sebastian Telfair both claim alumni status at Lincoln and have made an imprint on the NBA with their determined dashes to the hoop. As Walt Frazier would note they are masters at “swooping and hooping” and “swishing and dishing.” Born Ready has a website already. As a junior in high school, it seems surprising that he already has an enterprise devoted to showing his skills. Not only that, the Fader Magazine is behind it. It’s called BornReadyTV, which to me implies that he already has some media pull, that people are willing to subsidize his career with dollars. I don’t mind anyone being singled out for exceptional talents. Lance absolutely has the chops to be at higher levels. I’d go as far as to say he’s the next One and Done who will captivate the nation like Kevin Durant did. On the other hand, Lance Stephenson’s nickname, Born Ready, also slates him for a load of expectations that he should not have to consider unless on his own terms.

BornReadyTV features short episodes with cameras trailing the balling phenom around Coney Island and to various stops for elite players. It has a “He Got Game” feel to it, especially when Stephenson’s girlfriend is introduced. I couldn’t help but think of Rosario Dawson as the long-haired “LaLa” character, sheepishly following her basketball millionaire-in-the-making. In the same vein, Sebastian Telfair had a documentary about his young life (“Through the Fire”) propel him to a lottery pick in the NBA. The whole affair reeked of bought interests, with adidas courting him throughout. I don’t think everyone around Stephenson has commercial interests, but it would be unfair to assess this scenario as absent of them.

Lance has no doubt dealt with an onslaught of “endorsers” both publicly and privately. I wonder if he knows what a commodity he has become by being enshrined in the Coney Island Hall of Fame before any of his real accolades come to bear. Is it browbeating to assert that he is engaging in the same open market for bodies? If he is ready for all the exploitative aspects of the trade and to deflect the suspect admirers and hucksters, he stands to make his manhood majestic in the effort.

West Coast points guards like Baron Davis, Jason Kidd and Jordan Farmar find assured flair in balletic dribbling frenzies across the court, swooping passes up the floor, poetic no-look passes, alley oops and carefree California scamper. In contrast, New York natives like Stephon Marbury, Ron Artest, Rod Strickland (and later Tefair) and Stephenson made their reputation by barreling into the core of the paint. Their engagement comes less from parlaying cross-court passes than from making a narrow-minded persona to fight the depredations of city life. The New York jungle existence necessitated — amid the gallimaufry of horn honks, police sirens, overheard conversations and grumbling — that guards become indestructible warrior types, incapable of seeing obstacles or circumstances. The formula for success: ignore the bullshit; ball with blinders on.


The last episode of Born Ready TV shows Lance falling down and injuring his foot in the first game of a highly anticipated season. My heart dropped, not solely because a great ballplayer might have to rewrite his tale, but because his tale should be allowed to include weakness. His injury passed but the road will be trying. What was he born ready for anyway?


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