The Legend of Green Lake
Sports Illustrated writer Chris Ballard’s Hoops Nation rates Seattle’s Green Lake the eighth best non-college basketball court in the country, behind New York City’s West Fourth Street and California’s Venice Beach, but ahead of New York City’s Rucker Park and Detroit’s Joe Dumars Field House. The criteria are quality, competition, atmosphere, location, safety, and availability. The past and present stars of Green Lake include NBA players Doug Christie, Jamal Crawford, Sean Kemp, Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, and Detlef Schrempf. But the Legend of Green Lake is Ed Jones. And Ed loves to drop names of all his homeys that made it big. Still, Ed says, “Most of the time Green Lake’s a buncha niggas fightin’ over a basketball.”
I met Ed on court in 2001. He controlled the flow; he cursed, he cheated and accused everyone of cheating, he called ridiculous fouls, and held the ball and game hostage until he got his way. Everyone complained. I thought he hated everyone, and I thought everyone hated him. After waiting five games I stepped onto the court. Our game to eleven baskets stopped halfway. Ed argued, held onto the ball, and became a “nigga”-spraying AK-47. The action ended. Players took off shoes, picked up their bags, and walked away. The game got Ed Jonesed.
I kept returning. On most days Ed grinned, played, cracked jokes, and then he would explode into a dark rage and howl. This passed, the game continued, and Ed would revert to foul-mouthed prankster. He had “basketball IQ,” court sense, spacing, passing, and the fundamentals.
Whether Ed balled or sat, he talked…in third person: “Don’t question Ed, mothafucka. I’m a nigga witha suit! People pay Ed Jones. Ed’ll do you with a condom! Ed Jones owns investment offices all over Seattle. People pay to hear Ed. Ed don’t pay no one. I’m a stockbrokin’ basketball playin’ nigga!”
I took him seriously. In our first conversation I asked, “So you day trade? Really? Got any stock advice?”
He said, “You gimme money, nigga, I give advice.”
“Where you work?”
“I work for Ed Jones.”
“What exactly you do?”
“That’s my business.”
Ed Jones designates nicknames. Ed’s is Cheesy. Black people are Caribbean, Jamaican, African, Ethiopian, Dark Skin, Light Skin, and Old School. Whites are European, White Bread, Shady, Opie Taylor, and Old School. Ed mashes and messes up the ethnicities of Chinese, Hawaiians, Japanese, Samoans, Mexicans, Arabs and so on. Any tall Asian becomes ‘Yao Ming.’ Any short Asian, ‘Yao Mini.’ He’ll get feedback: “I’m Korean, asshole.” “I ain’t from Mexico, I’m from El Salvador.” Ed don’t care. He’ll say, “Don’t give Tijuana the ball!” His stare magnifies, his eyes smirk.
Nicknames migrate from general to personal. African, always-high, always-red-eyed, became Jamaican Funk. A bearded man went from White Bread to American Taliban. Old School became Grizz. Lou, a professor of African American Studies at the University of Washington, short, with dark-rimmed glasses, leg brace, a big Afro and no game, famously became Need-a-cut . As soon as Lou walked on the court Ed would say, “Get a cut, Need-a-cut!” Every nigga at Green Lake called Lou “Need-a-cut.” Ed, though, never gave a similar moniker to any of the big, prison-tattooed, dread-locked, wild-haired mothafuckas.
A couple times, after the gym cleared, Ed would get a two-on-two game started. Often I’d play. Ed called me “Muresan.” Unlike Gheorghe Muresan, the former NBA center for the Washington Bullets and a seven-foot-six giant, I am of average height, and have Persian blood, not Romanian.
Ed claims a bond with NBA pro Jamal Crawford.
“I ain’t no cheatin’ nigga. Ask Jamal. You know me, you seen me cheat? Do I ehhhh-vuhhhh cheat? Just ask Jamal. I’m the Legend. I’m Ed Jones. The Legend of Green Lake! Ed played with Detlef, Ed played against Kemp. Ed played with Jamal when Jamal this high! Ask Jamal.”
I never asked Jamal. But I asked Yusuf, because Yusuf knows Ed from way back. “Yusuf, what up with Ed and Jamal?”
Yusuf said, “Yeah, I know Ed from way back. He and Jamal been tight since Jamal started ballin’ at Green Lake. Jamal fourteen years old, tall, thin as hell, but he can hoop. Ed and Jamal become homeys and then Jamal starts gettin’ better. Plays at Michigan, gets in trouble with the NCAA, but it don’t matter ‘cause he get drafted by the Bulls. Signs. But Jamal cool. He remember his. Got that bonus and started givin’ it away. Bought Ed a SUV. Thirty grand. Ed can’t pay no insurance or nothin’ and can’t even drive no SUV ‘cause he got a DUI. What Ed do? He sell it to some nigga for five G’s. Now’days Jamal smart ‘bout layin’ down charity.”
One day Ed asks me if I want a beer. I say sure, we hop in my car, I suggest a couple pubs, he suggests a convenience store. I pull in, he steps out and then returns with two Budweisers in a brown bag, hands me mine, opens his, and asks if I’ll drive him home. He lives with his dad across the street from Garfield High School, east of Capitol Hill, on the other side of Seattle. It’s four p.m., rush hour traffic at its height. I’ve been Ed Jonesed.
But Ed’s a different person in my passenger seat. He engages, asks my real name, finds out who I am, though for the most part he does the talking and I do the driving. The ride home and beer become a ritual.
Ed starts getting my back more often. He tells others to pick me up, and my waits are cut. I get in more games. I become a regular, no longer an outsider. I can count on playing two or three games, and if I’m on a winning team, I play more. I observe “culture.” Powder and grass exchange in plastic Ziplocs, Pabst Blue Ribbon or rum in McDonald’s and Big Gulp cups on the sidelines. Every now and then I’m offered, and take, a drink. It’s always the same. Yeah, yeah, sure, I’ll have some…damn! Strong shit. Yeah, yeah.
Ed lives at Green Lake during the summer. He’ll play all day, all night.
“Why they call you Cheesy?” I ask.
“I’m the Cheese.”
“That’s no answer.”
“That’s the answer.”
“That’s no answer. Why Cheesy?”
“Don’t question why Ed Jones is the Cheese, man.”
I ask Ed about work. He claims to officiate for men’s leagues and high school games, but he also sells vacuum cleaners door-to-door.
“I vacuumed Tyrone’s crib, nigga gets it for free and don’t pay nothin’.”
One day Tyrone and I are having a beer at the Green Lake Tavern. I ask him, “What up with Ed tryin’ to sell you a vacuum?”
Tyrone says, “That nigga knocks on my door and wants to vacuum my crib. I let him in, but don’t wanna buy no vacuum. I can’t get him the fuck out.”
Ed comes out of the convenience store, into my car, pops open his beer, and as we leave I notice a policeman standing nearby, not paying attention. Ed ducks. “I hate the police.” I’m more concerned about the open container.
Ed has a restraining order against him; a Domestic Violence collar, an ex-wife. The marriage lasted three years, no kid. It is one of the few times he is not boasting, although the way he talks, ‘DV’-this, ‘DV’-that, turns shame into a mock badge of honor. I ask Ed why he doesn’t drive. He says they took away his license. He does not offer the reason.
There are times Ed turns on me.“Pass me the ball, Muresan! Who told you you could dribble? Gimme the ball. Muresan. Aaah! You’re a walking turnover! Don’t shoot the ball! Muresan, know your game. Fuck, who told you you could shoot?”
I ask Ed if he ever played college.
I ask him why.
“Drink your beer, Muresan.”
I tell him he’s pretty good.
“I learned at the Lake. I’m the Legend.”
Ed can be a hater. He walks staring straight. He doesn’t acknowledge. One time Ed tries to post up against me. I hold position. The ball comes his way. I knock the ball out of bounds.
Ed grabs the rock, pings it off my chest from three feet away, and roars, “What you doin’ boy! That’s a cheap-ass foul, mothafucka, don’t fuck with Ed. You don’t belong here boy!”
“What?” I say.
“You don’t belong, boy!”
Mike says, “That’s a good foul.” Mike slaps my side.
Mo says, “C’mon Ed, if he’s a nigga you wouldn’t ‘a’ said nothin’.”
Everyone may not be on my side, but they aren’t on Ed’s. I know Ed’s an asshole, but I’m hurt, betrayed. Ed Jones tried to show he’s a tough nigga. That’s what he thinks of them, and that’s what he thinks of me. Ed and I will never be friends, I know, but I prefer the illusion.
The next day Ed says, “What’s up, Muresan? How you been? Ballin’ today is gooood! We gonna have that beer?”
One afternoon a new guy is on the court. New Guy is silent, and lets his game, as they say, do the talking. But he is getting frustrated by the fouls and the arguing. Ed Jones is vintage Ed, inventing calls; bullying. The new guy goes to the basket, receives a hard push, and shouts, “Foul!”
Ed calls him a weak-ass nigga. New Guy slams the ball against the floor. “You don’t know me well enough to call me nigga.”
He stands eye to eye with Ed. Ed is silent. The game continues, and Ed remains quiet for a couple minutes. Not a word.
Ed Jones calls to girls. If a white girl plays, Ed announces, “Boom!-Boom! Ed Jones likes white meat. Gimme a breast!” When the summer girls stroll, Ed caterwauls. Once, two black women walked by, Ed hollered; they ignored. Ed turned to the court. “You see that? They prejudice. They don’t like Africans.” Then he shouted, “Hey, sisters, why don’t you like Africans?”
Zarius Payton is Gary Payton’s nephew. He has many tattoos, including the letters ‘ZP’ on his neck. People call him ‘Z.’ Ed called him ‘Zarius.’ Z said, “Don’t fuckin’ call me that. No one calls me that.” Ed never called him Zarius again.
Z is one of the best players I’ve seen at Green Lake. In the same league as Nate Robinson and Jamal Crawford. At about six-foot-three he has a vicious inside game, the ball an extension of his hand, he can weave through and slam in a crowd, and hit all day from beyond the arc. Rumors are he dealt drugs and got kicked off a community college team in California. I ask Ed about Z. Is he Gary’s nephew or cousin? Ed doesn’t know. Why isn’t he playing college ball? Ed says, “Z’s a dope dealin’ nigga.”
Ed Jones’ favorites:
“He’s a Brickasaurus Rex.”
“Opie Taylor White Bread, straight outta the bakery.”
“Be the bigga nigga.”
“See ya… wouldn’t wanna be ya!”
“He’s a walking turnover!”
“Do you with a condom.”
“The Cheesy Roll.”
“Don’t pass it to the fat nigga.”
“I read the Bible. Leviticus! Numbers! Revelation! Duuuude…eronomy.”
When someone misses a lay-in: “That nigga’s shavin’ points.”
When someone drops a beautiful pass: “That pass was too sophisticated.”
After Ed steps on an opponents foot or holds their shirt so they can’t get a loose ball: “Veteran move!”
Ed returns from the convenience store with cans of beer, flings open the passenger door, and hits a car. The car is old, maybe from the seventies, and by the look is full of North Africans. I am sitting in the driver seat. The driver gets out, examines the dent, and looks at me. I mouth an apology. The driver says nothing. Ed says, “C’mon, let’s go. Don’t worry ’bout no Ethiopians.” Fortunately, for me at least, the car has many dents and scrapes.
I drank every beer Ed bought.
Ed Jones’ father kicked him out of his house. Ed rented a room in Ballard with a white girl who often played at the Lake. She told me they were just friends, and that Ed was nice, that he paid his rent. Two months later Ed was living somewhere else.
I married. My wife and I had our first daughter, and I went from playing almost daily to playing a couple times a month. Every now and then I’d put my daughter in my Baby Bjorn and take a walk around Green Lake. First time Ed saw her he said, “Muresan, she’s beautiful. She’s a gift from God!”
Ten years have passed, and I’m a family man, but Ed hasn’t changed. Mooching, drinking beer out of brown bags, playing ball, though he now rides a bicycle. I still come to Green Lake in the summers when I can, and if I’m lucky I’ll run a game or two. The Legend of Green Lake is now over fifty. One day he’ll be gone. I’ll miss him.