A.C.'s childhood dreams come true
|||Graphic: A.C.'s fifth-grade letter|
By Ferd Lewis
I have a dream that someday I hope to become a professional basketball player..." wrote a shy Atlanta fifth- grader in 1987 when asked to write a letter to himself about where he wanted to be 20 years hence.
At the time it was an elementary school exercise in writing and goal-setting. But, now, 14 years later, those hopeful words strike a prophetic chord.
The words and the dream are Anthony Carter's and the depth of their realization is underlined this week as the former University of Hawai'i star puts his signature on a three-year, $12 million contract with the Miami Heat.
The agreement is the richest professional sports contract earned by a former Rainbow and a dazzling milestone in what has been a remarkable journey for the 6-foot-1 guard now celebrated in two cities simply as "A.C."
A high school dropout at 15, a recurring shoulder injury in his senior year at UH, a season of riding buses in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association and the trials of being a rookie free agent in the NBA, Carter's resolve was tested at every turn and dribble.
"The odds against what he has accomplished, well, I don't think they have a computer that could calculate them," said Llew Haden, Carter's longtime mentor and friend.
When Carter penned his hopes for career course, he was hardly the only one in his class at Fred A. Toomer Elementary School who envisioned a professional sports career. "Of the 22 boys in his class, I think one wanted to be a doctor and the rest wanted to be a professional athlete, either basketball or football," Haden said.
Carter, though, stood out. That he had a special talent was evident on the black-topped courts of southeast Atlanta, where he grew up. That he would take that talent to the highest level, the NBA, seemed far from certain.
Five years later, after toying with high school competition, Carter was a dropout whose days were spent playing winner-take-all basketball games. Carter and his neighborhood "Kirkwood Boys" put up their cash against that of others and to the victors went pots of as much as $1,000.
In the process, Carter seemed destined to be a playground legend on the courts surrounding the hard-scrabble area known as Memorial Drive, the kind of player whose gifts never get displayed beyond a neighborhood stage. But friends say several fortuitous events presented him with the opportunity to do more.
The first was that Carter, who had been taken under the wing of Haden and Atlanta's "I Have A Dream" Foundation that encourages at-risk youth to pursue their education and set career goals, chose to go back to school and get his general equivalency diploma (GED).
Then, a player who had attended Saddleback (Calif.) Community College shot some footage of Carter and sent it to his former coach, Bill Brummel.
Brummel, amid the flickering images, saw talent and offered Carter a place on his team if he could get to California in time. Carter after carrying the letter, folded and re-folded into the size of a quarter finally showed it to a YMCA counselor, who got in touch with Haden.
"The letter said the date he needed to get there had already expired two days earlier, but we called the coach and asked if they'd still take him," Haden recalled. "They said they would, so we put him on the plane and got him there. It was his first time (in the air) and, by the time he got there, I don't think he knew if he'd flown 1,000 miles or a 100."
Two years later, from 1996 through '98, Carter was thrilling audiences in the Stan Sheriff Center at UH, the launching pad to a professional career.
And now, 14 years after committing his dreams to paper, Carter is penning a rich chapter that gives new meaning to the term "bank shot."