My mother bought my brother and I a basketball rim. It was 2001, and we just moved to a new neighborhood, so she wanted to give us a way to meet new friends through the game we loved. One day me and a couple friends from my grade school were shooting hoops, and a group of other guys walked up to ask if they could play along. That was the day I met Eddie Lucas. Over the course of 4 years and countless pickup games from sunrise until the streetlights clicked off, Eddie became one of my best friends.
Eddie was the most charismatic dude I ever known. He could make everyone in the room laugh. If he ever got in trouble in school, the charm of his mischievous teeth-filled smile would get him out of it. Hair slicked back into a well-oiled ponytail, he was loved by all the girls at school. They would offer to do his hair as a way to get close to him. And if you and Eddie liked the same girl, you might as well quit, bruh.
During our first week of high school, we both spotted this girl named Rashida. We both turned to looked at each other with the “Damn!” look on our face–she was so beautiful. I went to homeroom and when I came back outside, Eddie was already chatting her up. He had a magnetic personality that I always admired. By our sophomore year, everyone in the school knew Eddie, either personally or by his catchphrases “Don’t watch me, watch TV,” “Don’t do me, do yo’ hair,” or the crowd favorite “On yo birthday!”
On the court, Eddie was what we in Chicago call a “hooper”; he combined the basketball IQ and skill of a gym rat with the creativity and tenacity of a street-baller. He wasn’t the fastest, but could always get out of sticky situations with his sly dribbling. Early in our sophomore season, the team had lost a couple of games and our coach asked if we should change the captains (Eddie was one of them.) I was mad at Eddie at the time (for some petty, teenage reason I can’t even remember now), so I made the case that we should change captains, mentioning Eddie specifically.
On our walk home, Eddie asked me why I was mad with this cheesy smile on his face. I don’t even think I could get out an answer before he started making me laugh, and saying “Give me a hug, g.” I told him no, keeping him away to act like I was still mad even though he had already cheered me up. We got to my house, and played some ball. This is how beefs with Eddie often ended.
Later that night, my friend Wynton and I were making a store run when my coach called to say that Eddie was in the hospital. He had been ran over by a car as he was walking home from my house.
It felt like the world dropped on my back, and I immediately hunched over and started crying. My friend Wynton was in a shock, but seemed more hopeful than I was. I immediately knew that he was dead. When we got to the hospital, friends and family were bombarding the doctor with questions about his condition and “Will he be ok?” inquiries. It took the young doctor a while to stomach his duty to finally bear the news.
His death sent shock throughout the school, and caused our once-close circle to drift apart from each other. Everyone grieves in the only way they know how, and for young men, that masculine ego often makes you feel like you need to suffer alone.
Our coach also left after the season to go coach at another school. For a while, I harbored so much anger at him. It felt like a father abandoning his kids. How could he just leave? After all the team had been through? The pain of losing a close friend, coupled with the immaturity of youth, I felt no empathy, only betrayal. The hurt made me overlook that fact that he probably left to cope with the death of a player, a kid he was entrusted with to help become a man. Looking back, the collapse of our relationship is something I truly regret.
It took me months not to cry when thinking about Eddie too deeply, and years to not think about him every day. But that one memory of Eddie asking me for a hug replays in mind every time I do. Maybe he was just messing around to cheer me up, and maybe I didn’t embrace him, because I was mad or because two men aren’t suppose to resolve conflicts that way. But not giving that hug before he died is my biggest regret of my young life. It was like God gave me a chance to say good bye, lobbed me a perfect alley-oop like Eddie once did in neighborhood pick-up games. And I missed it. And I still miss him.
Eddie’s death sparked in me a deeper yearning for strong bonds with other men. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, gangs were my only reference to brotherhood. Luckily, I never officially joined, but I often associated with one. That need for a male support group is undoubtedly one of the reasons I joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated. in college.
Four years after his passing, I had this crazy dream that I as playing 3-on-3 in my driveway with Eddie and our friends Wynton and Demetrius, plus Antawn Jamison on one team, and Luol Deng on the other. Everyone disappeared except Eddie and I. I gave him a hug, and told him I loved him. As I opened my mouth to apologize, he consoled me with “It’s okay.” I woke up with tears soaked in my pillow, sad that I would never see him again, but filled with the peace of closure.
Kanye taught me that people never get the flowers when they can still smell them. Society taught me that telling another man you love him is “unmanly” or “Nigga, you gay!” Life taught me that being unafraid to show love is one of the true measures of a man.
To Coach Lamont Nelson, I’m sorry. To all my male friends, old and new, “The Guys,” my frat brothers, my nephews…the Black men on the streets of Chicago, or protesting down in Ferguson, I just want you to know that I love you, and I will never hesitate to say that again.