In sports, emotional losses have a way of propelling championship. In 1990, Joe Dumars III dropped 33 points and five assists the same night his father died. Despite batting left, Dee Gordon emotionally hammered home a right-handed homer the day after the passing of his teammate Jose Hernandez. Isaiah Thomas dropped 33 points after the unexpected loss of his sister. This weekend, Hometown Favorites is hoping the temporary loss of their brother and teammate, Chris Young, will push them to a ship.
Looking at Chris “Ghetto Bird” Young you would think he’s the epitome of health. He is trim. He is fit. He is in his forties and can keep up with kids half his age at the Drew, but weeks ago his health was called into question after he fell ill while scouting in South Carolina for Nike’s Peach Jam.
Young spent a couple of days in the hospital in South Carolina and then decided to return home to Los Angeles. After returning home, Young still felt ill and his mother urged his coach and teammate Reggie Morris and Roy Walker to take him to the hospital. Young then had two emergency brain surgeries performed after suffering from a stroke leaving him in the hospital for weeks.
“Me and Coach Morris took him to the hospital and we all thought it was just stomach virus and it was kind of shocking. If you had walked up to Chris before everything happened, you would think he’s a pillar of health,” says Roy Walker, one of Young’s HomeTown Favorites teammates.
Outside of the Drew League, Young wears many hats in the Los Angeles basketball community. He is co-creator of Nike Air West, an invite-only open run held weekly, a coach for Culver City High School, and an ambassador for Nike Basketball and Jordan Brand.
After falling ill, Young’s absence was immediately felt. Players for Hometown Favorites had to step up in their rotations. Air West was put on standstill until his return. And there was an eerie tension within the Drew League family.
“He’s the energy. He’s the vet of his team so it’s a different feel when you see HomeTown Favorites walk out and there’s no Chris Young,” says Coach Keion Kindred. Kindred and Young were childhood friends and are now business partners after creating Air West six years ago. “It’s one of the most eerie, awkward things and it just doesn’t feel right without him being here.”
“He’s definitely the heart and soul of us at all times. It was kind of devastating, we were kind of sitting on the edge of our seats sitting and waiting wondering what could happen yet praying for the best,” echoed Walker.
At the division quarterfinals, Young made an emotional return back to the Drew League after being released from the hospital the day before. Sitting courtside on “Gucci Row,” Young watched as his team squeezed out a five-point victory against No. 1 seed Citi Team Blazers. On the bench, a No. 5 jersey was laid out in honor of Young.
“I just really wanted to be here for my squad. I love my guys. I’ve coached these guys. I’ve mentored these guys. They’ve picked me up and held me down through the bad,” said Young.
His presence was acknowledged by an emotional round of applause led by former commissioner and Voice of the Drew, George Preciado. Fittingly, it was Preciado who gave Young his “Ghetto Bird” moniker when they both entered the Drew 20 years ago this year — the first such nickname he bestowed.
On Saturday, Hometown Favorites will match up against a star studded LAUNFD team in hopes of representing the Marty Walzer Division in the Championship game at L.A. Southwest College. For Young, the gym and the coincidental timing of his health issues flashback to another story.
Thirteen years ago in early May at an open scrimmage at L.A. Southwest College, Young’s life was changed after one of his Leuzinger players, Khelcey Barrs, collapsed on the floor and then later passed away from complications of an enlarged heart. Barrs’ death shook Young and the rest of the Leuzinger team to their core — so much so that they still honor Barrs’ life every year on his birthday and based their Drew League team name, Hometown Favorites, on his legacy.
“We’re a big family. Whether it’s Russell (Westbrook), Dorell (Wright), or Delon (Wright), we’re just a big family, a big group and he’s like the older brother,” says Walker when describing the bond shared between Young and other former Leuzinger players.
Hometown Favorites will have to continue to play without their older brother when they matchup against LAUNFD at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. After losing by five points in their Week 10 match-up to LAUNFD, Hometown Favorites is hoping the presence of Young will be enough to boost them to the promised land.
“Everybody has to do some of the things Chris does and continue what they do. We just got to fill in that void,” says Walker. “We have a little extra motivation to push and that’s what we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for a ship. Basketball is microcosm of life. If we’re on the court and Ghetto Bird is there, he has us, so in has time of need, we’ve got to have him.”