And the routes into the downtrodden neighborhood are as few as the opportunities for those who live there.
A good job is as a drug dealer or gangster. If you’re not one of them, you’re being pushed around by them. And if you are one of them, you might not live long.
Cherry Hill is the life Daryl Dorsey was born into. The Reno Bighorns guard, who goes by the name ‘MaJic,’ was never supposed to be successful. It was inevitable that he, like nearly every other member of his family, would either spend his better years in prison or die on those Baltimore streets.
But the streets didn’t want Dorsey. The streets wanted him to capture glory on the football field or the basketball court, wanted him to rise above the violence, wanted him to be a success.
“If I didn’t play sports, Lord knows what I’d be doing,” Dorsey said. “A lot of my friends have got locked up or been killed. Everybody with the last name Dorsey is either in jail or they got killed. So, I don’t know what I’d be doing if it wasn’t for sports.”
Sports, not streets
Dorsey’s father has been incarcerated since 1985, when Dorsey was just 4 years old. Daryl Hudson was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence. Dorsey hasn’t spoken to him since. His mother, Klannetta Dorsey, has been in and out prison for just as long and is serving a 14-year sentence on 15 different charges.
But things were different for Dorsey, who was always a good athlete. The streets didn’t want him and the people who were more likely to kill someone wearing the wrong clothes in their neighborhood were the ones who watched after him.
“They didn’t even want him to do anything,” said friend Jemuel Godwin, who has known Dorsey since elementary school. “They just wanted him to play basketball and play football. Stay out of trouble, basically.”
And he did, for the most part. Dorsey essentially lived with Godwin, whose mother Ann took him in, fed him, clothed him and watched after him as if he were her own son.
“From there that’s where his life started to change,” Godwin said. “He went to school from my house, he played basketball on my basketball goal. We both played on the recreation teams, as far as football and basketball, and all the way up until high school.”
When most people look at Dorsey, now 27, they see the embodiment of the life he has tried to escape his whole life. His real self is hidden under the corn rows and tattoos that grace his slender frame.
What people see is someone who has seen some time behind bars. Dorsey got caught up between two girls and a dead boy in high school, and landed in prison.
He was followed home from a pickup basketball game one day during his junior year, taunted by a girl and a guy Dorsey characterized as jealous of a relationship he’d been in.
Shay Allen died later that day. Kimberley Lucas said Dorsey shot him. He was arrested and spent six weeks in jail before being released with all charges dropped.
“When I got locked up, I put my faith in the Lord more for the simple fact that I knew that sports would be the key to get away from Baltimore,” Dorsey said. “That’s what I did and I’ve never lived there since.”
He missed five football games at Dunbar High School while he was in jail.
The toll on his grades was greater. Florida State offered a football scholarship, but because his grades dropped, he didn’t qualify academically. He enrolled at Brevard Community College and hoped to get to Florida State. While at Brevard, he joined the basketball team and was named the top basketball player in junior college by Sporting News Magazine. He was ranked second in the country in scoring with 28.6 points per game.
New Friends and New Opportunities
Basketball opened doors he’d never thought of.
Dorsey made the And 1 Tour out at an open tryout in Tampa and started to make money playing on the playground-style circuit.
He was playing a pickup game when he ran into an old friend, Larry Tucker. But Tucker wasn’t alone, he was with long-time friend and NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
“(Tucker) was always telling me about this kid every time he’d come home in the summer,” Culpepper said. “He’d say this kid in high school is probably the best player in the nation. I would always say, ‘Whatever, whatever.’
Culpepper was impressed by Dorsey’s basketball skills and the two exchanged numbers. The next day Culpepper called Dorsey to see if he was playing. Culpepper picked up Dorsey, who didn’t have a ride, and they drove to the court together in a red GMC Denali, to the disbelief of Dorsey’s friends.
The two played in a handful of basketball games, went out to dinner and then back to Culpepper’s house. As it got later, Dorsey was ready to go home but he didn’t have a ride back. Culpepper handed him the keys to his Mercedes-Benz SL500, a nearly $100,000 car.
“The only time I had seen a Benz was if it was on a movie or on TV,” Dorsey said.
He drove the car for the rest of the season.
“Any one of my cars, he can drive,” Culpepper said. “He’s family.”
Culpepper has watched over Dorsey ever since, calling him his little brother. When Dorsey made the decision to turn professional it was Culpepper and Tucker whom he turned to.
“I had mixed emotions about it at the time because I really wanted to see him finish his collegiate career,” Tucker said. “He shouldn’t have even been at Southern Indiana. He had Texas, Texas A&M, LSU, Maryland, everyone was offering him (a scholarship).”
Dorsey went to Southern Indiana, a Div. II school, in 2004 after the NCAA told him that because he earned money from the And 1 Tour he would have to sit out a year before playing Div. I basketball. The NCAA later ruled he’d have to sit out a year at Southern Indiana as well. Dorsey left, and joined the American Basketball Association’s Las Vegas Rattlers.
“I talked to some people and they told me just because you’re not in college doesn’t mean the NBA’s not still looking at you,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey was now a pro. In just 12 games with the Rattlers he averaged 20.8 points and 6.9 assists, earning ABA Rookie of the Year honors.
He realized the NBA was still a real possibility. Harold Ellis, then an Atlanta Hawks scout and now an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons, saw Dorsey and found the kind of guard that fit his mold.
“He’s a scoring kid and I like scoring guards,” Ellis said. “The more and more I talked to him, the more and more (I liked) his story. I like guards that are kind of tough, they come from a different background, just kind of been through some stuff to make it where they are.”
Ellis was also the head coach of the Rome Gladiators and asked Dorsey to play for him overseas. Dorsey earned league MVP honors in his first year, averaging 23.1 points and a league-leading 10.1 assists.
Dorsey received several invites to NBA summer camps, but didn’t stick and played briefly for the Fort Worth Flyers of the NBA Development League before bouncing around to several minor league teams. The Bighorns picked him up from the available player pool in December.
“I’ve still got some teams looking at me and playing for coach (Jay) Humphries, he’s an NBA point guard, so I thought that this was the best situation for me to come to because he knows what to do to get to that level,” Dorsey said.
Breaking the brand
Dorsey has spent a lifetime running from the Dorsey label. Sports have kept him on that path and he’s not looking back.
He even has plans to help his mother keep from ever going back to prison. She is expected be released in 2013. Dorsey said he’s going to move her to Orlando, where he lives, and look after her like a father instead of a son.
“It’s going to be a good feeling because even though I know that she did a lot of stuff growing up, I know why she did it: because of our family life,”
Dorsey said. “Every Dorsey did it and she’s a part of that.
“I feel as if the Lord took me through certain situations for me to break that cycle.
“No Dorsey even went to college and no Dorsey did anything athletic-wise or even open up a business or anything like that. Now that I’m doing and I’ve succeeded at life, I feel as though I’m the Dorsey that broke the brand”