I’ll be honest: I’ve never met Eli Holman. Never seen him a play a single second of basketball. Never watched him fly from one end of the court to another, 6’10” but shockingly athletic; never seen him dunk, though I hear it’s pretty breathtaking.
It has nothing to do with basketball, but it’s true all the same: Eli Holman is my favorite player because Eli Holman is the American Dream.
An explanation, if I may: Holman comes from a city, a neighborhood, and a school that, mind my language, none of us can even fucking imagine. Richmond, Cali. is a city with recent “murder, vehicle theft and larceny rates so serious that the city council at one point requested a declaration of a state of emergency and asked for the intervention of the Contra Costa County Sheriff and the California Highway Patrol in order to ameliorate crime waves,” according to Wikipedia. Richmond is bad, man. Really bad.
And so Holman was a teenager in a place where the mistakes teenagers make usually mean jail time, and lots of it. The biggest mistake he’s made thus far — that we know about — is getting mad at a ref and pushing him. Were I from Richmond, I would be incredibly proud of this track record. (In Bloomington, you can push intramural refs all you want. They usually don’t complain.)
For all his troubles, Holman still somehow comes across as self-effacing. Need examples? OK. How about this story from February:
Holman was suspended by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) from playing back in December 2005 after pushing a referee. Although Holman says it’s a moment he regrets, his guardian says it’s made him a better player on the court — but more importantly a better man off the court.
Michelle Banks, Elijah’s guardian: “He became a lot more aware of his actions. He thinks, you know, much more than he acts now.”
Holman says it’s all about dealing with adversity. The 6’10” center, who signed a national letter of intent to attend Indiana in the fall, was grazed by a bullet last month. It came within inches of his spine.
Elijah Holman: “Actually, it was a wakeup call from God, you know, saying I need to get my life back on track. I just got a 3.2 on down in the classroom.”
Roy Rogers, Richmond high basketball coach: “It’s a bad situation he got himself in. But he handled the situation well and I think he learned a great, great lesson, so he shouldn’t do anything now but, you know, go up the ladder even higher.”
Now, Holman is doing everything right. He’s doubled his SAT scores, is now making A’s and B’s, and had this message for the youngsters:
Elijah Holman: “Take it from a guy who’s been there. You know what I’m saying? Live the streets, smoke the weed, sold the weed, got shot. Take it from somebody that’s been there, that’s 6’10”, that’s an easy target. Take it from me. Believe me. Stay off the streets. Go to school, stay in class man.
Not only is that quote hilarious, it’s also trenchant, and now a kid (nay, man) who got grazed in the spine with a bullet, whose school system is so inept that its administrators failed to file the necessary papers for Holman to play basketball on time — imagine if your guidance counselor did this to your first-year college enrollment — and who had to stay locked in his house for days and weeks on end because he feared for his safety. This man now lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where he essentially plays basketball for a living. In a collegiate atmosphere filled with greed and abuse, and in a world carved up by injustice, is that not the American Dream?
I don’t know Eli Holman, but I know what he’s been through. And I know his unlimited potential. And I know I’m glad he’s an Indiana Hoosier, for reasons that have nothing to do with slam dunks and blocked shots.
Filed to: Eli Holman