“The father of a high school sophomore is seeking $1.5 million in damages and the dismissal of the school’s basketball coach after his son did not get a spot on the varsity team. Lynn Rubin sued the New Haven Unified School District on Nov. 27 because his son, Jawaan Rubin, was told to return to the junior varsity team after being asked to try out for varsity.”
–Associated Press, December 11, 2001
Dad’s crazy, right? Dad must be one of those parents who just can’t deal with the fact that his kid is not, if the truth must be told, The Greatest Person Who Ever Lived. Hell, people like this Lynn Rubin character, they’re one nasty step away from that dad in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the one who beat his son’s hockey coach dead — in front of the whole team! — arguing about playing time!
Parents. When will they get it?
When the story of Rubin’s lawsuit hit the wires, sportswriters across the country jumped on it like free hot dogs in a press booth. Another Idiot Parent! Alert! “Tell Lynn Rubin he should be ashamed of himself,” wrote some guy from the Wisconsin State Journal. “Then ask Jawaan if he has ever heard of Michael Jordan. The Michael Jordan, who, when he was cut from his high school basketball team, did not sue.”
But go visit Lynn Rubin in his two-story home in Union City, and he’ll tell you the entire story like it was one hilarious practical joke, one that worked just to his liking. Rubin has the gangly stride of the basketball star he once was as he walks around his living room in blue sweats and white socks. He played on a full scholarship at Grambling University, tried out for the Indiana Pacers, got cut, and then the Houston Rockets, got cut. As he starts talking, he picks up a powder-blue comb and sticks it in his black hair.
“Truth crushed the earth to one day rise again!” he likes to say. Thump, thump. At the center of his dining room table, there’s a leather-bound Bible. Rubin was the son of a preacher in San Francisco and is an ordained Baptist minister himself. Plays the organ on Sundays.
He likes to clap his large, long, hands when he laughs. His bony shoulders, the wide crossbar atop his long frame, flap up and down. He looks around the living room in delight, recalling the morning the reporters came calling. He points out the spots where they lined up and waited for him, politely, like puppies in a kennel. “I had Channel 7 right there,” he says, wagging a finger to the wall, “I had Channel 2 right there, I had KPIX waiting over there. Had radio stations from London, Seattle, Arkansas, Los Angeles, New York — you name it.” Clap! “I had my fifteen minutes,” Rubin says, nodding, leaning back in his chair, the powder-blue comb still poking out of his head. “But I tell you what! The media did not manipulate me. I manipulated the media!”
Union City is a place where most residents are experts in two areas: Logan High School sports and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The Krispy Kreme, understand, is sort of a beacon rising above the waffle of tract homes. People use it to give directions (“Go to the Krispy Kreme, turn left”). They use it as a mutually agreeable gathering place (“Meet at the Krispy Kreme in thirty minutes?”). They find it a point of civic pride (“You know … we’ve got a Krispy Kreme”).
The Chamber of Commerce markets Union City as “The Gateway to Silicon Valley,” and most of the rich kids at Logan High live in the foothills near Fremont and the high-tech mother lode. The middle-class kids live in the flatlands with parents who likely grew up in Oakland and San Francisco and migrated twenty years ago or more. Logan is the only high school in a city of 68,500 people. And it’s a huge one: 4,200 students huge.
That can be a big problem if you grow up in Union City and like to dribble a basketball. About 2,000 male students attend Logan, and only thirteen can make the varsity basketball team. Can’t get along with the coach? Move to Hayward.
Logan’s coach, Blake Chong, looks like a bulldog: black flat-top; black goatee; chiseled game face. Wearing a suit and tie, strangling a white hand towel in his fists, he stomps along the sidelines during games, yelling instructions at players nonstop: “Slide! Slide! Slide! Jerrel, slide! Jerrel, slide! Jerrel! SLIDE!” Chong graduated from Logan, where he played basketball all four years, then played for Stanislaus State before returning to Logan as a physical education teacher. He’s been coaching twenty years, and he must be the envy of his peers within the Mission Valley Athletic League, the seven-team athletic conference where Logan competes. Not only does Chong get to pick from one of the largest pools of high school athletes from here to Eureka, he’s also got the sweetest gymnasium outside the Oakland Coliseum: a $4-million job done glossy.
Most Logan High teams eat MVAL titles for lunch and take the larger, more prestigious California sectional titles for dinner. Logan football? Over the past fourteen years, the team has a record of 130-30, which — do the math — equals about two losses a year. And most of those have come against nationally known De La Salle High School, which hasn’t lost a football game since the Bush Administration — the first one. Logan baseball? Won the state section last year. Logan wrestling? Won the state section five of the last seven years. And those are just the boys’ sports; the women win large, too.
The main exception to all this athletic prowess is Logan High basketball, which has not had a brush with glory since the team reached — and lost — the state championship game in 1986. Since then it’s been a slow climb back to the middle of the pack. The team’s last sectional title came more than a decade ago. “With those kind of resources,” says reporter Kent Elola, who covers high school sports for the local daily paper, the Argus, “people wonder why Logan basketball isn’t as good as the other sports. And some say it’s because of the coach.”
Those who hold this view trace it all the way back to 1992, Chong’s first year as head coach, the same year the great Eddie House played at Logan. The Eddie House saga is a fish story in these parts, and it’s usually meant to fry Coach Chong. House shot the lights out his freshman year at Logan and, when he turned sophomore, wanted nothing more than a try at the varsity squad. Chong had just become varsity head coach, so his father asked for a parent-to-coach sit-down. “This boy has to play varsity,” Eddie Sr. recalls telling Chong. “He needs the competition or he’ll never develop. And I wasn’t telling them [Chong and his assistants] that Eddie couldn’t learn from them. I was telling them Eddie couldn’t learn from the kids. It wasn’t conducive for Eddie to play at a lower level, or else he wouldn’t grow.” Eddie Sr. says his suggestion was a strong request, not an ultimatum. It was more of a I-know-what-my-kid-needs kind of communication.
Coach Chong listened, told Eddie Sr. he’d make no guarantees, but a few days before tryouts began, according to Eddie Sr., Chong told his son on the court, “Don’t even think of making varsity. Sophomores don’t play varsity.” Eddie Sr. says the no-sophomores rule was a bogus one, one that was already getting bent for another player named Alvin Harrell. So why not his son, too?
Eddie Jr. wanted varsity competition so bad he moved out of his parents’ home, transferred to Hayward High School, and moved in with his older brother. “[Hayward High] Coach Kendall took a look at him and right away he liked him,” Eddie Sr. says. “And the rest is well documented.” The documents show that Eddie Jr. tore a broad path through East Bay high school gyms, earned a scholarship to Arizona State, and was picked 38th overall in the NBA draft by the Miami Heat two seasons ago. Recently, Eddie Jr. stopped by his alma mater — Hayward High — just long enough to enjoy a hero-comes-home ceremony to retire his jersey. On the rare occasions when Logan visits Hayward, some Logan parents like to point to the rafters. “Eddie House started at Logan, you know.”
“Maybe he didn’t like me asking for Eddie to play varsity?” Eddie Sr. says now, recalling later run-ins with Chong. “And maybe he was getting me back by taking it out on the kid? I don’t know. But there’s definitely something there. I would say to him, ‘Now why was it that you thought Eddie couldn’t flourish in your system?’ And he would say to me, ‘You pulled him out of our school. You were the one who took the kid out,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay, okay, wish you the best, see you when I see you.’ He was the one who said he had a rule that sophomores couldn’t play. And I know for a fact, other sophomores have played varsity. So, I can’t put my finger on why he’s saying that kind of stuff, or what it’s about, but with him, there’s definitely something there.”
Some parents like to toss out the Eddie House story as proof of Chong’s blind spot for talent, but others shrug their shoulders. Who knew? How can you ever know? Like the man in the paper said, even Michael Jordan got cut from his high school team.
After Eddie left, Logan’s arch-rival, Newark Memorial High School, started stealing MVAL division titles like cupcakes. Beyond the stinging series of defeats, Logan parents began to notice other differences between the two programs. Newark kids are transferring right into college, they would say. Their high school coach is working with them. He’s teaching them both basketball and the game of life, wooing college recruiters, keeping relationships, making videotapes, preparing young men for the future.
Lynn Rubin’s eldest son, Janou, arrived at Logan in 1996. He’d been coached at home on weeknights, weekends, and over summer vacations, taught ball-handling skills, jumping skills, shooting skills. Rubin also taught his first-born how to stay in shape: push-ups, sits-ups, sprints. Raised him in a religious home, too. Janou was required to keep a 3.0 GPA or else: “Absolutely no basketball.”
“I had heard all about Coach Chong when Janou was in the eighth grade,” Rubin recalls. “Kids die there. They don’t develop. All I heard was, ‘I wouldn’t send my kid there,’ but what could I do? Move? We weren’t going to move. So I figured, I’ll give him a chance.”
Freshman year, Janou played well. Showed talent. Played junior varsity, moved to the varsity, and led the team to a MVAL division title, the school’s first since Chong took over. As he left Logan, Janou was the school’s all-time leading scorer in points, assists, and rebounds. Lynn was proud. Janou was proud. The school was proud.
But when it came time to help Janou meet recruiters and lay tracks for college, Rubin says, Chong was absent. “When Janou was coming up, Coach Chong never sent an e-mail, never called a coach, never said a word. He didn’t even congratulate Janou on his accomplishments. And he still hasn’t. I was watching this show on John Wooden the other night, the UCLA coach. I watched it with Jawaan, wanted to show him what a real coach is like — and you know what? He still talks to his players. Some of them graduated thirty years ago! He still talks to Bill Walton every day. Every day! Bill Walton hasn’t played for him in, what thirty years? He knows everything about his players to this day” — Rubin starts bending back fingers one at a time — “he knows what their professions are, what their kids’ names are, how they’re doing. Now that’s a coach! He does that because he feels compassion for his kids, right? Are you feelin’ me?”
The day the Arizona State recruiters informed Janou they’d come see him play at Logan, Coach Chong told Janou he was switching him from his normal position of small forward to center for the big game. Janou reported the switch to his dad the afternoon before tip-off. Rubin called Chong immediately. “I told him, ‘What are you doing, foo’! The recruiters are looking for a three [small forward] not a five [center]!” According to Rubin, the coach responded that moving Janou to center would give him the best lineup, and thus give Logan the best chance to win that game. It was a coach’s prerogative. Rubin was unmoved: “Not when [the scouts] are coming to see a three,” he responded. “You think they’re not looking at other threes? They’re looking to recruit a three.”
Just before the game, Chong returned Janou to his normal position, where he played a so-so game; Arizona State never did recruit him. Janou was offered a full ride to Portland State but decided, with counseling from his father, to attend UCLA, a nationally respected basketball program, and take his chances as a walk-on. In 2000, he made the team and won a scholarship.
“Coach Chong wanted to deal with kids who didn’t know basketball, and parents who didn’t care,” Rubin sighs, offering his only explanation why any coach would deny a player his potential. “I know he doesn’t want to deal with me, that’s for sure.”
So when Lynn’s second son, Jawaan, tried out for Chong’s team this season, it was a showdown in the making.
Logan’s Athletic Director Neal Fromson is a busy man. In addition to running the school’s athletic program (seventeen sports, 47 teams, 800 athletes), he’s paced the sidelines as Logan’s head football coach for the past fourteen years. He knows what it’s like to catch a disgruntled parent in his grill.
“Coaches don’t get ‘thank-yous,'” Fromson says in the enthusiastic hoarse voice one might expect from a head football coach. “When I played high school sports, it was like, ‘Oooh, isn’t that the head coach of so-and-so?’ But we don’t give high school coaches that respect anymore. And I don’t think we give teachers that respect, either. I don’t know why that it is, but I see it more and more. You don’t hear a parent say, ‘Gosh, Coach, thanks. I just loved it.’ You might see a player five years down the road who comes back and says, ‘Hey, Coach, thanks. You really helped me.’ But coaches don’t get a lot of thank-yous today, no.”
Parents really want it all these days, Fromson says. If their kid displays one ounce of talent, they start dreaming “full-ride scholarship,” when the reality is, only five athletes from the entire MVAL have been skilled enough, and smart enough, to win Division I full rides in the last fifteen years. “But parents are parents. They’re looking at their kids through filtered windows.”
Fromson uses one word to describe Lynn Rubin’s lawsuit: “ludicrous.”
“If parents start having the right to determine which kids should play and which coaches should coach,” Fromson says, trailing off at the thought, “I’d say the only option then is for the parent to become the coach and select his own son to the team.
“I mean, how could we, as high school coaches, make decisions based on what the parents believe is the right choice? If I could — and I’m using sarcasm here — when I’m on the sidelines I’d give every parent in the stands a pair of headphones so they can hear what’s going on, so I could poll the audience. I guess the first question I’d ask is, ‘Do I have the proper players on the field?’ And the second question would be, ‘Do I have the right play selected?’ Do you know what would happen if I did that?
“Who would ever suggest that it would be a good idea that a parent should decide who plays? I don’t know who that could be. I don’t know anybody that would sit back and say, ‘That’s a good point. Parents should decide who plays.’ I just don’t know anyone who would agree with that.”
A coach’s job, Fromson says, is to evaluate the talent as best he or she can and put the best team on the field. Fromson says a coach like Blake Chong, who grew up in the city and is drenched in the history of the school and the community, is an expert on his kids and their opponents. Knowing the nuances and the players of the entire league, Fromson says, is a quality that no parent can possess. How could a parent know how his kid matches up against the squad from Mission San Jose? Or how his kid might fare against Newark’s hustle-hustle-hustle offense?
The best coaches can do is prepare the players how to respect themselves, how to respect the game and how to “respect everyone on and off the field,” Fromson says. And Chong, Fromson adds of his longtime colleague, “does an excellent job of teaching players to respect themselves and their sport. Period.”
Fromson loves coaching, loves the gig at Logan, don’t get him wrong. But to illustrate the can’t-win side of life as a high school coach, he tells a story about an old man, a little boy, and a donkey, who are all walking down the street together. At first, the little boy hops on the donkey’s back and is condemned by passersby for forcing the old man to walk. So the little boy trades spots with the old man, and others growl at the elder for making the little boy walk. Others feel pity for the donkey.
“The point is,” Fromson says, “coaches can’t please everybody.”
Debra McIntosh is one parent who says she understands Lynn Rubin’s frustration. McIntosh’s son Hamadi played for Chong last season, and she’s got a blue laundry basket filled with copies of e-mails, rosters, schedules, and reports from this season’s controversial tryouts to prove it. Believing Hamadi has suffered under Chong, she and her husband, Rick, have been filing complaints, scheduling meetings, sitting down with school administrators. It’s a long, taxing road. “I can’t blame Lynn at all. Maybe they’ll listen to a lawsuit. Maybe that’ll get the board’s attention. Maybe they’ll realize there’s something wrong with this basketball program.”
Hamadi played for Chong last year as a junior. He’s a lean six-feet-four-inch seventeen-year-old with arms like airplane wings. An athlete, heel to scalp, he played water polo and made first team All League last year. In the off-season, he plays for the Bay Area Ballers, a private traveling basketball team. But even though Hamadi’s height alone would be a godsend for most high school coaches, he was the last man picked on Chong’s varsity squad last year and spent most of the season sitting at the far end of the bench.
From the start, Hamadi found Chong’s coaching style uniquely vague compared to his other basketball coaches and experiences on water polo teams. “The team was full of doubt,” he says. “Nothing was clear-cut. Within the team there was a lot of competitiveness, and he encouraged that. No one knew what their roles were. He didn’t announce starters until ten minutes before tip-off each game, so no one knew where they stood or what they were working for. Coach Chong didn’t communicate very well.”
At the start of the season, Chong announced a new policy: Any player who loses a uniform will have to pay for a new one. As it turned out, despite the don’t-lose-the-uniforms threat (or maybe because of it), one player did manage to lose his uniform. Chong went to Hamadi, the player at the bottom of the roster whom he found on campus helping set up tables for the year-end water polo banquet. Chong told Hamadi the team now had fourteen players and thirteen uniforms. He asked the teenager to forfeit his varsity uniform, if he would, and spend the rest of the thirty-game season in a JV uniform.
“At the time, I didn’t know how to make the decision except to do what the coach said,” recalls Hamadi. “So I agreed. Then I went home and told my parents what had happened.”
Hamadi’s parents told him they thought it was wrong for the coach to take away his uniform. After all, he wasn’t the one who lost it. With their prompting, Hamadi called the coach at home, at about 9 p.m., and said he thought he should keep what was given to him. Hamadi says the next day at practice Chong approached him, said, “I fucked up. Sorry,” and walked away. Hamadi (and his parents) didn’t consider it a heartfelt apology.
A few days later, the team traveled to Hawaii for a tournament. It was an eventful trip. School records containing details of the events are sealed, but current and former players tell of boozing, pot smoking, and a shoplifting spree, including the swiping of one very expensive watch. Police were involved, tears were shed, mothers received late-night phone calls. So when the Logan High School Colts straggled back to Union City, two players were cut immediately for violating student behavior and ethics codes.
By the last game of the season, against Washington High, a band of angry Logan parents were gathered in the bleachers. The parents were upset about the carousing in Hawaii and were wondering where Coach Chong had been during the fiesta. They were also complaining noisily about why their children were not getting more playing time on a team that, at one game below .500, was once again finishing a mediocre season.
As the Colts warmed up, running crisscross patterns of lay-ups, Wendy Patrinos, a special-education assistant at a district grade school and the mother of one of the players, held up a homemade sign that attacked Logan’s school slogan, “Equity. Quality. Stability”: “Equity, Quality and Stability? Where is it in Logan Sports?” Another sign read, “At Logan, You Pay You Play.”
Everyone knew that the latter slogan was a reference to Dr. Arthur Ting, a prominent team booster and donor whose twin sons were on the team. Ting is a well-known Bay Area sports doctor who runs a clinic in Fremont and has worked on players from most every professional team in the area: Sharks, 49ers, Raiders, Warriors. He’s the kind of parent who’s often seen rooting at Logan sporting events, even when his kids aren’t on the team. He’s worked as trainer gratis for Logan High School athletes for fifteen years, well before his kids arrived, and has performed free knee surgeries on more than a dozen Logan players and coaches.
His sons, the “Ting Twins,” as they are inevitably known around Logan, are big stars on the football team. They played baseball too, and were good enough to get called up to the varsity squad for a few games when they were just freshmen. They’ve got matching 4.0 GPAs, and both are small, quick, and tenacious athletes. Yet Wendy Patrinos and other basketball parents were openly questioning the twins’ places on the court and suggesting their father’s influence might have been responsible.
Wendy Patrinos waved her signs in the air, videotapes show, took a lap around the gymnasium, and found her seat to a few claps from supporters, and a few gasps from other mostly stunned, silent parents. “It was absolutely ignorant,” says Dr. Ting. “She didn’t know what she was doing, walking around the gym like that. See, she thinks she was waving her First Amendment rights, but all she was doing was being disruptive to the team.” Ting scoffs at the notion that he somehow secured two third-string guard positions on the varsity basketball team for his sons. “If I really wanted to do that, I’d pay for everything and coach the team myself. Heck, if that were the case, I’d pay the principal, and run the school. The truth is, coaches pick players who are going to be positive attributes to the team.”
Fromson was in the crowd, too. He and the school’s spirit director asked Patrinos to put down her signs, saying that they weren’t “supportive or positive for the team.” When they then asked Wendy Patrinos to leave, she refused, and people from both sides surrounded her.
That’s when Chong’s assistant coach Jim Yuen took action. He strode toward Wendy Patrinos and lunged for her sign, prying it right out of her two suburban-mom hands. The police officer working the game intervened. Interviews were taken. An “incident report” was filed. Parents told of everything they saw.
Chong and his assistants huddled and decided to ask Wendy Patrinos’ son Tom to go into the locker room, take off his uniform, and leave it behind. And the game? No one can remember the score.
“He grabbed my wife,” says Gerald Patrinos. “If you were a teacher and you did that, you’d be fired. But nothing happened to him.”
Not that the parents didn’t try to make something happen. With the season over, and several juniors looking to return as seniors, including Hamadi and Tom Patrinos, the peeved parents consolidated their complaints and formed a group called the Associated Parents for Equity and Accountability in Logan Sports, or, APPEALS. They gathered at the offices of the NAACP in Fremont, hired a consultant and spokesperson named Freddie Davis, and elected a president, secretary, and treasurer. They wanted to get the word out: They were going to clean up Logan sports and they wanted Chong’s head on a stick.
They followed the school’s official complaint process, handing Superintendent Ruth Ann McKenna nineteen complaints from parents against Chong. She investigated, finding nothing that warranted action. The parents appealed in June, taking their complaints to the New Haven Unified School District Board of Trustees. The board investigated and responded by letter.
“There exists a lack of balance between the importance of athletics and the importance of academics and other co-curricular activities,” the board wrote. “There is the appearance of no defined accountability involving the athletic director, the coaches, and the administrators.” The board found “an atmosphere of poor communication between parents, coaches, and students” at Logan High. “Retribution has taken place and students were unfairly singled out and punished for the actions of their parents.”
To the McIntosh and Patrinos families, the letter was an endorsement of their concerns. They waited for apologies — and for the dismissal of Chong. How, they thought, could McKenna hold onto an employee who has officially been found to retaliate against kids?
They waited all summer, only to hear, as classes were set to resume, that McKenna was going to keep the coach. (McKenna declined an interview and referred questions to the school district’s attorney, who declined to comment.) Though disappointed, the parents figured that they had made their point. Surely, they told each other, if Chong steps out of line this season, it would be the end.
Hamadi wasn’t looking forward to playing for the man, but he’d worked hard in summer leagues and knew he needed floor time at Logan for a real chance at a college scholarship. He’d received recruiting mail from head coaches at UC San Diego, UC Davis, and Cal State Dominguez Hills and had been ranked on NorCalPreps.com as being one of “Top 90” players in Northern California. Bay Area School Sports magazine gave him an “honorable mention” for his game. No other Logan player made either list. Heck, no other player in the entire MVAL made either of those lists.
Tom Patrinos was also eager to get back on the court. At six-foot-five, the boy could help on the inside, right along with Hamadi McIntosh.
And there was more talent on the way: Jawaan Rubin. As a sophomore, he was prepared to spend the year on the JV team, per Chong’s alleged no-sophomores-on-varsity rule. But a few days before tryouts, surprising everyone, Chong asked Jawaan, along with two other sophs, to try out for the varsity squad.
Here’s a fact about Jawaan Rubin. He’s fifteen years old and he can dunk. He can dunk with the right hand. He can dunk with the left hand. He’s got more physical ability than his brother had at this age, his dad says, and better ball-handling skills. Says Hamadi, who practiced with Jawaan for a couple days at the tryouts, “Jawaan is a varsity player anywhere. Especially at Logan.”
Tryouts started. Twenty-three players went out, thirteen made the team. Jawaan Rubin was sent back to JV; Tom Patrinos and Hamadi McIntosh were cut. To Debra McIntosh and Wendy Patrinos, the reason was clear: retribution. What coach, they reasoned, cuts two returning seniors?
So Debra McIntosh went back to work, hoping to get Hamadi reinstated. She sighs as she thinks back over the meetings she’s had with Superintendent McKenna, the hours she’s spent preparing binders filled with forms, letters from recruiters, and clippings from the paper, and copies of last spring’s letter from the board. She’s had her petitions denied, her complaints returned, had her e-mails unanswered, but she’s pressing on. “It’s a process that’s designed to discourage you,” she says.
At a school board meeting on January 14, the process was extended yet again. The McIntosh and Patrinos families arrived for what they thought would be a closed-door meeting session with McKenna and the board, but were surprised to enter an auditorium filled with two hundred Chong supporters, including head coaches from Newark and Mission San Jose, two referees, and a handful of teenage Colts in their black, red, and white sweatsuits. The coaches said they showed up because “this could have happened to us.” The students said they showed up because, as one put it, “We want to show coach the kind of support he shows us.”
After each of the five speakers took turns standing at the podium, listing the coach’s bright qualities — “gets respect from kids,” “is a great coach,” “is a great guy” — the room rumbled with strong applause. A former basketball player, one who was cut because of the Hawaii incident, also came to speak. He thanked Chong for cutting him. He said the experience forced him to get his head “screwed on right.”
Afterwards, when the McIntosh and Patrinos families met with the administrators, they learned that McKenna and the board were going to close the issue for good. If the parents were still up for it, they could appeal the decision to the California State Board of Education within ten days. With that, board President Gwen Estes turned to Chong: “We’re done. Now let’s go out and win some games.”
The next afternoon, in her kitchen in Union City, McIntosh was drained to the core. She wasn’t sure if she was ready to keep going. “Right now we feel like the little itty-bitty ants trying to take on a grizzly bear.”
Lynn Rubin had another idea for taking the grizzly bear down.
That thing about how I wanted $1.5 million dollars because I was calculating how much money Jawaan would make in the future? That’s not true, man. C’mon. How can you project what a fifteen-year-old kid is going to make down the road? Heck, I’d be happy if Jawaan got a summer job at the hot dog stand and made minimum wage.” If you read Rubin’s lawsuit, it’s true that he’s not asking for money based on Jawaan’s “future earnings.” Since it’s a civil lawsuit, Rubin had to list the amount of damages he was pursuing, and “one-point-five sounded nice.” The reporters got it wrong and they ran with it, Rubin says.
Rubin studied at a law library in Hayward, worked on his computer at home, and filed his lawsuit after Thanksgiving. He says he didn’t think of it at first, but when a reporter called him, two weeks after filing, he realized the potential of going public. The Argus ran a piece on the front page on Tuesday, December 11, and by noon that day Rubin had television trucks logged at his front curb, radio stations calling from across the Atlantic Ocean and, his personal favorite, a call from a reporter from the television show Inside Edition who said she was catching the next flight in.
“My phone didn’t stop ringing, and I didn’t care who called — I talked to them.”
And talked. And talked. Talked so much, he says, that some of his interviewers didn’t wait to hear the whole story. Those who did, he adds, usually were convinced. “I had these two guys from Seattle calling me, thinking they were talking to some crazed-ass jackass dad who didn’t know what he was talking about,” Rubin says. “They thought I really wanted all that money. After a while, when they heard the story, they started saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re OK.’ ” Clap!
For the cameras, he took Jawaan out to courts at the local park and let him dunk. He kept talking. Inside Edition did interviews and told Rubin that the story would air soon. (So far, it has not.)
As he putters around his house, looking for documents that will prove his point one way or another, Rubin says he has enjoyed all the attention, though he admits that his oldest son, Janou, “doesn’t want anything to do with this,” and his wife “doesn’t care much for what I’m doing.” And Jawaan? “He reveled in it,” assures Rubin. “It gave him a sense of worth. He wanted to know why he was working so hard, so long, just to have this coach do this to him. And to have everyone know what was going on, that what happened to him wasn’t right.”
Jawaan Rubin learned about his dad’s lawsuit the same way everyone else in town did: He read it in the paper. A tall, trim, and lean kid, he now has no team to play for. (After Jawaan was sent to JV, he failed to show up for the first few practices. Jawaan says father told him to stay home to watch over his younger sister after school. Coach Chong’s colleagues say Jawaan never explained his absences, and considered him a deserter. The team moved on.) Jawaan has been running five miles every other day by himself, works nightly on his jump shot, and tries to “keep it in perspective.” His voice is changing, but it’s not wavering.
On the first day the story hit the stands, Jawaan strode through the halls of Logan, and the kids started calling him “one-point-five.” Some teased him, asked him for loans. The teachers, he says, didn’t say a word. Chong blew him off.
“I agree with what my dad did,” Jawaan says over the phone, after finishing homework, his father listening in on another line. “I guess when you feel so strongly in what you believe in, you have to take extreme measures.”
His friends say he’s doing fine. Say he’s letting all the razzing at school roll right off his back. They say he likes to talk about his game. “I like basketball for the competition and the physical,” Jawaan says. “It’s a contact sport. But I also like using my brain, not just my body. When I do, nobody can really stop me. You can’t let outside distractions interfere with what you’ve got to do. I had to keep my focus on life, and in basketball.”
If Chong is still at Logan next year, Jawaan says he’ll transfer to another school.
Lynn Rubin says the school district’s lawyers have contacted him, and a meeting is scheduled for later this month. (The lawyers wouldn’t confirm this one way or another.) He doesn’t expect the case to go to trial and says he would be satisfied by arbitration. He just wanted to get the administration’s attention. The lawsuit made some noise. Interviews and depositions will be taken, and Chong will have to show up, be accountable, explain himself. He can’t hide any longer, Rubin says.
Blake Chong’s Colts are off to a four-and-ten start this year. They beat Newark in the league opener. It was an upset: Logan hasn’t beaten Newark in three years. “I wish this night wouldn’t end,” a sweaty Chong told a reporter after the game. “It’s kind of like Cinderella. Twelve o’clock’s going to come regardless, but I’m going to enjoy this one.”
Jawaan Rubin hung out in a cluster of friends and watched the game from the bleachers.