This Baltimore summer is hotter than fish grease, with pain popping in every direction—cop killings in the streets, cop killings on the news, a fired commissioner, multiple marchers marching for rights we shouldn’t have to march for, double-digit homicides, and morale that’s really low all around. It’s likeslanging-cups-of-water-at-your-own-mayor-because-you-are-frustrated-with-your-city low right now. In the midst of documenting and reporting on all of this pain for various media outlets, I get a tweet from Marcus Hatten, a professional basketball player often noted as one of the best athletes to make it out of Baltimore.
He @’d me and former NFL linebacker-turned-highly-sought-artist Aaron Maybin, personally inviting us to the inaugural “Marcus Hatten” day. Many locals remember Hatten from his days of putting up big numbers under legendary coach Bucky Lee at Mervo High School in Northeast Baltimore. Back then, Hatten was known for being swift on the court. His long arms threw dazzling crossovers at opponents, sometimes knocking them off their feet and giving him the perfect position to dunk defenders twice his size. Those skills earned Hatten a full ride to St. John’s University where he led the Red Storm to the National Invitation Tournament, won a championship, and was named MVP. Always a fan of Hatten’s game and easy-going personality, I gladly accepted the offer and shared the post.
“You know I personally invited every role model and professional athlete that I know in the Baltimore area,” said Hatten. “I wanted to create something positive. Baltimore has been getting negative press on every inch of the globe. The media always runs to negative things and I felt like it was my job to provide something different.”
Moe Hatten Day took place on a blacktop we call 27, which is in the back of Commodore John Rodgers School and directly across from where Chapel Hill housing projects used to be. Twenty-seven is where Hatten honed the skills that took him around the world. To date, he’s played in Greece, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and Spain, among other places.
I hit the court before it started. A group of young black guys were clearing trash, jump-jumps were being inflated, and a game of five-on-five was in the making. The smallest kid on the court was barking about being picked last, and he lived up to his claim by hurling the ball over his boney shoulders and throwing it into the double rim—nothing but net. After he sank his shot, he backpedaled up court like a young Kobe.
Minutes after my arrival, people started pouring in from every direction. Artists, local rappers, and some other Bmore hoop legends hit the court. Pros started popping up too, like former NFL star Keion Carpenter and Washington Wizards guard Gary Neal, who arrived with his son like many others. “It’s great to see Marcus giving back to the community,” said an excited Neal. “He’s showing kids that there are positive people in the community who really care about their future and willing to take the time to invest!”
Hatten only planned for 150 people, but 300-plus crowded the court within the first hour. “I had 275 shirts made and all of them are gone!” Laughter and good times wrapped around court—athletics, teaching, reunions, and networking intersected and we all got a piece. Hatten contributed something to Baltimore that many of us caught up in revolutionary work sometimes forget about: fun. How can we as activists, artists, and the media move forward without taking the time to celebrate with the young people that we are fighting for? More importantly, Hatten’s talent allows him to live, play, and spend time in dozens of countries around the world, but he opts to do community work right in in Baltimore where we need him the most.
Hatten delivered an honest blow to many of the issues we face. While there, I forgot about the murder rate and Hogan’s budget cuts in education that will probably help add to the murder rate. No one there had to yell and chant “Black lives matter!” because we could all see it, we were living it, it was right in front of our eyes. Hours after the event, I met Hatten down at Palmere’s for a well-deserved meal. He glided into the restaurant with the same stride that he uses to break up defenses on the court. Everyone in the spot greeted him with love. We sat for a while and discussed the event, which was an obvious success. I raised a glass to toast to a wonderful day with him and Omar, another childhood friend and amazing ball player.
“Unity,” Hatten said. “This day is way bigger than me. I wanted to bring the whole city together for something positive and that’s what I did, I can’t wait to do it again next year.”