The city of Chester, Pennsylvania grew up around the massive shipyards that sprawl along the banks of the Delaware River. The naval graving dock thrived during the Civil War, but by the early 1960s Chester's mainstay industries had pretty much collapsed. Today, many parts of this rough-and-tumble town could use invasive surgery. Once bustling commercial thoroughfares are now chilling corridors of boarded-up shops and derelict facades. Sturdy row houses are decaying; sheet metal is stapled over the windows of deserted buildings; demented graffiti covers the walls. The 19th century boomtown has become an almost sinister, ghostly place.
Apart from the fact that it claims to be the birthplace of the hoagie, Chester has few claims to even regional fame. No professional sports team trumpets its name, no attraction lures drivers from the highway that runs forlornly through it. But Chester does boast one current distinction: Tyreke Evans is a native son.
A 6' 6", 220-pound son of a Chester truck driver, 'Reke plays guard for the Sacramento Kings. He plays it so well that he is the front-runner for NBA Rookie of the Year. He's on pace to become only the fourth rookie in league history to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists a game. The other three were Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. "I really feel Tyreke has some magic in him," says Nate McMillan, coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. "He's a big guard who can pass, who can get to the basket. He's very close to Magic Johnson in transition, going coast-to-coast."
Selected fourth in last year's pro draft, 'Reke was the highest pick ever out of Delaware County, a region of suburbs adjacent to Philly. Curiously, the county's previous top pick was Geoff Petrie, Sacramento's President of Basketball Operations, who in 1970 was chosen eighth overall by the Trail Blazers. Petrie, the NBA's 1971 co-Rookie of the Year, thinks 'Reke has the potential to join the pantheon of Philadelphia-area greats, alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Earl Monroe and Rasheed Wallace. "Tyreke is already one of the best finishers around the NBA," he says. "He has turned the Kings from the consensus worst team in the NBA, and helped us win at least 50 percent more games than expected."
I was introduced to Team Tyreke last year in Philly on the second night of Passover. Why was 'Reke's team different than all other teams? Partly because it consisted largely of his older brothers -- Reggie, Doc and Pooh -- and a cousin, Meek. Reggie and Doc attend to the business end; Pooh monitors the hoops side from a distance. The remaining teammates are Lamont Peterson -- 'Reke's strength and conditioning coach -- and Dwayne Davis, his roommate and best friend.
At the time of my introduction, Tyreke had just finished his freshman year at the University of Memphis, and was thinking of turning pro. I was enlisted as his agent to help make that happen. Reggie, Doc and Pooh all went to Chester High, which routinely crushed my alma mater, Harriton, with its signature 32-minute full-court press. Pooh played point guard on the team that in 1994 won the Class AAAA state championship.
In his day job the 37-year-old Reggie -- who as a kid thought up the name Tyreke -- is an operations manager for a communications company. "As a four-year-old, we saw that there was so much talent there," Reggie told me. "He played in the Chester Biddi League and though he was half the age of everyone else, he dominated. It was the first time the league director had heard a kid was too young to play. Usually, it was too old trying to play."
To keep his youngest brother off Chester's mean streets, Reggie enrolled him at private American Christian School in nearby Aston. Tyreke remembers one of his brothers saying: "I don't want Tyreke ever walking through a metal detector to go to school." He says his team "watched over me like a hawk. It wasn't like I had one father, it was like I had five."
Even while starting on the varsity as a seventh-grader, the prodigy retained his Chester swagger. High school teammates recall that he shot like a trooper, dished like a gossip columnist and had more jams than a shelf of Flintstone jelly jars.
Perhaps what most impressed me about team Tyreke was its master plan, otherwise known as "the blueprint." After the Kings drafted Tyreke, Reggie had him incorporated under that name. Tyreke is the CEO; Reggie, the vice president. Though it's been around less than a year, Tyreke Inc. already has deals with Nike, Hugo Boss, Hollywood Collectibles and the Panini trading card company.
The next stage of "the blueprint" calls for a Rookie of the Year Award. After that, league titles, MVP trophies and two maximum-salary contracts spanning a 15-year career. "My family, my team, has always been there for me," Tyreke says. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be anywhere. I used to read things on the web that made it sound like my brothers from Chester were an entourage or something. But, hey, they're my brothers. If anybody thinks they're an entourage, then I have the best entourage in the world. My guys all have my back."