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Dorell Wright is prone to bold announcements. The sinewy forward leapfrogged college for the NBA in 2004 to become the youngest Heat player of all time. But the announcement that shocked roommate Derrick Clark came last November, when Wright declared, "Yo, I'm going to cook Thanksgiving."
Clark knew his best friend could hoop with the best in the world. He just didn't think the kid could do turkey. "I was like, 'You ain't goin' cook!'" Clark says. "I just couldn't believe it. I was trying to picture him picking up a pan, and I can't see it. I can't see him bending over, looking under the cabinet for a pan. I can't see it, bro. Not at all."
Wright asked whether Clark would pick up the food, e-mailing him a grocery list teeming with ambition. "He wants cranberry sauce. He wants sweet potato pie. He wants turkey. Stuffing. Yams... I was like, 'All right, yeah, I'm gonna go get all this for you. I got you. I can't wait for you to cook all this. '"
When Clark returned from shopping, Wright was still at practice. Clark called him up. "I'm like, 'Yo, by the time you get here, it's goin' be Thanksgiving already. What food you goin' be cooking?'"
That's when ambition gave way to reality. "He like, 'Yo, I know, why don't you go ahead and just cook it for me?'" says Clark, laughing. "I'm like, 'Wait, wait, wait. This wasn't part of the plan. I didn't sign up for this. '"
Clark, with the help of two friends, cooked Thanksgiving dinner, and judging by all the clean plates that came back, Clark guesses it turned out well.
That's life at the Coconut Grove condo shared by these two former high school basketball teammates. Wright makes the money. Clark takes care of the details.
Clark's also the storyteller, and that talent is on full display as he conducts a tour of his and Wright's sizable and comfortable home. Clark can't tell the Dorell Wright story without telling his own.
He began hearing the name Dorell Wright around South Central L.A., where they both grew up, when he was 12. Apparently, Wright was a very good football player. Then, as an 11th-grader, Wright showed up in Clark's high school gym as almost an afterthought. He had transferred to the high school to play baseball. Wright had never had formal basketball coaching but was tall, athletic, and confident, and Clark the team's captain took him under his wing. The two started working out together, and Clark was floored by Wright's potential. He introduced Wright to his Amateur Athletic Union coach, who immediately invited Wright to join the team.
Wright grew to six-foot-eight. Clark stayed five-foot-eleven. Wright went to prep school, where college coaches, then NBA scouts, flocked to him. Clark went to a community college, then a junior college, where his team was plagued with injuries.
In February 2005, Wright invited Clark to visit him in Miami, where he got to see his friend dress and play in the first game of his NBA career. Before that, Wright had been in a suit. Clark apparently a good-luck charm hasn't left Miami since.
Now, Clark watches from a prime seat as his best friend, whose talent he discovered and nurtured, lives their dream.
Well, sort of. Apparently once you get to the NBA, the dream gets more specific.
For Dorell Wright, becoming a first-round NBA draft pick meant a three-year, $3-million-plus contract, a Nike contract, a sweet condo in the Grove, 100-plus pairs of shoes, and hero status among all who know him. But that won't help him start basketball games. Wright, who's 21 now, has languished on the Heat bench for the better part of three seasons, upsetting his supporters and stagnating his development. His patience has been rewarded only periodically, when other players get injured. Wright seems to handle this as well as any young athlete could, but with his career and millions of dollars on the line, you better believe he's upset.
His plight goes to the larger issue of how inexperienced young men adjust to a highly public, pressurized environment like the NBA. "In a lot of ways, they're like a lot of spoiled kids," former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said recently in an online interview. Abdul-Jabbar thinks the straight-out-of-high-school scenario is a crap shoot for a lot of kids who know little about the world. "When somebody drops $20 million in their laps," he says, "it's going to have an effect on their egos."
Of course, for the born stars like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett, making the transition seems as effortless as a swished jump shot. Others, like Jonathan Bender, Korleone Young, and Leon Smith, have found themselves deflected, respectively, into injuries, Europe, and a psychiatric ward. Remember them? Didn't think so.
For Wright, the jump seems to be bouncing lightly from one side of the rim to the other. Will it drop? Impossible to say, but he's certainly got the crowd at the edge of its seat.
Wright was not interviewed for this article, largely because Miami Heat owner Micky Arison is holding a grudge against New Times after Miami New Times called Arison a "Greedy Corporate Pig" in two headlines in 1996. So New Times pays face value for Heat tickets, and our press box is at row 21, section 324, of American Airlines Arena, where it takes binoculars to find number one the "Wrighteous One," as his teammates call him sitting on a bench in the April 3 game against the Toronto Raptors.