The Wright Moves

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At 9:55, another bubble. He has a bovine way of chewing, and from the upper deck, even with binoculars, it's hard to tell whether it bothers Gary Payton or Alonzo Mourning, between whom he is sandwiched. He looks really small, sitting there with his elbows resting on his knees.

At 7:45, he takes his gum out of his mouth and quickly puts it behind him.

At 6:30, he's chewing again, but there are no bubbles — a sign of discontent?

No, when the buzzer for the quarter sounds, Wright jumps up and gives all the players five. If he's getting worried about how many minutes he'll see tonight, he's not showing it, at least not yet. He appears outwardly thrilled that Jason Kapono came off the bench and hit three jumpers in a row. The Heat leads 30-25.

With 11:23 left in the second quarter, Wright puts the black cutoff shirt he's wearing over his jersey in his mouth. Then he lets it fall.

At 9:37, he requests a new piece of gum, and a Heat trainer gets it for him. He tosses the wrapper behind him.

At 5:39, Wade cups Wright's head. Then Wright cups Jason Williams' head.

For a good portion of the second quarter, Wright chats with Jason Williams, and it looks like Williams may be giving him pointers. The Heat steadily builds a lead, which might up Wright's chances of getting in the game.

Now 3:31. If there's a time he'll get in, it's now. Wright sits back in his chair and crosses his arms.

The minutes wind down, and at the end of the half, still on the bench, Wright blows a giant bubble. The team exits the floor, leading 56-45, and Wright cups the back of fellow benchwarmer Michael Doleac's head.

For most of the third quarter, more bubbles are blown, and not much else is happening.

With 2:14 left, Wright blows a really big one. This one pops a little on his face, and he tongues it off his cheek.

Now there's 1:30 left. Wright and Antoine Walker are laughing hysterically. At the end of the third, the score is 73-67.

In the fourth, Wright watches his team barely hold on to win. Without him. He claps often and even stands in support every now and then. As he leaves the floor, a bit of the spring has gone out of his step.

Riley recently declared Wright, along with Wade, the future of the team, but judging by the dearth of number-one jerseys in American Airlines Arena (Wright appears to be the only one wearing one), the fans aren't so sure.

The Heat seems to want to promote Wright. He's the current feature of a four-part Sun TV series that gives a cursory look into Wright's life, emphasizing his fun, glossing over his frustration.

Walking around Miami Beach with Heat sportscaster Jason Jackson in the videos, Wright comes off as confident, happy-go-lucky, and a little goofy. When they encounter a passing parade, Wright playfully joins it, marching in step. He's got a way of keeping things light, suggesting some idyllic California childhood, which is exactly what he had.

Wright started playing hoops at Jesse Owens Park in a gang-infested section of South Central Los Angeles when he was just 4 years old. He practically swam in his jersey, but he was already a fierce competitor. In his first rec game, before the referee could toss the ball for the jump, Wright stole it away and attempted to score. His friends still tease him about it.

During the summers of his youth, Wright tagged along with older friends to the park. Wright, his oldest friend Jonathan Green, Green's brother, and another friend would wake up at sunrise and head to the park, skipping and singing "This is the song that never ends." They'd get louder and louder, aiming to wake and provoke the neighbors. At the park, they'd shoot hoops, then swim, then shoot more hoops.

Jonathan Green remembers how Wright was the youngest in the group by two years but how, seemingly overnight, the kid learned to dribble between his legs and move with a lean agility that reminded him of a young Penny Hardaway. His body seemed to have an inborn understanding of the game.

Not everybody recognized Wright's gifts. He sat on the bench his freshman year at Washington High School and saw only two games in tenth grade. There's no telling where Wright would be now if Derrick Clark hadn't taken him under his wing at Leuzinger, then introduced Wright to his AAU coach.

Erik Harden had been Clark's AAU coach for two years and had come to appreciate his player's opinion. So in late 2001, when Clark said, "Coach, there's a kid you gotta see," Harden took it seriously.

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Ashley Harrell
Contact: Ashley Harrell