There's a line from the Notorious B.I.G's first single 'Juicy' in which he seems astounded by his success and spits, "Whoever thought that Hip-Hop would take it this far?" The same could probably be said of Melbourne Tigers own Corey 'Homicide' Williams. From humble beginnings in the heart of the Bronx to getting his passport tatted up like Lil Wayne, stamps all through it from destinations all around the world, Williams could never have dreamed growing up that basketball would take him so far.
Far away from the relative safety of Melbourne's cosmopolitan lifestyle are the gritty streets of the Bronx and Harlem. Home of the most famous blacktops and streetball tournaments in the world. These were the streets that shaped the young Corey Williams into 'Homicide'. Once a 13 year old Williams picked up a ball for the first time his game would be honed during rough street games at a court in the Bronx called 'Downlow'. Situated near Corey's home near 176th St in the heart of one of New Yorks most dangerous neighbourhoods, games there were competitive, even amongst friends. "If there was blood the foul would be called, otherwise it was play on," says Williams friend and my tour guide through the Borough, 'SixFive'. An affable young man who stands every inch as tall as his nickname suggests.
Even for a New York basketball aficionado such as myself sometimes certain players elude my attention for a period of time,and I do admit the first time I had heard of Homicide Williams was prior to the release of the first signature shoe for a legitimate streetballer, the 187 by K1X. As SixFive tells me the whole Borough was proud of Williams when the release became official. Posters of Williams were plastered all around the city. Tales of Williams exploits are regaled with ease by SixFive, "Have you heard the Ron Artest story?'. It has become city legend that Queensbridge native and current Los Angeles Laker Ron Artest was torched by Homicide for 44 points during an outdoor game, so much so that all footage of the event had been confiscated. The latter part of the story just adds to the mystique. "That's Corey," continues Six. "When he steps on court he's Homicide, doesn't matter who he's facing. He wants to win."
A well known streetballer by the name of A-Butta found out about Homicide's competitiveness when a challenge was thrown down by A-Butta for $5,000 pot in a one-on-one battle between two of the cities best ballers. Never one to back down Homicide upped the ante, and the pot to $10,000 for a showdown at famed Rucker Park. Homicide and his whole entourage waited patiently but Butta was a no-show. SixFive has stories like this for days, another one which was also confirmed to me by former Slam Magazine writer Matt Caputo involves Homicide torching former Boston Celtic Allen Ray so bad for 35 or 36 points that Ray's career never recovered.
Walking through both Harlem and the Bronx with SixFive hearing stories about the streetballing days of the NBL's MVP you understand that the whole Borough revels in the success of the man who freely admits that he was not very good at basketball when he first played. "If there was ten guys playing, Corey was probably eighth in terms of talent, that's what makes his success so much better. From the Bronx to Australia. His success is the neighbourhood's success. There is no jealousy or envy. It's all love," I'm reminded by Six.
That last point is driven home when I'm taken to Homicide's building in the Bronx. A typical brick building that you've seen many times in movies. Nothing too conspicuous yet everything about it screams Bronx. I'm introduced to a number of Corey's friends, all of whom light up when his name is mentioned. Especially a middle aged lady that when told I am a friend of Corey's from Australia, gets excited at the thought the the beloved son has returned. "Oh, Corey's here? Where is he?," she says. It's the same thing with some male friends in an upstairs apartment. My stays are brief but I leave with the same invitation by all, "You have to return in summer when Corey's back." The more I see and hear, the more appealing that sounds.
Having dealt with Corey under various circumstances back in Australia I feel like I perhaps know him better than most of, if not the rest of the Australian media. Walking around his hood with the people that know him best is another experience altogether. I start to get a better understanding of the man behind the man and just for good measure I find out the origins of the famous mohawk. When I mention to SixFive that often Corey is perceived as an arrogant American he replies, "That's how you gotta be out here, you can't back down from anything on the court."
As we begin the walk back to catch the D Train at the subway, I glance around at the Bronx one more time. I'm reminded of another rap song, another one by the Notorious B.I.G. The line i'm thinking of rings true, "The streets is a short stop. Either you slangin crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot." Often they are the only choices of kids growing up in the inner cities of America. Corey saw basketball as his ticket to tour the globe. It's led to stints in almost every continent around the world, led to business opportunities outside of basketball. He's made a healthy living doing what he loves. Corey may now reside in Melbourne but he still reps for the BX – watch him cross his hands into an X next time he makes a layup in the paint. The BX still reps for Corey too. "He's our Michael Jordan," says SixFive. "He's the Bronx's Michael Jordan."