Fred Parks says he had no bad intentions, he was just innocently walking down a North Philadelphia sidewalk with a couple of friends in mid-June, 1985, when bad intentions found him and "really messed up" his life.
As Parks--who was a guard on Philadelphia's Franklin High city championship team along with UCLA's Pooh Richardson--and his friends walked in front of a row of houses that afternoon, three men emerged from a doorway, one with a golf club in his hand. The friends recognized the men and ran. But Parks, who says he had never seen the three before, hesitated in the confusion and was attacked by the stranger with the 5-iron.
"He jumped down from some stairs and backed me up against a car," Parks said. "He started swinging the club at me. I blocked the first swing with my left arm and another with my right hand. If I hadn't blocked the swings, he would have clubbed me in the head."
Parks stumbled backward and ran to a friend's house three blocks away. It wasn't until he sat down to regain his breath--and senses--that he noticed the bones in both wrists were protruding through his skin. "I could see that the bones were broken. That's when the pain really began," Parks said.
A half-hour later, he was taken by paramedics to nearby Temple University Hospital, where doctors drained fluid from both arms before placing metal pins in the severely damaged left wrist. Each wrist was put in a cast--from the elbow to the knuckles--for a year. So swollen were Parks' hands that doctors were forced to cut off a school ring from his finger.
The "accident," as Parks now refers to it, left numerous unanswered questions, foremost of which was: Why would he be the target of such an attack?
Parks said that the friends he was with that day were "tough guys" who previously had been in fights with his attackers. "But I wasn't in a gang," he said.
Why didn't you report the incident to the police?
"Because they would have thought it was a gang fight," he said.
Why didn't you run away when your friends ran?
"I wasn't paying attention," he said. "I didn't know nothing and I didn't want no trouble."
Nevertheless, that is what he got.
Beyond the suffering caused by broken wrists, it was the timing of the incident that brought Parks additional hardship. He had graduated from high school three days before the fight and had caught the eye of assistant coaches at Villanova and La Salle, although neither of the Division I schools officially offered him a scholarship. Playing in Franklin's backcourt with Richardson, the 6-foot, 4-inch Parks averaged nearly 16 points a game and helped his team to the city championship game in 1984 and '85.
"Freddy could play," Richardson said. "He did a lot of good things for us."
Even though Parks struggled in the months after his golf-club ordeal, he reached the nadir of his existence about a year later. Just two weeks after having the casts removed, he fractured his wrists again, this time while dunking a basketball during a pickup game.
The casts were plastered back on for the better part of another year.
When the casts finally came off in February, 1987, Parks attended therapy classes twice a week at Temple and lifted weights. Slowly, he began playing basketball again, mostly at Strawberry Mansion, an inner-city school that offered an open gym and a place to regain his feel for the game and some confidence.
"But I didn't dunk at all," he said.
Which was understandable, but shying away from the rim also was a significant handicap because driving to the basket and dunking constituted almost the entirety of Parks' game. "In high school," Richardson said, "he could jump, he could really jump. Freddy's one of those players who has a lot of body control."
A month later, on the advice of Franklin Coach Ken Hamilton, Parks joined a church team that played in a tournament at Boston in May. Moorpark College Coach Al Nordquist happened to be in the stands the night Parks scored 56 points against a team from New York. Parks' recuperating wrists notwithstanding, Nordquist had seen enough to offer him a second chance to play college basketball--at Moorpark.
Since the Philadelphian enrolled at the college in the fall, his existence has changed. Adjustments have been crammed down his throat.
If there are two places further apart demographically than, say, Paris and Paducah, Ky., it would be Philadelphia and Moorpark. Parks talks as though he has landed on the moon. "It's so quiet here," he said. "I feel like I'm way, way out in the suburbs somewhere."
All the better to learn to study again after being out of school for more than two years. While waiting for his arms to heal, Parks' daily routine consisted mostly of getting out of bed and walking over to the couch to watch television. "I could move my fingers just enough to use the remote control," he said. "The only thing I ever read was the newspaper."