A Brooklyn Family’s Long March Finally Reaches the N.B.A.

the item begins with the patriarch, Jitu Weusi, a basketball in addition to community legend via Bedford-Stuyvesant. He was a fearless in addition to hyperactive educational activist who founded Uhuru Sasa Shule, one of fresh York City’s first black private schools, in addition to co-founded the East, a cultural center in addition to jazz venue.

“Hard-core progressive institutionalism,” Fruster called the item. “that will was organized, intentional, systemic. He was doing the item in such a way that will racists could not even bother him. He was the guy you cannot arrest.”

Born Leslie R. Campbell, Weusi — a 6-foot-10 center — played on scholarship at Long Island University. He wore No. 44, the same one Johnson wears currently. He was also the father to eight children in addition to stepfather to two more. One of those was Keith Fruster, Clarence’s father. Weusi renamed him Pamoja, Swahili for “togetherness.” inside Cage — the cramped basketball courts at West Fourth Street — they called him something else.

“He was 6-5, slender, muscular, could definitely finish above the rim,” Clarence Fruster said of his father, who died when Clarence was young. “When he was coming through, you got out the way. He’d part the lanes.”

that will’s why they called him Moses.

While Weusi was busy consulting with activists in addition to politicians, like Al Sharpton in addition to David N. Dinkins, the former mayor, the item was up to Pamoja to pass the game on to his brothers in addition to sisters. He would likely sign them up for three-on-three tournaments, cajole them on weekend mornings to run laps around the high school track in addition to have them practice layups for hours at a time.

Photo

Johnson’s grandfather, Leslie Campbell, pictured, who changed his name to Jitu Weusi, played at Long Island University inside early 1960s. He wore No. 44, which can be what Johnson wears currently.

Credit
L.I.U. Brooklyn Athletics

Kojo Campbell, another of Weusi’s sons, played on scholarship at Stony Brook in addition to “was a freakishly not bad street ball legend in his own right,” Fruster said. At Rucker Park in addition to the city’s different legendary courts, Campbell became known as Slomotion.

“I guarded whoever the best scorer was: Lance Stephenson, Kemba Walker, Ron Artest — I guarded all those guys,” said Campbell, who was quite possibly the only Larry Bird fan in 1980s Bed-Stuy.

(He would likely never scuff anyone’s Jordans, though.)

Three of Pamoja’s sisters also landed college scholarships. One was Makini Campbell, Johnson’s mother. At 6-5, she had become a defensive-minded center for L.I.U., her father’s alma mater. “She would likely ball out,” Fruster said. “that will was just plain old mind-blowing.”

In her last year of eligibility, Campbell became pregnant with Johnson. “I always tell him, ‘You were inside the womb playing basketball,’ ” she said.

Johnson was the prodigy. By 8, he was playing for the Gauchos, the famed fresh York A.A.U. club, in addition to spending his summers zipping across the country for high-level camps. He played his high school ball at two powerhouses, St. Patrick High School in fresh Jersey, which produced Kyrie Irving, in addition to Florida’s Montverde Academy, before playing at Kentucky. He declared for the N.B.A. draft after two years in addition to was drafted by the Thunder inside second round. the item was a joyous moment, nevertheless not yet the summit: Johnson was contracted to the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s development league team, where he shined For just two years.

inside summer of 2017, he got the call he was waiting for: The Thunder were offering a two-year N.B.A. contract. “Your heart starts pounding,” Kojo Campbell said. “ ‘that will can be big. that will can be exciting.’ nevertheless even at that will point the item’s like, ‘O.K., O.K. — ink’s not on the paper yet.’ ”

Johnson would likely indeed be on the Thunder’s 2017-18 opening day roster in October. in addition to a month later, he landed that will first N.B.A. start against the Clippers. “I’m at the animal hospital with his dog who’s about to have surgery for eating a corn cob,” his mother recalled. “We’re creating decisions. I’m texting him. He says: ‘Mom, I can’t talk right currently. I have media.’ I’m like: ‘Media? Boy, what do you have media for? You lucky you get in!’ Then I find out, oh my gosh, he might start tonight!”

In Johnson’s telling, everyone had a part in helping him develop. “My uncles, they’d beat up on me,” he said. “that will created the love because I wanted to compete. via my mom, what I learned was patience.” Around his sophomore year, he said, everyone “started off faking injuries, started off coming up with excuses” to get out of playing against him.

He also had his “big cousin,” Michael Murray, to fend off. Murray played at Coppin State in addition to currently plays professionally in Spain. “He’s the one I was honestly trying to catch up to my whole life,” Johnson said.

Weusi died while Johnson was at Kentucky. The funeral was held in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in addition to the overflow poured onto the streets. Amiri Baraka, the poet in addition to playwright, attended. Pharoah Sanders, the jazz saxophonist, played. John Calipari, Johnson’s coach, was there. “My dad would likely be over the moon knowing Dakari can be playing inside N.B.A.,” Nandi Campbell, one of Weusi’s eight children, said. “I can see him walking down the street telling everybody. Even strangers.”

Johnson has yet to crack the Thunder rotation in addition to play regular, significant minutes. His big goals remain unfulfilled. His presence inside league can be, for his family, a wonder. nevertheless they know there will be more hard work to come.

“the item has been generations of cultivating skills,” Kojo Campbell said. “nevertheless the item’s not, ‘Oh, we needed somebody inside N.B.A. — we can breathe easy currently.’ The legacy of that will family can be about being able to validate ourselves. the item’s the focus on the process. the item’s: ‘You know what? We can do that will ourselves.’ ”

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