Are you from here?
That freshly painted mural at The Dome at the Madison Square Recreation Center, it wants to know, and it wants to know in big block letters.
Everyone wants to know, it seems. After all, it is an advertising slogan for Under Armour, the Locust Point-based apparel company that teamed up with the NBA to renovate The Dome, a facility on East Biddle Street that carries those words on its wall, on the baselines and on the shirts of about 100 kids that were seated on and around the court Monday.
Are you from here?
The right arm of the man sitting at the top of the key, two seats over from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, answers the question. Yes, the shotgun pellets lodged in that arm since he was 5 years old say that he's from here, shot hoops here, was shot here and saw friends die here.
"It's just great to be back home in Baltimore," Muggsy Bogues, told those assembled at Monday's unveiling of the renovations to The Dome.
"We didn't have this type of facility," Bogues continued. "But having this, [we see] Under Armour and the NBA have decided to make sure [kids] become active and continue to understand what's important."
As a kid in Baltimore's Lafayette projects, Bogues decided early on what was important for him, and what was important for him was basketball. When the older kids laughed at him for being too small and wouldn't let him play, he tied empty milk crates to a chain-link fence to serve as a hoop. When his father went to prison for 20 years for armed robbery and his friends turned to the drug game, Bogues committed himself to the court.
What emerged has to be one of the most efficiently built human beings on Earth. Just 63 inches of Baltimore grit powered 16 NBA seasons, the assists and steals records at Wake Forest, and two national No. 1 rankings for Dunbar High School.
Yet the young Bogues never enjoyed anything matching the refurbished Dome, complete with its brushed concrete, fiberglass backboards and that mural above the new bleachers asking Bogues if he's from here.
Bogues did grow up here on this court, but that "here" was a little different from the facility Rawlings-Blake described as "beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful" — because one "beautiful" apparently wasn't fitting.
"There wasn't nowhere like this," Bogues said. "We had not a level floor, no fiberglass backboards, more of them steel type of backboards. We didn't have a great court to play on."
And sometimes, they didn't have a safe court to play on, either. Following one argument during a pickup game Bogues played in, one player returned to the court and shot the opponent who had offended him.
Under Armour sought to change that. As part of an agreement with the NBA, Under Armour agreed to renovate inner-city courts around the country in areas that have an NBA team. Under Armour has planned five renovations this year and several more over the next few years, but for its first one, the company had one request.
"Because Under Armour is a Baltimore-based company and we like to do things locally and The Dome is such a historic court, we asked the NBA if we could partner and do The Dome first," said Matt Mirchin, senior vice president of brand marketing for the company.
The NBA obliged, which — after six weeks of renovation at a cost Under Armour declined to release — led to Monday's event featuring a DJ, ribbon-cutting ceremony and a skills clinic. The event also presented Bogues with an opportunity to speak about NBA FIT, which seeks to reduce childhood obesity by getting youngsters active and exposed to healthy habits.
And for Bogues, the reach of a facility like The Dome goes beyond basketball. He encouraged the children gathered before him to "dream big," but advised that their biggest impact might come outside of sports.
"There's a lot of negative things going on outside those doors," Bogues said. "We've got a lot of killing, we've got a lot of drug dealing. … I could've easily went in the other direction.
"The reason that we made it out, it wasn't just because of basketball, it was because the people that were in our corner telling us that we could be something in life."
Today, Bogues is doing the same for the next generation.
"This court, it motivates at lot of people," said 15-year-old Keyon Smith, who plays football at St. Frances and says he plays basketball to stay fit. "[Bogues] sets a strong example for young adults and teenagers. He makes you want to achieve your goals."
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