Forget the dangers of Kevin Durant playing flag football.
That’s child’s play compared to how Thunder center Byron Mullens has spent part of his time during the NBA lockout.
According to an ESPN.com story, Mullens has been mixing it up with felons, balling in the big house with convicts, playing hoops with hoods in the pen. After visiting juvenile detention centers in high school to help teach basketball clinics and talk to troubled teens, Mullens recently rediscovered his fondness for jailhouse hoops. He’s been playing occasionally at Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe, Ohio. The assistant warden is a friend of Mullens.
Something tells me that’s a little more risky than strapping up for charity games throughout the country. Take this gem, for example, from one of the inmates itching to go head-to-head with the former first-round pick:
One of the prison’s best point guards, Janes, was a teammate of Mullens in the inaugural game. But he was really looking forward to his first game against the NBA center. “I was excited and nervous because I wanted to see where I was at as far as skill level,” Janes said. “I wanted to rough him up, but not hurt him.”
The writer quickly explains how Mullens is being protected from bullies and bad boys. The prison’s recreation director has established leagues sorted by skill level and age. Only the lowest risk, highest level competitors have been picked to play with Mullens.
The guys are on their better behavior when Byron is here because they know everyone’s watching,” said Justin Patrick, a former Shawnee State basketball player and the prison’s recreation director. “I don’t pick the dirty guys to play against him, just the good-character guys.”
Forgive me if I come off as holier than thou here, but, hello? We aren’t talking about Boy Scouts. Mullens is dealing with some seriously dangerous dudes, most of whom are doing hard time for a real reason. One inmate who was incarcerated in August 2006 explained why he is currently paying his debt to society only by describing his actions as “a mistake after I got involved with the wrong people.” Not exactly the kind of cat I’d be looking to post up, you know what I’m saying? Of course, there’s all kinds of security protecting Mullens from the inmates and the inmates from themselves. But things happen. Imagine if Mullens dunks on the wrong guy and the peanut gallery, which is said to have been close to 300 inmates during one visit, jeers the joker on the wrong end of the posterization. Seems to me that’s all it would take for tempers to flare and fists to fly. More has happened because of less in far safer places for pickup games.
Thankfully, Mullens said in the piece that he doesn’t feel like anyone is trying to injure him, and he said he hasn’t sustained any injuries. Mullens said he wants to use the pickup games, which consist of three 20-minute periods, to work on his ball-handling and perimeter shooting. It’s certainly a unique way to improve your game.
“I know people have their own opinion that if they’re in prison, they shouldn’t really get that freedom,” Mullens said. “But they’re doing the time for what they did, so the way I see it, just coming in here and playing basketball with them … I could be anywhere else but I’ll be in here playing. Basketball is basketball.”