Watch Out Kobe
Christian Jones has his eye on you
photography by Heather Simmons
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Walk into Christian Jones’ bedroom and you’ll see the usual stuff of a kid’s life: books, electronic toys, cars, a shoe collection — make that a dazzling shoe collection. Lined up neatly in three long rows is a colorful assortment of basketball sneakers: Nikes, Adidas, Converses, Reeboks, more than 30 in all, some scuffed, others barely worn. The grey Nike Kobe VII are Christian’s favorites at the moment. He wears them with these cool, name brand athletic socks his mother shortened at the toe (by hand, mind you, cause they don’t come pint-sized), like the big guys wear out on the court.
He’s playing NBA basketball on his Wii game; his laser-like focus fixed on the screen, his hands twitching slightly as he maneuvers the controls. It’s a temporary diversion. Mounted high on the wall next to the shoes is a regulation-size basketball goal, “When Christian’s friends come over, they play with their DIs, then they’ll shoot hoops in here, then they’ll go outside and play, and it’s a whole rotation, all night long,” says his dad, Chris Jones, with a laugh.
Christian glances up from his game, his eyes the color of chocolate drops. Kobe Bryant, his player of choice, makes an awesome, three-point shot. He’s his favorite player, hands down. “I want to go to Kobe’s basketball camp!” Christian blurts out, with a grin that lights up the room.
“We’ll try for it next year,” replies his mother, Kim. “You have to be 8 years old to go, remember?” Christian sighs.
He played AAU boys basketball for the first time this year, a national competitive league that draws the best players in Memphis. His mom shows me his medals. His team, Memphis Swag Elite, won the Tennessee Second Grade State Championship. His quick moves and handling dexterity made him a valuable asset, and got him noticed by many of the coaches. Though his team fell in the first round during national finals — held in Memphis last June — Christian was unfazed.
“He always wants to go to the gym. He tells me ‘I’ve got to practice my game, I’ve got to practice my game,’” says Chris. Even when the family is out of town, on vacation, after a full day activities, the boy insists.
That Burning Desire
That internal drive — to compete, to win — is one characteristic that makes Christian unusual. But coaches say it’s a common trait in gifted athletes. “They’ve got no fear to try new things, it’s a willingness to try new things,” says Doug Jenkins, a gymnastics coach and owner of ConXion Gymnastics in Hernando, Mississippi.
“They also push themselves to excel. I don’t think they even realize they’re doing it. They don’t have the cognitive skill but they want to be number one. They’ve seen someone on TV and they say, 'I want to do that.”'
Then, too, there’s Christian’s incredible ball-handling skills. Says his AAU coach, Frank Harris, “Most kids his age pick up and run with the ball. He can go between his legs and around his body without doing anything illegal. He does it the fundamental way — no double dribble or traveling. His skill level is very high.”
Harris has seen his fair share of talent over the years, but Christian stands out. “He works harder than some 10- and 11-year-olds out there,” he notes. “And we can give all the credit we want to others, but that kid’s got a gift from God. He’s just blessed to do the things he can do with a basketball.”
Which isn’t half bad, when you’re 6, going on 7.