YOUR SON IS the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, a 20-year-old cast as their next superstar. It affords you luxuries once unimaginable. Mansion shopping in Brentwood? Perusing European sports car dealerships in Beverly Hills? Dream bigger. Yet here you, Antonio Russell, are on a late August afternoon, idling in your black GMC truck outside a vacant lot in a misbegotten patch of Louisville, Kentucky. The Southern sun is kicking the temperatures into the 90s as you roll down the driver's side window and start rebuilding the wooden shotgun house from memory: the marble floors, the stained glass windows, two built-in waterfalls, one on both floors. It was the jewel of Louisville's West End, half a dozen blocks from Muhammad Ali's childhood home. Your grandparents poured their lives into it, and you dreamed that someday they'd leave it to you -- it was all you ever wanted -- and, sure enough, they did. Then you put all their blood, sweat, love and trust in the name of a family member who took out a loan against the house, even though it was paid for, and eventually it fell into the city's hands. You learned the real estate business to try to buy it back, to save it, but you couldn't. So all that exists now is ankle-high grass and a few stone steps that lead to nothing but your mistake.
You wish you had a picture handy. Oh, it was really something. There's a reason you stop here 10 minutes into what will become a three-hour tour of your son's life. Once, you couldn't bear to be anywhere near here. That home was your responsibility, and you trusted the wrong person, and look what happened. And though the pain is still there, always will be, now you feed off it, reminding yourself how easily one mistake can destroy what it took a lifetime to build -- how without eternal vigilance, the most precious things can be taken from your life and bulldozed. These days, you visit all the time. Sometimes you grab McDonald's and pull up here to eat. Sometimes you'll tell friends to meet you beside it. Sometimes you'll drive by, just because, like today, when you're snaking through Louisville, from its inner city to its suburbs, pausing at parks where your son played, schools he attended, houses where he lived. It's a lesson that shapes you.
"I can't put my kids' life and the outcome in anybody else's hands," you say. "Anybody's."