She's interrupted by the screeching brakes of the Muni bus, a bus that will take her down Sunnydale Avenue, down Third Street, down to where Tat literally used to paint the town. He grew up there as a badass and died close to there as a good-ass. From the bus, she can see graffiti on the walls, soiled diapers on the curbs and thugs on the corner, and she knows Tat would've fixed all of it -- or at least tried to -- and he would've found time to bring her to the gym, or the park, to shoot her free throws. Her 100 free throws.
But, instead, she and the city are on their own now. She steps off the bus and enters a community gym. Everyone recognizes her, everyone blurts, "Hi, Tierra," or "Yo, Tierra." And then one of the best high school girls' basketball players in the country begins her routine:
She finds the foul line.
She kisses two fingers.
She points to the heavens.
And then she drains the shot.
"See, I'm not trippin', Dad," she whispers. "I'm not trippin'."
If basketball can survive this, if it can survive a premeditated, cold-blooded murder at halftime, then there's hope after all. But it will take weeks, months or maybe years to find out whether a teenage girl has enough Terray Rogers in her, enough Tat.
Tierra Rogers is more quiet, passive and vulnerable than her father ever was, which means this can go one of two ways: Either she'll keep taking that Muni bus to the gym, or she'll mope away one of the more promising careers in women's basketball.
The mother who mourns with her tells her to listen to her heart. The coach who trains her tells her to listen to her head. And the people who pray for her tell her to listen to the truth.
The truth about Tat.
The first funeral Terray Rogers went to was his father's, and he saw very distinguished men -- one even a mayor -- pay their respects at the coffin. He had a litany of questions, as all 8-year-olds do, but nobody wanted him to hear the gruesome answers. So the boy backed off.
But, over the years, he gradually discovered the cold facts. Early in life, his father, Adam Rogers, had been a habitual drug user. He had tried finding work one day at an anti-poverty organization, but when he was rebuffed, he and six others allegedly assaulted the leaders. While in jail, Adam cleaned himself up and, upon release, tried to revitalize his community of Hunters Point, a black neighborhood bordering Candlestick Point, south of downtown San Francisco.
He founded a breakfast and lunch program for impoverished kids and worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, helping give even the lackeys and flunkies in the neighborhood access to jobs. He'd become a full-out street activist, so well thought of that then-Mayor Joseph Alioto leaned on him to help defuse a potentially violent Black Panther march in the Bayview District in the late 1960s.
He'd become a most respected voice in San Francisco's inner city -- not to mention a ladies' man -- and on New Year's Day 1977, he was confronted by a jilted girlfriend. According to trial witnesses and newspaper reports, a woman and a man tied Adam Rogers to a chair; injected him with a mixture of heroin, garlic powder, bleach and lye; beat him with a hammer; then strangled him to death with an extension cord. He was then stuffed face-first into a sleeping bag and dumped near Candlestick Park -- which is what nobody wanted young Terray Rogers to hear.
Hunters Point was stunned -- because callous murder wasn't a full-out epidemic yet -- and, to honor the fallen leader, a local playground was renamed Adam Rogers Park, a playground that even had ... a basketball court.
Terray's father had been replaced by a Social Security check, and that wasn't cutting it. Terray was in his late teens, pushing 6-foot-2, 270 pounds, and few wanted to get in his way.
He was loud and opinionated; everybody's business was his business, everybody's fight his fight. He bought and sold marijuana, and he found himself smack in the middle of the burgeoning Hunters Point turf wars.
Who started the gunplay is up for debate. But the natives of Hunters Point will tell you some thugs from nearby Sunnydale blasted bullets into a Hunters Point street party in the late '80s, beginning the cycle of murder-retaliation-murder-retaliation. At first, it was Hunters Point versus Sunnydale, then Hunters Point versus Fillmore. From there, it grew even more complex because there were new rogue gangs -- or "sets," as they were called -- within Hunters Point and the surrounding housing projects.
Terray himself lived in a modest home on Ingerson Avenue, near Candlestick Park, just a stone's throw from the Double Rock public housing community in Hunters Point. He was never linked to the murders there, but he hung out with plenty of people who were. And that meant he had to have a handle, a code name. Terrell might have been his given name and Terray the name he answered to, but to his confidants, he was Tat.
People who knew Tat then say he was the alpha male, the gargantuan town bully who was "like Bluto in the Popeye cartoons." Friends say the clientele would scatter when he walked into clubs. And one of his friends who loved it was a lithe, effervescent basketball player named Guy Hudson.
Guy used to tease Tat because Tat couldn't play basketball a lick. But when it came to brawling, Guy knew whom to hide behind. "You had to bring your lunch bucket with Terray," Guy says. "He'd fight you, for one thing. But then if you wanted pistols, he had that pistol play. One neighborhood in Sunnydale, they had 'We Gonna Get Terray' spray-painted on a wall. Once they killed him, they were gonna put an "X" up there over his name. But he didn't care, didn't care about life."
Terray was now 20 years old, completely full of himself, and when he noticed a pretty, long-haired girl at a Daly City fast-food restaurant, he shouted, "Girl! Do you know who I am?" She calmly said, "No, I don't know you. I'm sorry." And, surprisingly, big Tat melted. He said, "Well, I'm Terray, nice to meet you," and she extended her hand. Dalonna Ingram was only 16; what did she know?
She was intrigued by this giant of a man, this loud, mysterious man. She accepted his offer to go out; a year later, young Dalonna was pregnant. On the day Dalonna went into labor, Tat rushed into the hospital room and, as the baby was being born, Tat had an order for the doctor, who was white: "Move out of the way. I want my baby to see a black man's face first!"
They named their little girl Tierra, and Tat was smitten. But he was still in "the game" and ended up sentenced to 18 months in jail on drug charges. He had peddled those drugs for quick cash, so he could support Dalonna and Tierra. He thought it was his only choice, because he'd never really held a job before, never really worked an honest day. He'd wanted to marry Dalonna, but now he was locked up instead, missing her and the baby. And he'd never loved anything more than that baby. He was miserable, and starting to rethink his life.
While at state penitentiary in Susanville, Tat inevitably ran into rival gang members from Sunnydale, the same gangbangers who had spray-painted his name on a wall, the same set that wanted him dead. But he spoke with them, in ways they'd never been spoken to before. He had this gift with words -- loud, but from the heart -- and he made his peace with those Sunnydale gang members. When he got out of jail, he went running straight to his 2-year-old daughter.
"The birth of Tierra changed him," Guy says. "He stopped, man. He still had that street reputation, but he just didn't do it no more. He became this new Terray, this new Tat, who was going to better himself and the neighborhood."
But the sweetest part was watching his daughter grow. At 3, Tierra picked up a basketball and started dribbling it between her legs and around her back. He'd never seen such ballhandling at that age, and she soon was begging him to take her to a park.
Maybe they'd go to Adam Rogers.
The sight of Terray up at the crack of dawn, looking for work, was an absolute revelation. He'd always been an early riser, the kind who would cruelly call you at 6 a.m. just to wake you up, but now he was headed somewhere with a purpose.
He was concerned that, being an ex-con, he would run into a lot of dead ends. But he learned that San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was implementing a gang prevention task force, and Terray -- up to more than 300 pounds -- couldn't have been a more perfect fit. The job was to ride the Muni bus all over the inner city, protecting people from gang members and bullies. Who better than the baddest bully of all?
Soon, program organizers had Terray telling his story to a fifth-grade class in his old stomping ground of Double Rock. He warned the kids not to harm or steal, "to never take a man's last." Then he listened to each kid's personal story, and he told Dalonna he wished he could start his own peace organization someday, if he ever had the cash.
Money was a problem. He and Dalonna were married now, and, by the year 2000, they had Tierra and a 4-year-old son, Terrell, to clothe and feed. Terray heard about some new painting jobs at the San Francisco Housing Authority, which entailed putting another coat of paint on dilapidated homes in the most ravaged part of the projects. Ex-cons were allowed to apply; he turned in an application.
He didn't hear back for weeks, and it took all his willpower not to sell a little dope here and there. But about the worst he ever did was scalp 49ers tickets for wads of cash ... and stage an interesting con game. By the age of 9, Tierra was an absolute basketball ringer, an 80 percent free-throw shooter with steely nerves. So, Terray would take her to his local playground, Gilman Park, and tell all the ballplayers: "Put your money down -- my daughter's going to make seven out of 10 foul shots." They'd take one look at her lanky, prepubescent body and say, "You're on." Terray would yell, "Tierra, get over here!" And she'd calmly sink eight or nine out of 10, almost every time. It paid for some groceries.
The other good news was he had landed that painting job. He'd paint in the housing projects -- even Sunnydale -- from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., then take Tierra to basketball practice. By the sixth grade, she was playing pickup games against boys at the Hunters Point gym, a gym that happened to be operated by Guy Hudson.
Guy took one look at her and asked, "Who's this girl in my gym?"
Someone blurted out, "That's Tat's daughter," which made Guy fall down laughing.
"Dude," he said, "Terray ain't got an athletic bone in his body. That's not his daughter."
But that was Tierra, schooling the boys. She wore Allen Iverson sneakers, an Allen Iverson jersey and Allen Iverson wristbands, and she had A.I.'s crossover move down cold, too. Guy called Terray immediately to say, "Man, you need to bring me Tierra. I gotta coach her. There's something about her that's special, dude."
Terray knew Guy was a taskmaster, and this was his little girl they were talking about. "I don't know, man," Terray said. "You're too hard."
Guy kept begging. Eventually, Terray acquiesced, and after an initial get-to-know-you workout, Tierra's management team was set: Guy would coach her game, and Terray would coach her mind. Terray announced to Guy, "She's your goddaughter now," and, before you knew it, Guy had her in a seventh-grade boys league.
"When you make the WNBA, I want $5,000 in $100 bills," he told her. "That's our contract for all the rebounding I do." He even drew up a legal document, leaving a place for her signature. A chuckling Tierra signed it Lady Iverson.
Terray was courtside for nearly all of Tierra's workouts, and she loved that he'd rush from work in his painter pants, smelling like turpentine, to see her. Terray asked Tierra whether she really wanted the WNBA, and when she answered, "Yeah, Dad," he nudged her on the arm and said, "Maaaaan, you trippin'." That was Tat. He loved to tap-punch her on the arm and say, "You trippin'. You trippin'."
But the point was, she wasn't kidding. So Terray nudged her again and said: "OK, then. You gotta get in that gym and do what you do. Shoot your 100 free throws. Do it, dude."
So she did. Almost every single day.
One morning, while Terray was painting a deserted row house, the light went on: Set up shop here!
He happened to be in the ravaged Alice Griffith Housing Project in Double Rock, right near Candlestick, right near where he grew up, right near where he used to bust heads. Other parts of Hunters Point had places for displaced kids to go -- safe havens where they could play video games, create art, do homework, get counseling. But Double Rock, his Double Rock, had zip.
After long days of painting, he would head for the Double Rock bars, and he was still Bluto to a lot of the patrons. He still had street cred. But then they'd hear him rant about eliminating the gunplay and the casual murder. They'd hear him say: "I helped create this violence; now I'm gonna stop it." When Tat talked, people listened.
He had contacts at the housing authority and the mayor's office -- after all, this was Adam Rogers' son -- and he asked them to fund a gang prevention program in Double Rock. Eventually, in 2003, with Tierra in the seventh grade, the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice green-lighted Terray's program. He named it Peacekeepers.
He did the job virtually for free. He took a large portion of his salary allocation and purchased a 16-seat, dark blue van. That way, he could take groups of kids to the Raging Waters and Great America theme parks. He bought computers, hired a case manager and turned that broken-down row house into a rec center. It had "Peace" written on a front window.
But, for all practical purposes, he was setting up shop in the streets. He'd paint homes by day, with his ears wide open, listening to the play-by-play of the neighborhood, cozying up to the gang leaders, decoding the drive-bys that were being planned. And by night, he'd intervene, all 320 pounds of him, and talk the gang members out of it.
He'd hold court in the rear of a corner store on Third and Hollister, sitting on milk crates. He'd smoke cigarettes, sip Grey Goose and cranberry juice from a plastic foam cup and wait for the desperate people to come see him. These folks didn't trust the cops. So they made him the police. They'd call his cell phone at all hours, begging him to break up a dispute, to mediate, and he'd jump right in, like a caped superhero -- except with foul language.
"It was beyond police work," says Lena Miller, who co-founded Hunters Point Family, the nonprofit agency that oversaw Peacekeepers. "And it's not like somebody said to him: 'Here's $400 for your trouble.' He worked part-time for us, made $30,000 or something a year doing this s---. He did it out of love for his community; he just loved harder than anyone else. Police, firefighters, they get recognized for their work, get to wear special uniforms. He just wore his painter pants."
In time, Terray became the virtual face of Hunters Point. After murders, people in every neighborhood would write "RIP" on a public wall, and it was Terray who'd paint over it. Normally, you could get shot dead for that, but no one touched Tat.
To create a better vibe, he'd hold barbecues at Gilman Park. Hunters Point Family would usually donate cash for the food, and he'd be up at 6 a.m. to reserve the park and to start grilling his heart out. He was a fantastic chef who always cooked the Thanksgiving turkey at home, and he'd whip up his famous barbecue for everyone in the community. Some days, he'd feed 1,000 people. He'd say, "Everybody eats, everybody eats," but he'd also tell the gang members to leave their guns at home. "If you're coming to eat, come eat. Come eat and listen to music."
He'd arrange softball games against the police, then he'd round up Tierra and have her shoot her free throws for cash. He'd tell people she was shooting 100 shots, and he'd ask them to donate anything from 25 cents to a dollar per basket. She'd make her daddy some money that way -- not so he could line his pockets but so he could pay for her AAU basketball trips.
These barbecues would last until 9 at night, then off Terray would go in his blue van. That blue van was a virtual Batmobile. You knew who was behind the wheel; you knew his agenda. He'd see kids on the corner, up to no good, and he'd say, "Hop in, come see my daughter play basketball." That's how Tierra helped. He'd load the blue van up with 16 crackheads, dopeheads, vagabonds and truants and bring them to her middle school games and later her high school games. They'd be mesmerized by 5-foot-9 Lady Iverson.
She'd always win, too. She won championships in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th grades, the latter two at her Catholic high school, Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, a stuccoed building on tree-lined Ellis Street, an upscale area that was free of gangs. Terray never had to look over his shoulder there, so he'd pull up in his blue van before every game and plop himself in the front row, directly across from Tierra's bench. He'd be the loudest voice in the gym, always exhorting Tierra to "Take her!" and "Shoot it!" Tierra could get to the basket whenever she pleased, but she truly needed to hear his hollering because otherwise she would play too passively, too unselfishly. He'd want her to shoot, and she'd want to blend in. So she depended on his harrumphing, and she particularly relied on his pregame pep talks to get her revved up.
It became a ritual. Dalonna would tell Tierra, "Go get your pep talk," and Terray would nudge his daughter, punch her in the shoulder, and say, "Nobody can f--- with you out there." She couldn't play her best without that talk; she craved it. Without it, she didn't have nearly enough Terray in her, enough Tat. But with it -- and Guy Hudson saw this clearly -- she had a mean streak to go with her crossover.
Terray lived for these games, and, if any Hunters Point residents needed to be protected, they'd have to wait until after the final buzzer. Tierra came first. He was such a mainstay at her games that almost every living soul at Sacred Heart knew his routine. He'd come early, park his blue van in the church lot across the street, watch the first half, then go back to the van for a smoke. Several of his Hunters Point confidants would sidle out there with him, horsing around and laughing. He loved those halftime smokes.
But when the games ended, the nervousness and stress would envelop Terray. Often, he'd tell Guy, "Take Tierra home with you tonight because I'm going to the bars." The homicides were escalating, and although Terray used to have a handle on them, he didn't feel as inside anymore. In the 1980s, people made their money selling crack; now gang members made their money as hit men. Murder for hire was the new business around town, murder without conscience. Everyone knew who was doing the killing, but no one told the cops because snitches got shot. There was a code: Zip your lips or you're dead; hope the murderers get murdered back. In other words, Terray was on his own.
His low point came in Tierra's sophomore year, when Terray's young first cousin Zakeel Jackson -- no saint himself -- was gunned down on the streets of Hunters Point. Zakeel was part of a heartless gang that recklessly sprayed AK-47s wherever it pleased. But, this time, a gun got unloaded on him, a murder for hire. Terray, who had been painting nearby, rushed into the middle of the street to hold Zakeel's bleeding body, telling him, "Hold on, you can make it." It was a public spectacle, and a bevy of people saw Zakeel dead in Terray's arms.
"Well, I know one thing," says Terray's sister, Gladys Rogers. "The shooters were probably right there, looking at this whole scene. They had no idea until then that Zakeel was Terray's cousin."
Terray was crushed, not only by Zakeel's death but also because he hadn't been able to prevent the hit; his peers -- plenty of whom did know he and Zakeel were cousins -- had never tipped him off. "He cried every day after that," Dalonna says. "He was like, 'I can't trust any of these dudes out here anymore.'" Terray felt defeated, felt Hunters Point was a lost cause. Remember Adam Rogers Park, named after his own father? It was practically a war zone now, and he couldn't even take Tierra or her brother there to shoot hoops. No place was safe, not even his own father's park, and he and Dalonna decided to get out of Hunters Point once and for all. They packed up and moved 15 minutes away to a gated apartment complex in Pacifica.
Tierra didn't want to leave, but Terray told her it was for her safety. Then he nudged her in the shoulder, eyeballed her and told her straight: "You know what goes on in these streets. ... So, if something ever happens to me, I want you to continue to play basketball."
"Dad, I don't want to hear it."
But he pointedly said it again: "Stop trippin', T. If anything happens to me, promise me you'll play ball. I want you playing ball."
Father and daughter took a trip together last December, to Oregon with the Sacred Heart team. She was almost 17, yet it was the first time she and Terray had shared a hotel room. She learned that he snored, that he liked to hang at the bar, that when he was drunk, he got even more talkative. "T," he said late one night, "you got the best daddy in the world. Don't you forget that."
"Good night, Dad,'' she said.
They were there for a tournament in Beaverton and, before the marquee final game -- against then-No. 1 Long Beach Poly -- Terray told her, "T, come in here for your pep talk."
He implored her to have no mercy. Her eyes lit up ... then she lit up Long Beach Poly.
She scored 25 points, was named tournament MVP and sent Terray into a tizzy. "He called me like five times throughout the game," Dalonna says. "He's like, 'Maaaaaaaan, your daughter baaaaaaaad, man. She baaaaaaaaad.' I said, 'What did she do?' And he goes, 'D, man, you should've seen this move, D. This move was cold.'"
The Terray was in Tierra that night, the Tat was in her. She had never played a full basketball game with more joy, with more abandon.
And she never would again.
When they returned to San Francisco, Terray seemed distracted and distant. Tierra and Dalonna noticed it for weeks, and Guy picked up on it, too. On Jan. 10, Guy bumped into him on a curb outside a club, and said, "Talk to me, Terray. What's going on?"
"Man, I don't feel like talking in the streets. Come inside the club."
That startled Guy because Terray usually preferred being out on the sidewalk. He could hear things that way. That's why, when he painted homes, he never painted to music, never closed the doors. His ears were his most precious tool -- but now he wanted to go inside?
Turns out, Terray had argued that day with someone in Double Rock, someone who supposedly played a role in Zakeel's murder. And even though it'd been a couple of years, Guy knew Tat was still tempted at times to grab a gun or a pair of brass knuckles and avenge Zakeel's death. "He kind of felt he wanted to get back into that soldier mode, but he didn't," Guy says. "He knew he couldn't. He had too much to lose."
Terray was never going to retaliate. What, sit in jail and miss Tierra's games? She had already promised Terray she was going to be the first San Francisco girls' prep player to make the McDonald's All-American Game. He was going to miss that?
But word on the street was this: The people who murdered Zakeel thought Terray was coming after them. Tat could still mouth off with the best of them, and that Jan. 10 argument in Double Rock had been heated, nasty. Apparently, the killers decided on a pre-emptive strike.
That same evening, Terray got drunk and fought with Dalonna over something frivolous. She refused to speak with him the next morning, Friday the 11th, and told her best friend, "I'm nervous. I'm scared. I feel something."
She decided to put Tierra on the case -- Daddy's girl. Tierra said to Terray, "Dad, you've been staying out late and you never talk about my basketball anymore. What's wrong?"
He told her that it was only because she'd been playing so perfectly, that she needn't worry about it. Dalonna then ended up calling Terray herself that same Friday. She told him she was frightened, and when he asked her why, she said, "Because I'm scared your heart may stop from stress, or you might snap on someone."
If she only knew. Terray, that same day, had telephoned the man he'd argued with in Double Rock, trying to smooth things over. But apparently nothing got resolved, and Terray's painting partner grew worried, telling the housing authority Terray might be in danger. The housing authority told Terray it would be pulling him out of Hunters Point the next Monday. And that's all he shared with Dalonna -- that he was going to be switching to a desk job. She applauded the move.
The next morning, Saturday, Terray seemed agitated. "He said, 'Man, D, I'm so tired of these [people]. They put my name in everything,'" Dalonna recalls. "I told him, 'I've been tired of 'em for years.' He said, 'It's not normal for us to live like this.' He said, 'Who deals with death as much as we do?' And I saw this look on his face, a look of 'I'm tired. I'm fed up.'"
She had been talking for months about moving to Houston, where Terray's mother lived, and it came up again that Saturday. Dalonna had already looked at real estate down in Texas: It was cheap! Terray was worried no one would want to hire an ex-con who could only paint, but he was finally ready to try it. As soon as Tierra was done with high school, they were going to get out of Dodge. Done deal.
But first, he had to get through the weekend. That morning, Terray went out to the blue van, and when his son Terrell, now 12, asked to ride along -- like he usually did -- Terray said absolutely not. He called Tierra while he was cruising and told her he loved her. He'd said that a lot, but never over a cell phone. So she paused, finally saying, "OK, Dad, I love you, too."
Something was up, something that was about to go public.
The whole family met at Tierra's ballgame that Saturday night. Terray had also asked his closest Hunters Point pals to be there -- Guy and so on -- but hardly anyone showed up. Guy was up in Sacramento with his boys' team, though he called Terray from the road to say he'd try to hustle back as soon as he could.
As always, Terray parked the blue van in the church parking lot. He smoked his pregame cigarette and found his seat in the gym. The game started sloppy, and, as usual, Terray stomped his feet, imploring Tierra to shoot. When she swished one from the top of the key, he nodded at her, and she nodded back. It was the last time she would see him alive.
At halftime, he waved for a friend to join him outside for a smoke. Terray stopped on the way to razz one of the boys' coaches -- "How come the girls' team is always better than your team, dude?" -- then strolled across the well-lit street to his van.
Not even a minute later, two males in hoods approached him and opened fire. They shot him six times, in the head and in the arm, then fled on foot. Terray's friend was unharmed.
About five minutes later, Guy drove up and noticed the busted-out windows on Terray's van. He stepped closer, figuring there'd been a break-in, but one of Terray's pals came sprinting up at him, yelling, "Man, they killed Tat! They killed Tat."
"What you talking about?" Guy said. He stepped still closer and saw his bleeding friend. "Get up, Tat!" Guy howled. He tried lifting him, but he'd seen dead bodies before, and he told everyone in the vicinity: "He's gone. Tat's gone."
Inside the gym, word quickly spread about a shooting. Dalonna's girlfriend, Cindy, told her, "I hear there was some bussin' outside," which sent Dalonna's mind racing. She began hyperventilating and rushed out of the gym. One of Terray's cousins corralled her, shouting, "He's gone! He's dead!" Dalonna collapsed.
Tierra knew nothing of it. She noticed that neither of her parents was in the stands, and she'd seen an assistant coach in tears, but she was oblivious, still wrapped up in the game. Eventually, in the third quarter, the school president came to the bench to tell her there'd been an accident. She turned and saw Dalonna's friend, Cindy, weeping, stuttering. "Tell me!" Tierra shouted. Cindy spit it out: "Your dad's been shot."
They brought her to a private room, where Dalonna was sitting in a trance. Tierra began howling: "Where's my daddy? Mom! Where's my dad? What happened to my dad?" She eventually calmed herself, asked to go to the bathroom, then sprinted for the exit door.
Which is exactly where Guy was waiting.
Guy told her, "He gone, T." But the words didn't register. She saw an ambulance, and when she tried running toward it, Guy tackled her. "I wanted to see my dad one more last time," Tierra says. "I was really just trying to get to him. I saw the covers on him, so I wanted to kind of pull them off, just to see him. But I never got that far."
She and Dalonna were ushered to a friend's car, and Tierra assumed they were headed to the hospital. But from the back seat, she overheard Dalonna talking on a cell phone, telling a relative Terray was dead. He was 39.
Tierra was beside herself, and after a long, hysterical, restless night, she decided to spend Sunday evening at Guy's house. She cried in her godfather's arms and kept saying, over and over:
"Who's gonna love me now? Who's gonna love me now?"
Maybe basketball would love her, but Tierra couldn't think about that yet.
The night of Terray's death, Dalonna predicted her daughter would write off the sport. She felt basketball had been a Tierra-Terray production, that one couldn't function minus the other, that it wasn't a solo act. "My baby is not going to play," Dalonna cried to Cindy. And she was absolutely correct.
Tierra told her mom, "I can't play, I don't want to play," and, for a time, that was her definitive stance. Dalonna didn't question her on it and even considered moving the whole family to Houston, never looking back. But Tierra had also spent some of that time at Guy's house, and Guy reminded her of Tat's request: If anything happens to me, I want you playing ball. It was heart vs. head, and four days after the murder, at a team vigil at school, Tierra announced her decision: head.
She told her teammates she was playing the rest of the season, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. The funeral was another six days later, on Jan. 22, and while 3,000 mourners filled the church and 2,000 more waited outside, Tierra made a similar pronouncement:
"Daddy, I'm going to still play ball and go to college and make you proud."
She wasn't sure she meant it.
Her first game back, she didn't suit up. Her coach, Brian Harrigan, one of the top high school coaches in the nation, let her make the call, and Tierra decided to sit on the bench, fingering a locket she had with Terray's picture on it.
The next game, on a Friday night, she started, but didn't make it past halftime. She had looked for her father at the end of the second quarter, and the sight of the empty front-row seat depleted her. "I could tell she wasn't into the game," Dalonna recalls. "It's something a mother can see. At that point, I'm thinking, 'I wish she would sit down.'"
Inside the locker room, Tierra began to bawl, and Dalonna -- who'd gone in to check on her -- told Tierra, "You don't have to do this. Sit out. Take your time."
Tierra's response was, "I don't want to do this. My dad's not here. It's too hard. It's not the same." Her teammates returned to the court without her.
When Guy didn't see her, he rushed to the locker room and found her alone on the floor, weeping, her back to a corridor wall. He told her he'd be glad to sit in the front row for her. But she said no, only her dad could.
She and Dalonna drove back to their house; they were both wrecks. Dalonna slept on the couch because she kept smelling Terray in the master bedroom, and Tierra woke up the next morning drenched in tears. But for some reason, Dalonna started imitating Terray that day: Maaaaaan, you trippin', T. You better get out there and do what you know how to do. Dude, what's your problem? What's up with you? Terrell began imitating him, too, and a laughing Tierra decided to try again.
She made it through her next game and, weeks later, she had her first revelation. She was standing for the national anthem when she felt a nudge on her shoulder, a mini-punch, a tap-tap. She turned around and told teammate Jazmine Jackson, "Stop hitting me." But Jazmine swore she hadn't touched her. Tierra's eyes widened: "That's my dad! That must've been my dad. My dad's at my game!"
Maybe there was some Tat inside her. Sacred Heart was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation entering the state playoffs and, in a tense semifinal game against St. Mary's of Stockton, Tierra demanded the ball with her team trailing by a point in the final seconds. It was so Terray of her. She caught the ball in the post, spun through the lane, felt the ball slip out of her hands ... and saw it splash in the bucket. "I think my dad kind of pushed it in," she says.
Sacred Heart won, 46-45, and Tierra rushed off the court saying, "Thank you, Dad." Then, in the state final against Magnolia of Anaheim, she took a hard fall, injured her right hip and left the court -- then channeled Terray in the locker room. Maaaan, get back in that game. Come on, Lady Iverson. Come on, dude. She returned to score 10 fourth-quarter points, putting the game away -- and perhaps putting her sport away for good.
The coldest winter she ever spent was the summer she spent in Hunters Point.
Guy invited Tierra back for the first annual Terray Rogers Barbecue Cookoff, in July at Gilman Park, and about 800 people showed up for the ribs and the gossip. The mayor's office was offering a $250,000 reward for information about Tat's killer, but not one of those 800 came forward.
Everybody knew what had happened: Terray had been "phone-tagged." Someone inside the gym had seen him rise up at halftime and walk outside -- and immediately alerted the killers. Dalonna, Guy and everyone else agreed on that. The timing was too perfect; the friend by his side had gone unscathed. The killers had obviously known about Tat's cigarette routine and about the blue van. It sounded like a murder for hire; the San Francisco Police admitted as much. But nobody was turning anybody in. "Ain't enough money in the world to tell," Guy says. It was because of the code, the belief that the streets would take care of the streets. The gossip at the barbecue that day was that one of the killers had already been murdered. Who knew if it was true? But, in Hunters Point, there's just a sense that what goes around comes around.
Some of the ironies, though, were sickening. Terray had probably fed the man who murdered him at one of his barbecues, and Terray's older sister, Gladys, wrote a poem reflecting the absurdity of it all. She shared it with Tierra, because she wanted her niece to know the truth about Tat:
But what else would she do? The only other sport she'd ever played was tennis, and whether she dropped basketball or not, she'd still be haunted by Jan. 12, 2008. And where could she go? Texas? Dalonna had broached the subject, but Tierra worried if they moved and she fell to pieces one day, no one would know why, or have any empathy.
So, almost by default, she decided to return for her senior season at Sacred Heart. She decided the key would be to never look into the stands, to avert her eyes from the front row at all costs. And if basketball became joyless, so be it.
"When I'm on the court, sometimes I feel like I'm just playing to play," she says softly, stoically. "I have to talk to somebody to get fired up -- because I'm used to talking to my dad. Even if he wasn't at an out-of-town game, he'd call me before tip-off. So it's kind of hard. I don't really love it as much as I used to.
"I used to play for me. But now I really play for him more than myself. I'm not sure that's good. The question I ask myself is, 'Is it going to be as fun as it used to be? Am I going to play to my ability like I used to? Am I going to give it my all?' I think I will. But I think it's just going to take time."
Maybe it will take weeks, maybe months, maybe years. She already has committed to play collegiately at Cal because when she visited campus alone on parents' weekend -- breaking down in tears -- she appreciated the way coach Joanne Boyle comforted her. She just tries to plod forward. She still takes the Muni bus to Guy's gym ... still wishes she could take the blue van instead ... still wants to play in the McDonald's All-American Game ... still dreams about the WNBA ... still wants to meet Allen Iverson ... still wants her mom to move to Houston after this season ... and still thinks Gilman Park should be renamed Terray Rogers Park.
In fact, she even went back to that park this summer, for the Terray Rogers Cookoff. Everyone said, "Hi Tierra," and "Yo, Tierra," and, in honor of her father, she borrowed a basketball from Guy and shot 100 cathartic free throws.
Charged 50 cents a basket.
Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.
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