I know it sounds ridiculous, but I'm pretty sure I killed Yinka Dare. Not with my hands or a gun, but with my heart. Last month, the former NBA player died of a heart attack in his home at the age of 32. Dare, who starred at George Washington University before failing miserably in his four seasons with the New Jersey Nets, will always be remembered fondly by basketball fans.
Despite his complete bust as an NBA first-round pick, Dare was the rare breed of underachiever who was able to slide directly from over-hyped first-round pick to unrelenting disappointment without any real bitterness from the fans over his unrealized potential. Yinka was a hero to Bryant Reeves, Lorenzen Wright, and many other big men of the late 90s who wouldn't have known how not to live up to their promise without the trailblazing Dare to guide them.
In reflecting on Yinka "Stinka" Dare, it is important to first stress the triumphs of his all-too-brief basketball career. Yinka was drafted by the Nets in the first round of the 1994 draft after two years as the focal point of a very successful George Washington University basketball team. Dare then signed an endorsement deal with the Puma shoe company.
Now, for the lowlights. In his first season as a Net, Dare played only one game, in which he racked up two fouls and a turnover in three minutes. He was so bad, that mid-90s Net mainstay Benoit Benjamin called him stupid. That's like Hitler calling Strom Thurmond a racist.
As Dare's career progressed, Dare became best known for being the worst passer in the history of the NBA. In fact, Dare set the league record for playing in the most games without getting an assist. Four years after his ceremonious drafting, Dare was traded by the Nets to Orlando, after a season in which he played in 10 games and shot an ungodly 22 percent from the field. He was cut by the Magic before the season started, and, since 1998, Dare had bounced around the CBA and the USBL, unable to find a home.
Despite his shortcomings, Yinka and I have always shared a kinship. In the summer after my freshman year of high school, my summer camp went to the basketball hall of fame. As I walked through the building, looking at the plaques on the wall, I was inspired.
While I knew that I would never be on that wall -- as my Judaic heritage all but precluded me from a career in sports -- I thought that maybe if I bought a jersey of a great player, I could channel his talent. So, when I got to the gift shop, I went right to the jerseys. Unfortunately, the Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing jerseys were just a little bit too expensive for a ninth grader living off the change found under the cushions of his couch.
I thought I'd have to leave empty handed, until out of the corner of my eye, I saw my meshed future: the clearance rack. Amidst the plethora of Ed O'Bannon and Cherokee Parks' jerseys, something stood out above the rest. It was a blue and red Yinka Dare Nets No. 14 jersey.
Yinka wasn't the greatest player in the league, and I knew that. His first few years in the NBA had proved disappointing, but I considered my purchase an investment. I hoped that maybe I could support him; that my purchase could help him succeed. I thought I could turn Yinka Dare into the superstar he never could have been.
I wore that jersey all the time, and the more I wore it the worse Yinka played. I was wearing it the day he was traded from the Nets, and the day he was cut by the Magic. My plan had backfired, and in some ways I thought I had been responsible for his failed career. But then it got worse. On Jan. 11, I wore my Dare jersey to play basketball with my friends. Hours later, I found out that he had died, and that I had killed him.
I know it was indirect, and not my fault, but I still feel somewhat responsible. I never wanted it to happen, if anything I wanted him to live forever. It never happened to anyone else who wore jerseys. My friend Howie wears his Rony Seikaly jersey every day hoping he murders him, but it just doesn't happen. If simply wearing the clothing of people could kill them, I would wear only Sean John for the rest of his life.
It couldn't have been me. I couldn't have been the single reason why Dare's fairy tale life had been derailed. I mean, the heart problem that killed him had been apparent since college. His basketball skills had been, at best, limited since his days at GW. So, why do I feel responsible? What could I do to extend the legacy of Yinka Dare?
The only thing I can do is to extend knowledge. Dare's death led to little media attention. No public outcry. No concerts. No moments of silence. It's a travesty that a marginal celebrity who never earned his keep couldn't elicit the slightest of emotions from the public who never really paid attention to him. So, in honor of Yinka, I will pay attention and remember. I will eulogize him to anyone who will listen. And I will wear that jersey every day until it becomes tattered and its odor unbearable. I may have killed Yinka Dare, but I sure as hell won't let him die.
Josh Mendelsohn is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tofutti Break appears Wednesdays.
Archived article by Josh Mendelsohn