Nike may find its stake in the Franchise to have been a particularly bad investment. If John Doe does file a civil suit against Otis, his lawyer is considering naming the company as a codefendant, liable for supplying the bait with which Otis allegedly enticed his victim. Nike is standing behind the Dominguez coach. "We at Nike have always had a policy of innocent until proven guilty," says spokesman Eric Oberman. But the company has apparently exhausted its patience with Barrett, whom it dropped before the new year.
"Pat Barrett was the most effective grassroots person Nike ever had," says Adidas's Vaccaro. "He'd deliver 10 of the Top 50 to their camp every year, for years. With Pat gone, it means we could get [the top junior in Los Angeles, Fairfax High forward] Evan Burns. If Pat were still [ Nike's man] in Southern California, we wouldn't stand a chance."
Banners on light poles outside Compton City Hall snap a hopeful trinity—PEACE, PRIDE, PROGRESS—in the breeze. Peace is elusive here. Progress is fitful. For a while, at least the city had the Dominguez Dons to nourish its sense of pride.
Last April, Mayor Omar Bradley dunned local businesses for funds to celebrate the Dons' national championship. At an outdoor presentation in Martin Luther King Civic Plaza, cheerleaders cheered, a band played and a drill team high-stepped. Together the team circled the city in two stretch limousines, and later each player received a ring bearing his name and number. "I felt like a Laker," says one of the honorees, forward Bobby Jones. "But we were in nicer cars than the Lakers."
Compton sits on about 10 square miles of coastal plain, just south of the L.A. city line. Its fate followed from FDR's wartime executive order banning racial discrimination in the defense industries. Housing developments in towns close to the coast enforced restrictive covenants, so black laborers bought homes inland, on Compton's West Side. Soon the Hub City, nicknamed for its proximity to downtown L.A. and the harbors of Long Beach and San Pedro, featured a stable black middle class.
The city began to come a cropper after the 1965 riots in neighboring Watts. First white homeowners, then white businesses, finally white capital fled. By the end of the '70s the tax base had evaporated, and soon Compton was providing fodder for the explicit dispatches of rappers like Dr. Dre and N.W.A. In 1999 its homicide rate was more than six times that of Los Angeles County as a whole.
"[ Compton] alumni drive by their old schools, pull off the road and break down and cry because of the decay," says Bradley, a bluff, buff former football coach crowned by a clean pate. "But there's something about life here, the tension, the streets, that makes for people with a tenacious competitive spirit. A few years ago a player for Compton High was sitting in a car with a [friend] who's a Crip. There's a drive-by, and he gets shot. That's on a Tuesday. On Thursday he starts in a CIF playoff game."
Hizzoner hopes Tyson Chandler can help change the image of his city to one of a municipality of ordinary people, more than half of them now Hispanic, who ache for nothing more than a better life. "If I wrote a book about him, I'd call it The World Wants to Devour Tyson Chandler" Bradley says. "But Tyson, which Compton are you taking with you? You going to be the kid from the mythical, gangsta Compton who lets the media define you, lets someone sign you to a rap contract? Or you going to be someone else? Because no matter what the world tells you, you are ambitious, you are scholarly, you are a gentleman."
On the matter of Coach Otis, the mayor professes to have no opinion. However, a theory is going around town that's nearly as dispiriting as the possibility that the charges are true: that the accusations have been concocted to move a stakeholder out of the way—to clear a path to the Franchise. "It's definitely possible," the mayor says.