I Used To Play Basketball Against Aaron Hernandez And His Brother DJ, And They Scared The Shit Out Of Me
Normally we don’t invoke stories from our own pasts here on Sportsgrid. When are bloggers ever directly involved in anything not Twitter related? Most of us haven’t touched a ball/stick/gloves/bat/field since we were 12… Well, when I was 12, I played basketball against Aaron Hernandez. A lot. And I’m here to say that those memories were the scariest moments of my relatively short playing career.
Why? Because he was a fucking scary kid. And there were two of him.
His brother DJ, who played QB at UCONN, was my age (I also saw him when I went to UCONN for a year, where he became the most suspiciously muscular human being I have ever seen in my life since). DJ played behind Dan Orlofsky, who went to the Detroit Lions, and ended up out of football without much fanfare. Needless to say, DJ was a scary-ass dude, and his brother Aaron followed right in his footsteps.
Despite being a child, Aaron naturally played with the big kids. Big, scared kids, whom I was one of.
Background: If you’re unfamiliar with Bristol, CT, you may scoff at the idea of such a cliché New England river valley settlement being a football factory. But it is. Bristol is a tough, post-industrial city, with an incredible sports pedigree. Aaron was the nation’s number one TE recruit coming out of Bristol Central High School. In fact, it’s where ESPN is based out of. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something up there that screams competition. And those Hernandez boys had it constantly coursing through their veins.
Now, before I jump into some judgement about them as people based on playing against them a few times in intra-town basketball, I must say that I’ve known a lot of complete dicks on the court who were super nice dudes off it. It’s actually kind of weird how often you’re surprised that it turns out this way. That being said: I remember trying to draw a charge from Aaron Hernandez and being sent onto the adjacent court, interrupting play of another game.
I think I remember him finishing with a soft finger roll.
Also, I’m not equating “playing hard” with “being a murderer”. It was something more than that. Just, I don’t know, a seriousness that felt like the court got freezing cold when he was on it. It felt like he’d do anything to win, and not smile when he did. It was as if he was playing just to elbow the wind out of your solar-plexus. Winning was just a symptom of destroying other kids during a “game”.
I’ve never played sports against anyone like this since, and it really is frightening.
And it’s not like I’ve never met hard dudes. I’m not from the insanely rich, homogenous Fairfield County (though, athletes emerge from there as well, like, oh, Steve freakin’ Young). I’m from Hamden, CT. In high school, we played some grown ass men at Wilbur Cross (New Haven), Hillhouse (New Haven), and Trinity Catholic (Bridgeport). Come to think of it, two of my high school teammates have been killed or paralyzed by gang-related incidents since graduating. So I’ve definitely been around some hard dudes. And none compared to the Hernandez brothers.
As my Dad tells me, their Dad was hard, too. In a good way, though. “If he had been around, none of this stuff would be happening,” my Dad told me when I asked him about the murder investigation swirling around the Connecticut product. “He was a strict, really good guy,” he said. “Definitely no nonsense.”
As all this craziness develops regarding the Patriots TE — a dead body found near his MA mansion (not in CT), suspicious destruction of his cell phone, professional cleaning of his home, constantly testing positive for weed in college — I just keep thinking back to when I would face the Bristol Boys and Girls Club in the late nineties, and how scared for my life I was on the damn basketball court. I remember seeing the younger Aaron, who at 9 would occasionally play up with his brother, and wondered how a child could make such a terrifying face. Eyebrows furrowed, no smile. Put it this way: if my child ever made that face, I’d never ground him.
Is this any indication of his guilt? No, though the other evidence, however circumstantial, is going to get him a arrested for obstruction of justice any day now. However, his on court demeanor was, for what it’s worth, not something generally attributed to Dalai Lamas.
I’m not condoning judging a book by it’s cover. It’s just that some books look and feel like they want to kill you.
[Photo via Getty]