Anyone who worked at Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) before 2005 knew LaDoris Foster. With a career spanning nearly 50 years at JPC, she was vice president and director of human resources. Like me, she was born in St. Louis; however, by the age of 10, her family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. It was no secret to those who worked at 820 S. Michigan Ave. how much she loved basketball. Not only did Miss Foster--as everyone called her--have court side seats to every Chicago Bulls game, but she could also enjoy a seat in the company’s private suite if she so desired.
Foster, who died April 21, 2005, is probably best remembered as a no nonsense person with a tough exterior, though she had a softer side that few rarely saw. I can still see her face, glowing from sheer delight, as she once recalled to me her days as a teen in Minnesota. The conversation went something like this: “I used to play basketball with Prince’s mother, Mattie, and her twin sister, Edna. We played basketball for neighboring teams [from housing projects]. Mattie and Edna were known as ‘the Shaw twins.’ Everyone knew them because they were two of the best players.” She continued with a chuckle, “The girls did not like them because they were jealous. Not only could the Shaw twins play basketball well but they were very pretty with light skin and long hair. The girls gave them a hard time. But nobody could beat them on the court.”
This story made me smile. Throughout the years, people heard how Prince played basketball in high school and often caught a glimpse of him sitting court side at various NBA games. When Dave Chappelle did a comedy spoof in an episode of his “Chappelle Show” about an encounter with Prince during a basketball game, viewers loved it. The best part was that it was actually based on truth, involving Prince’s winning game between his crew and bodyguard-turned-comedian Charlie Murphy and his crew. But, if you thought Chappelle’s skit was funny, wait until you read what's below. Let’s just say Prince could hold ROYAL court with the best of them, especially the ballers in the hood! I guess one might say, "He got it from his momma."
The following story was written by Harlan "Hucky" Austin, who served for seven years as Director of Security Services at Prince's Paisley Park Productions. The piece originated on his former site called TruePrinceStories.
I used to play basketball with some of my boys from the hood. We’d get a few guys together to play every Wednesday night. These games were always a lot of fun, and could get pretty colorful in terms of smack-down talk. Prince caught wind of these games, and one day asked me, “How come you never invite me to play?” He asked if he could join in on a game. I was surprised, but I knew that Prince liked to play basketball, in fact his brother, Duane Nelson, was an All-State basketball player. Prince’s lyrics [in Lady Cab Driver], “I wish I were handsome and tall like my brother,” were truthful. Duane was a towering basketball star.
Now, my crew and I were just “regular guys” so Prince’s request presented something of a dilemma. Because he’d become so famous, putting together a simple game of hoops was not just a matter of picking a court and playing. This task would require me to discover my inner “Julie McCoy”–you know, that girl from Love Boat–who was always putting together events and people? This gathering had to be on the down-low. No flash, no calling undue attention to the game. I made a private reservation after-hours so that Prince could play without any fans or bother. The Powder Horn Park Gym was happy to accommodate us. The next hurdle was choosing the right guys to make a full team; these had to be guys who wouldn’t blab to their friends or the media. I recruited my trusted buddy Gary Webster first off and asked him to help me find guys to play. Of course, there was Duane Nelson and Gilbert Davidson. The other guys we invited we’re Rob Johnson, Pat Adams, Scott Marsh and Marvin Bond. We needed just one more guy and Davie Lewis came to mind. Davie was a great athlete; I’d known him since 5th grade and he was a competitive dude. If you looked up the word “Testosterone” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of him. It crossed my mind that he might be a bit of a problem, but we decided to go with him and set some specific “rules” for the game as a way of keeping him in check. Unbeknownst to me, this was like asking a bull not to charge when there’s a red cape flapping in the wind.
The guidelines for the game were: no guests, no girls, no shit talking, and no getting overly physical. We were all big guys and our games could get pretty intense. We went over the rules again on the court before Prince arrived. They all agreed to them but as I found out later, Davie made the comment to Gary “I’m gonna block his shit as soon as we start playing.”
The guys all arrived at the court in sweats and T-shirts, the usual basketball attire. We awaited Prince’s arrival at the appointed time. Well, a long blue limo pulls up (so much for keeping things on the down low) and Prince steps out with two friends. He was a vision in black. He wore a black shirt with long purple lace sleeves, black shorts with a belt around his waist that was 6 inches wide with a huge gold medal buckle the size of a dinner plate, long black tights under the shorts and what looked like Chuck Taylor shoes and socks. I turned to the guys, giving them all a significant evil eye that suggested they’d better not say a word.
We start playing. Let me make this perfectly clear; Prince can hoop. What the guy might lack in height he makes up for in quickness and he has a nice jumper. Clearly, the guy’s got game. Davie is guarding him and Prince is schooling him. After awhile, the other guys on the team start talking smack and giving the big guy all kinds of grief about it. Prince is killing Davie and you can see he’s getting more and more frustrated. His nostrils were flaring; he’s stomping around clearly pissed off. The wisecracks continue until Davie can’t take it any longer. Toward the end of the game Prince goes up to shoot another jump shot and Davie charges. He hurls his 6 feet and 215 pounds of raging bull into the air to block it. He HAMMERS Prince and the basketball goes flying into the far wall as Prince falls into the bleachers and Davie hollers at the top of his voice, "THAT SHIT IS OUTTA HERE!"
The silence that followed was deafening. Nobody moved; nobody said a word. All you could hear was Davie panting. Needless to say, he was ejected from the game. His departing words were, "I told you I was gonna block that fuckin’ shot." All-in-all, the game was a good time. I still laugh when I think about how “The Purple One” made Davie see red.
True Love Never Dies
- During a 2002 Chicago concert shortly after the February 15 death of his mother, Mattie Della Baker (Shaw), Prince played Anna Stesia, his mom’s favorite song. The title is a play on words with anaesthesia, which is an induced temporary state of unconsciousness that produces numbness to relieve discomfort. Essentially, the song begins down a dark path into lust and sexuality with a man acknowledging how he’s using sex or drugs to numb pain. Realizing that he is heading in the wrong direction, he turns to a woman named Anna, whom he wants to teach him about another kind of love that is more satisfying. He wants to learn about the love of God. The tune, featured on his tenth studio album, 1988’s Lovesexy, ultimately ends as a soul-stirring gospel melody.
- Vanity (Denise Matthews), Prince’s ex-lover and protege who fronted the female trio Vanity 6, died at 57 on February 15, the same day that his mother succumbed 14 years earlier. I interviewed the singer formerly known as Vanity in Jet magazine’s November 26, 2007 issue. By this time calling herself Evangelist Denise Matthews, she told me he was the only man she ever truly loved. Denise, the birth name that she only answered to after turning her life over to Christ, read some of her writings to me and then said, “Prince loved to hear my stories. He likes the way that I write.” I could hear in her voice the love she still had for him. She even told me how she was struggling financially due to severe health challenges but turned down millions because she refused to do a tell-all book about their relationship. At the end of our conversation, Denise told me, “I look forward to hopefully seeing him in the future. I’m waiting for God to supernaturally hook us up. I would love to see his face. I’ve been praying for Prince a very long time and I believe he’s praying for me. God does supernatural things because He’s able.” During the opening night of Prince’s Piano and a Microphone solo tour in Australia on February 16, he paid tribute to her. He told the audience how her death was heavy on him; perhaps he also thought about his mother. One might not ever know for sure. Sadly, Prince died at 57 on April 21. Looks like Denise's words were prophetic, because she received her hook up and now sees his face. God does supernatural things indeed.
DocM.A.C. signing off. Keep the faith and always trust the process. #OnwardUpward