From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Living the Dream

As we grow up, we often fantasize about the future and what it holds for us. Some of us want to become professional athletes; others want to be astronauts, policemen or firemen. But often our dreams don’t quite come true. So what’s the next best thing?

The next generation.

We grew up in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, playing baseball and basketball from dawn to dusk. Baseball was my thing, but I also played quite a bit of basketball. Early on, I knew I didn’t have the tools to become a great basketball player, but that didn’t deter me from going out there and spending endless afternoons playing hoops with my friend Alberto Arroyo and the rest of the neighborhood kids. Alberto was a much better player, fundamentally sound, and a pretty decent shooter. The only drawback was that he often stopped the game to teach us the fundamentals and most of us didn’t care; all we wanted was to play.

This knack for teaching the key points of the game would eventually be instrumental in his children’s future.

As we grew older, Alberto—who has a couple of years on me—got married first. He married my cousin Glorián Bermúdez, and a year later, on July 30, 1979, she gave birth to twins. The twins were baptized, Carlos Alberto and Alberto Carlos—after the two of us, of course. Immediately after their birth, Alberto and I began to make plans for the twins. I suggested baseball, but Alberto’s passion for basketball was overwhelming, so basketball was the sport of choice. Before they could walk, Carlitos and Albertito would learn how to balance themselves on a basketball. They were both fascinated by the leather sphere. By the time they turned two—that is, two months old—the twins became a permanent fixture at our pick-up games. They would sit there and watch us play, argue, then play some more and argue some more. Unfortunately, by the time they turned a year old, it was time for me to leave my little town in pursuit of bigger and better things.

At the time, I was having dreams of my own of one day going to Hollywood and becoming a television writer. Alberto thought that was a good idea because by the time the twins reached college age, I would be a famous writer and they could come live with me while attending UCLA and leading the Bruins to the final four. We went on and on daydreaming about how the twins were going to carry the team through March Madness.

Once I finished college, I headed for Los Angeles to pursue a writing career. I would go back to Puerto Rico every couple of years and check on the twins’ progress, which was right on schedule, but it wasn’t until the twins were ten years old that I saw them play organized basketball for the first time. They were both very good, but there was something very special about Carlitos; his ball handling was exceptional, his move to the hoop unstoppable, and his jump shot was poetry in motion—swisssh. He had a confidence on the court that made him a very special basketball player for a boy his age. After the game, I turned to Alberto.

“I’m sure UCLA wouldn’t mind having him,” I said.

We took a second to think about it, then simultaneously, we shook our heads, laughing.

Years later, I saw them play again. The twins were now seventeen and playing for Santurce in Puerto Rico’s superior league. With Albertito at his side, Carlitos led the team to five championships in six years. The dream of going to UCLA didn’t materialize, but Carlitos went on to play college ball at Florida International where he made a name for himself. In his senior year, there was a possibility that Carlitos would be drafted by an NBA team. After he went to camp in Arizona, scouts were so impressed with his performance that he got invited to camp in Chicago, but a week before camp, he fractured an ankle and couldn’t play, ending his chances of getting drafted.

The resilient young man got over his injury and went after his dream. He worked hard and was invited to preseason camp by the Toronto Raptors. A month later he made the team, and Carlos A. Arroyo Bermúdez became the fifth Puerto Rican ever to play in the National Basketball Association. There he was, a boy who carried my name, measuring his skills against the best in the game from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant.

On December 1, 2001, Alberto, Glorián, Albertito and I met in Miami. It had been a long, long time since I had seen them all. My hair was now graying and receding, and I had lost a step or two, but the dream was more alive now than ever. Fulfilling my own dream of becoming a television writer/producer and creating my own sitcom was peanuts compared to what Carlitos was about to do.

As we entered the American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, we looked at each other in awe of what we were about to witness. We didn’t say much. No words could describe what we were all feeling. My skin was bristling with goose bumps. As we walked through the tunnel and out to the other side, a basketball court appeared, the parquet floor shining under the lights. It reminded me of one of those early evening pick-up games twenty years ago when we played under a lamppost and could barely see the basket. If we had had this much light, I would’ve never missed a shot, I thought. So much light, so much life, so much excitement—and then the announcer stepped up to the microphone and announced the Toronto Raptors. The team ran out of the tunnel and there he was, number 21, Carlos Arroyo, jogging behind All Star power forward, Vince Carter. Alberto, Glorián, Albertito and I all exchanged silent glances.

Carlitos was living the dream.

Carlos R. Bermúdez

[EDITORS’ NOTE: Today Carlos Arroyo is the point guard for the world champion Detroit Pistons and a member of the Puerto Rican national team. ]

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