Last week Gerald Henderson put pen to paper, making his two-year, $18-million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers official. To learn more about the Sixers’ free agent prize, the Hoop76 Investigation Team tracked down one of his former teammates — Hoop76 contributor Ben Smolen — for a Q&A.
The following is mostly, kinda true.
Hoop76 Investigation Team: So, Ben, what’s your connection to Gerald?
Ben Smolen: Well, Gerald and I played together on a U-11 soccer team — the Lower Merion Lasers — back in 1998. Before you ask, yes, we were in fact the “A” team. Before you ask, no, I did not play very much.
HIT: What was his role on that team?
BS: Gerald, or “G” as he asked me not to call him, was a striker. Which basically meant that he was so comically more athletic than anyone else on the field that we would kick it as far as we could and then watch as he outran everyone. (According to a 1998 LMSC newsletter, he and I were part of a “very potent scoring attack.”)
HIT: At what point did you realize Gerald Henderson was destined for stardom?
BS: I think, for me at least, it actually came years after we played together on the Lasers. Gerald ended up at Episcopal, and I went to Haverford (rival schools). But because the schools were close together and in the same conference, we’d end up at the same functions from time to time.
I believe it was 10th or 11th grade where we ended up at the same high school dance. I spotted him, so I went up to say hello. “G, man, how’ve you been?” I said. “I’m sorry. Remind me who you are again,” he replied.
At that moment, I knew he was a going to be a champion.
HIT: What was his favorite halftime snack?
BS: Orange slices. Just because he’s an NBA player doesn’t mean he isn’t human like the rest of us.
HIT: Do you see any parallels between the situation he walked into with the 1998 Lasers and 18 years later with the 2016 Philadelphia 76ers?
BS: The 1998 Lasers were a young team. In fact, I’m fairly certain that none of us were older than 11, which is practically unheard of. It is nearly impossible to look at the Sixers and think that they too aren’t very young. Granted, we Lasers were a playoff team already (I think. I could be misremembering in order to sound better), but Gerald added a special breed of athleticism that knocked us up a notch.
Also, for the record, I know this article is about my experience with Gerald, but I’m at least 85 percent sure that T.J. McConnell was on that team too. At the very least, there were four kids that looked exactly like him.
HIT: Bryan Colangelo cited Henderson’s veteran leadership and professionalism veteran as reasons he was targeted in free agency. In what ways did he show those qualities as your teammate?
Gerald was very very good at pretending he wasn’t much better than everyone else, which I think shows real levels of tact, awareness, and basic human decency. Mostly, he was just one of the guys and was willing to treat anyone, from the starting goalie to, say, a benchwarmer who was desperately trying to hide the fact that he never learned how to ride a bike from anyone, everyone, please god don’t let anybody ask me to go ride bikes, I don’t know what I’ll say this time, I’ve used up all my good lies already and I’m scared, as an equal and a teammate. And I think that speaks volumes.