On any day during the afternoon, you can catch Alex Romero, a senior at Leadership High School, shooting free throws on the basketball court at Jose Coronado Playground, at 21st Street near Folsom Street. The 17-year-old wears a black hoodie, purple mesh shorts and gray Kyrie Irving basketball shoes.
“My feet are too wide for these shoes,” he tells me while dribbling a faded Spalding basketball.
“Wanna play a game of 21?”
“Sure. Let’s run it,” he says, rolling the ball toward my feet.
With the ball slightly deflated, I take a semi-contested jump shot and sink the ball.
“Nice one,” Romero says.
That was the last time I scored.
A Mission native, Romero has played basketball all his life. He plays baseball a little bit, too, “but it’s not basketball,” he says. His favorite position is small forward; the player who does a little bit of everything on the court.
“I used to play center because I was bigger than everyone else. I need to get taller and improve my athletic ability,” he says. Romero moves to the right, then crosses over and goes to the basket for a left-handed layup. The ball pulls a toilet bowl, but falls out. Romero grunts.
“I was robbed,” he says as he spreads his hands out for his defensive stance.
“Do you care if I take the ball back to the three-point line?” I ask, clarifying the rules of the game.
“A lot of people make it a big deal to take it back. I don’t really care; let’s just play,” he says.
Romero’s road to getting taller goes far beyond just being able to play more positions. His goal is to go to school on a basketball scholarship and ultimately, play in the NBA.
“I want to not only have fun playing basketball, but I also want to represent where I come from,” he says.
Like most of his peers, he favors Warriors all-star Steph Curry, but he really appreciates and looks up to lesser-known players in the league.
“A lot of really great players are often overlooked because of the all-stars on the team. Look at Andrew Wiggins; he’s overlooked, but he’s a great player!” he says. Romero pulls up to the free-throw line for a jump shot; the ball drops right into the net.
“I would be so happy if I made it to the NBA. That would be amazing,” he wears a wide smile and looks off into the distance. “The first thing I would do is get my mother something. Either my mom or dad or just anyone in my family. I would get them something before I get it for myself,” he says.