There’s probably no way, in a town as basketball crazy as Los Angeles, for a six-foot preteen Black boy to avoid unwanted attention.
When the artist Mark Bradford turned 12 or so and shot up to nearly his current height — he stands at a gangly 6-foot-8, with a body reminiscent of Kevin Durant’s — he drew a scrutiny he wasn’t used to.
Middle-school coaches would pressure him into playing basketball, but he found the sport’s aggressiveness unappealing. When he decided that the game wasn’t for him, those coaches reacted with a refrain that Bradford remembers to this day: “If I were you, I wouldn’t have wasted that gift.” It was the first of many times in Bradford’s life when his desires would fail to line up with how the world viewed him.
His mother’s hair salon was a more comfortable space than the basketball court: There he would customize clothing for his mother’s regulars, style wigs and, of course, learn to do women’s hair.