For the Love of the Game

by October 19, 2011
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by Jeremy Bauman / @JBauman13

“I was writing a business plan at Full Sail University—I was thinking about when I played basketball, what it was like for me.” —Jon Solomon

Part One

From a young age, Jonathan Solomon knew that he would dedicate his life to the game of basketball. It began when he was 10 years old, before any remote thought of a business plan had come close to entering into his mind.

According to Jon, it happened when he would shoot around and work on his game by himself—this is when most basketball aficionados truly realize they adore the game. It was also a time where he felt that the only way he would truly fit in was through committing himself to the hardwood and all it had to offer.

Jon walked me through those passionate days in the gym/park, the long hours that would help him to recognize what hard work looked like later on in his life.

“I remember I would go to the gym a lot by myself to work out and get better,” explained Solomon. “The thing is that when I was at a younger age, I didn’t have the guidance or the direction to become better at basketball and I think a lot of kids at a younger age don’t have the guidance or the direction to play basketball.

“I would be out there all day working out. It was pretty much an escape for me because I didn’t have a lot of friends and it was something that I could do. I wanted to get good at it but I didn’t know how. All those videos, they didn’t help me much.

“That was around seventh or eighth grade. And to be honest with you, at that time I was pretty bad at basketball.”

The first person who Jonathan says impacted his life in a positive way (besides his immediate family) was the legendary Sam Rines, Kobe Bryant and Rich Hamilton’s former trainer in their high school days.

“Jon came to me and he was very green and naive about basketball,” explains Rines in a recommendation for Solomon.

Solomon grew to respect and adore Rines’ intense training sessions so much that when he was in high school, he worked two busboy jobs (at Perkins and Talamore respectively) for $8 an hour. The time he put in clearing food paid off in the form on knowledge from one of the best basketball priests around, and Solomon took Rines’ wealth of knowledge in as if it were gospel at a church.

“Basketball is everything to me. I wanted an opportunity to learn the game and I was willing to do whatever it took,” explained Solomon. “Whatever he told me—I listened to whatever he said. I was like a sponge, trying to learn everything.”

Still in high school, Jon was not only learning from the best about the dedication it took to become a better basketball player; rather, he was also learning about the types of motivational techniques and other nuances of working at the basketball that helped to take players to that next level.

Coach Rines shed some light on the benefits of Jon’s mental awareness level in the gym.

“Through his hard-work, diligence and paying attention to detail, he not only made himself a good player—he can teach other players to become good,” states the 63-year-old Philly trainer. “He exemplifies what it takes to become a good player. He works hard teaching you the basic, fundamental skills of basketball.”

Solomon was never the man on his team; conversely, despite the diligence he put into the game, Jon barely played in high school. “It was at the point in high school where I scored my first points at the end of the game and they carried me off and interviewed me,” Solomon says.

After high school, Jon continued to pursue his basketball career and found a way on to Division III Arcadia University’s basketball team.

“I went to Arcadia University and I had a coach who pretty much stereotyped me,” explained Solomon. “He said, ‘Oh, you didn’t play so much in high school so you must not be that good.’”

And it didn’t help that on senior night in college, Jon barely got off the bench.

“It was senior night—this is my chance to play—and my coach put me in for 30 seconds at the end of the game and I just thought, You don’t know what it feels like to go to practice for four straight years and then get in the game for 30 seconds.’”

Part Two

“I first started dribbling a basketball as a kid in the park where my parents used to hang out. There was no basket, so the first thing I shot on was a crate. And I could always shoot, so when I got to a real basket it was just…a lot easier [laughs].” —Jason Hall

No matter how normal he seems, Jason Hall isn’t normal. No matter what he says, Jason is different. He’s special and it’s just amazing what he has done so far in his life; overcoming odds and crafting skills on the court that, quite frankly, haven’t been seen at Hall’s caliber very much—if at all, ever.

You see, Jason wasn’t born with ideal hands for the sport of basketball—but he made them work in a manner as though there’s nothing different about him at all.

“I was born with three fingers on each hand,” explained Hall. “I have two fingers and a thumb on each hand. I can play the game just like I had five fingers—I’m coordinated at a very high level.”

One needs to look no further for evidence of this coordination by hearing about the time that his mother tried to collect a check for disability on her son and Hall botched the situation: The test for disability was for Hall to catch tennis balls when he was 3 years old, a task that he accomplished with great ease by catching everything thrown his way.

Then, he found basketball.

“I started playing ball at a young age when I grew up in the projects at 51st Street and Summer Street in West Philadelphia,” he continued. “It was hard there. I never really wanted to talk about it, but I had a hard time in an environment with other kids teasing me and I wasn’t the type of kid to go home and tell my mom because I didn’t want her to feel bad.”

Feeling ashamed and sorry wasn’t how Jason was going to live his life. Instead of hiding, Jason began working on his game before class even started at school.

“I had already spent three hours at that court before the first kid got there, so when he wanted to run one-on-one, of course I dominated him because I was there every day,” said Hall.

Along with help from his uncle Howard Evans—who starred at Temple and got cut from the Philadelphia 76ers, Jason found also found another mentor in his life.

“I met Jon Solomon through my brother because he was my older brother Tyrone’s teammate. He told Jon about me and said ‘Yea, my brother’s trying to get into college’ and stuff like that.

“Then Jon started telling me about how he loved basketball and he couldn’t get off the bench because the coach won’t give him a shot, and he used to always want to do drills and I was like ‘Alright, Jon. I’ll do drills with you!” The drills turned into pick-up games and that turned into us hanging out every day because we both loved basketball, so we got really close.”