It’s no revelation to say that basketball is a city game. More specifically, it’s an inner-city game. And inner-city has essentially become code for urban decline, crime and unsavories — a more politically correct way of saying a place that a dude doesn’t want to find himself walking through late at night. So basketball and hard-knock stories overcoming them are almost cliche at this point in our history — few high-level D1 players come from environments that anyone would describe as safe, and even fewer were raised in wealthy enclaves. These days, it’s more surprising to hear about someone like Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough and his millionaire surgeon father than it is to learn of Missouri’s Marcus Denmon and his troubling childhood. Crime or the threat of it is simply a fact of life for vast swaths of this country, and especially so in nearly every urban core across America where many of today’s players hail from. Witness Jeremy Hazell’s shooting on Christmas Eve in New York as a stark example — all Hazell was doing was visiting family and friends during a couple days off but unlucky happenstance nearly cost him his life. This is an all-too-familiar hometown storyline among many of today’s players, as a great deal of the United States’ 13,000+ annual murders occur in those places.
That said, we’ve heard countless tales of players making it through rough-and-tumble environments over the years, but we’re not sure we’ve ever heard of anything like what Cal guard Jorge Gutierrez’s old haunts have turned into. You see, Gutierrez is originally from the Mexican border state of Chihuahua, a place where drug cartel violence has reached astronomical proportions in recent years, to the point where regular folks like Gutierrez’s mother (a retired nurse), father (a teacher), siblings, grandparents and cousins no longer feel safe doing menial tasks such as going to the market or walking the dog. As the Oakland Tribune discusses in this piece on Gutierrez’s family, the weight of constant peril on his mind is beyond what most of us will ever deal with.
My mom and dad tell me a little bit about it. I don’t think they tell me a whole lot because they don’t want me to worry about it. We used to be very friendly, but things changed. It’s pretty bad right now. When I was there, it was all good. You could walk around the streets at night. It changed (because of) the drug war. Right now it’s one of the most dangerous cities or states in the world. Nobody’s safe down there.
And it’s not just woe-is-me hyperbole on Gutierrez’s part. There have been over 15,000 drug-related murders in Mexico in the last year (a country with a population one-third as large as the U.S.), over 34,000 in the last four years, and his state is ground zero for many of the beheadings and execution-style killings that make the news stateside. In fact, the only other places in the entire world with as many bodies piling up on a regular basis are Iraq and Afghanistan, which as we all know are quite literally war-torn provinces. The power of a group of battling druglords has created war-like conditions for many formerly-quiet places with our neighbors to the south, and even though the Gutierrez family has not yet been specifically impacted, you have to wonder if it’s only a matter of time. Hopefully the junior guard who has more than doubled his scoring output this season for Mike Montgomery’s squad will be able to use his versatile talents as a scorer and defender in the next year or so to earn enough money as a professional player to move his family to a safer place — if that’s not something we should all be rooting for, we don’t know what is.