Chris Jones's grandmother, Bertha Kirkwood (left), and aunt, Machsale Bowman, welcome him back to Memphis Thursday.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WDRB) – The first care package arrived from
Greenwood, Miss., prepared especially for Chris Jones by his grandmother.
Bertha Kirkwood drove two hours from the Mississippi Delta to make certain that
the little boy that she loved to spoil was spoiled one more time with caramel
"Wow-za! Yummy!" Jones told his grandmother when he learned
that she was bringing 40 of those treats to the Peabody Hotel. Kirkwood nearly
The magnificent Peabody is home this week for the University
of Louisville basketball team. The Cardinals began their push to win the
American Athletic Conference tournament by overpowering Rutgers, 92-31,
Thursday afternoon.Jones was supposed to tell his teammates that the cupcakes were for them, too.
He did not. How many did he eat? Probably one for each of the seven field goals
he made while scoring 18 points.
"He was so excited because he hadn't seen me and I hadn't
seen him play (in college)," Kirkwood said.
Jones needed extra hugs and kisses during this trip because
it was only 12 days ago that his step-brother and best friend, Demetrius Ray,
was shot and killed in Parkway Village, a troubled neighborhood about 15
minutes from the Fed Ex Forum, not far from where Jones grew up.
It happened March 1, the same afternoon U of L was playing a
basketball game against Memphis here. It did not stir a ripple of news until
four days later when Jones told his teammates that he was dedicating the
remainder of this basketball season to Ray after the Cardinals won a basketball
game at SMU.
Murders don't always generate king-sized headlines in
Memphis. They're part of the daily grind of life in this town. According to one
report, 150 people were murdered in Memphis in 2013. Forbes magazine ranks
Memphis as the fourth most-dangerous American city. Data from the 2010 Census described
Memphis as the poorest large city in the U.S.
No wonder Jones said that he did not feel safe in his
hometown, that it was no longer a place where he wanted to live. He meant no
offense to his friends. It was simply the emotions churning inside a young man
dealing with the loss of somebody who had been his best friend since the fourth
grade. He was especially angry when nobody came forward with information about
the shooting for nearly a week. An arrest was finally made several days ago.
"There's too much hatred out there," Jones said.
"You have a lot of, just to be quite honestly, a lot of
jealousy out here," said Greg Johnson, Jones' father. "Someone is doing a
little bit better than someone else and you know they get a little envious
"You could just be walking down the street, going to the
store and someone may want to do something to you. You don't have to do
something to the other person. It's wrong place at the wrong time type situations."
Chris Jones' family did not want him feeling that way about
his hometown, not with the AAC Tournament booked for the Fed Ex Forum and the
NCAA Tournament starting next week. Memphis is one of four regional sites.
Jones could be back again.
That's why Bertha Kirkwood made the cupcakes. Jones' aunt,
Machsale Bowman, got to work in her kitchen, too, providing honey gold chicken
wings and Kool-Aid pickles. And Jones' mother, Christy Jones, provided a
king-sized serving of another one of her son's favorites – Ro-Tel dip, a
southwestern Tennessee version of queso packed with cheese, ground beef and
So much for counting calories. It was only a few minutes ago
that U of L coach Rick Pitino was telling Jones that he needed to lose 10 pounds
for the Cardinals' stretch drive.
But the murder of Demetrius Ray changed all that. Pitino
knows what it's like to lose somebody important in your life – his infant son,
Daniel, before the 1987 NCAA Tournament; his best friend, Billy Minardi, in
"We talked about when tragedies hit, celebrating one's life,
no matter how young," Pitino said. "That's what Chris and I talked about,
celebrating his stepbrother's life.
"And celebrate it in a good way. You don't necessarily win a
game for him, but you honor him with the type of person you are and the type of
person you can become."
Pitino knew that Jones needed to mourn, needed to be
embraced by everybody that loves him. When the Cardinals arrived in Memphis
Wednesday night, Jones rode the team bus to the Peabody. Louisville sports
information director Kenny Klein made Jones the first player that the network
television producers interviewed for video clips. Jones had one special trip he
needed to make.
He took a ride with another friend, Calvin Rounds. They
drove to the cemetery where Demetrius Ray was buried last week.
"I think all my emotions came out yesterday when I went to
the grave," Jones said. "I guess I let all my emotions out there and got
refocused and had a good game. I needed that a lot."
Just as Chris Jones needed his cupcakes, honey gold chicken
wings and kisses.