By: Max Padrid
If you’ve ever had a chance to physically interact with an elite professional athlete, you’ve likely had a similar experience to the few that I’ve had. The way they carry themselves and move with such fluidity is immediately palpable.
I remember spending some time with one of my favorite football players, a top 3 defensive back in the history of Michigan football who spent more than a decade in the NFL. He didn’t have an overwhelming presence physically but we made a bet about who could run up a downward escalator the fastest. Needless to say, I lost spectacularly.
The way he was able to gallop more closely mirrored a deer leaping across the road than it did a normal human being. Or the time I got to run the scoreboard for one of Tim Grover’s (Michael Jordan’s trainer) famous summer workouts with the likes of Jerry Stackhouse, Antoine Walker, Quentin Richardson, Shawn Marion and Darius Miles. It was an up close experience I had never had before. I’ve always wondered how humans of that athletic caliber can just be so different than the common man or woman. Their ability to accelerate, judge distance, jump, stop, move … is all just so effortless. We often lose sight of just how astonishing this is when we watch them on tv because they are all competing against one another and thus, we have no basis for comparison.
Intro: Orville Crooks. I had the good fortune of meeting “O” as he is most commonly referred to, at Mendez Boxing gym back in 2017. The humble kid from Bed Stuy born in the ‘90s was walking around relatively aimlessly, smile emanating from wall to wall. He had just started to focus on boxing, the sport that came so naturally to him, and was beginning to train for his first amateur fight. What I found so odd was that despite this being his first real boxing endeavor, the way his body moved once his gloves were on was so eerily reminiscent of the way I had seen professional athletes move in the past. He wasn’t as physically imposing, standing around 5’11 with a few extra pounds to lose, but there was a fluidity and natural mobility that was as clear as day to anyone with eyeballs.
It came as no surprise that he went into that amateur fight and won easily, despite being a novice boxer working on the fundamentals of how to hit and not get hit. The way he was able to move in and out, side to side, under, around, was just so distinctly different from everyone that was competing that day. No spectator could take their eyes off of him. Despite Orville’s “novice” boxing designation, he was an elite athlete that caused people to immediately notice.
In 2018, I begrudgingly agreed to my first amateur boxing fight which required ample preparatory sparring. As such, I went through the usual cast of characters, ranging from amateur to pro, having largely similar outcomes with each, but slowly starting to have more success. However, as the date approached, I had the “humbling” experience of sharing the ring with Orville. It took all of 10 seconds for me to feel completely overwhelmed. Not in the sense that I was in danger (although clearly I could have been killed at any time he so desired) but more so, it was like there was no hope. It was almost as if there were two of him and one of me.
I vividly remember his charisma as he would move from one location to another almost as if he was a dance partner I definitely didn’t want. There were a few moments where I actually kept my eyes open and could see what I can only describe as him downloading information in real-time. His reactions were flawless and at the end of 12 minutes or so, consisting of me making zero contact followed by some dry heaving on the lucky spectators around the ring, I asked him pretty bluntly “how do you do it?”
He responded with a humble yet larger-than-life smile and said “I just throw feints.”
“Feints?” I asked, somewhat sheepishly.
“Yeah, feints. Like I pump fake in basketball. So I can see your reaction and figure out which way you’re going to move.”
One year into boxing and I realized this kid was not only a physical anomaly, but his brainpower and ability to synthesize information in a matter of moments was remarkable. Another common yet misunderstood ability of professional athletes.
Later in 2019, Orville started to garner some much-deserved attention. His relationship with his brother, Dushane, a 13-1 professional at the time, was starting to have a very important influence on how O prioritized his time and gave way to the level of effort and dedication it would take to become elite. Show after show, Orville began separating himself from high level competition.
Without naming names, I remember he was asked to be a sparring partner for a reputable pro who was preparing for a fight against a southpaw. Orville, who had no more than 15 amateur fights at the time, texted me after letting me know he just sparred for 6 rounds and when I asked how it went, he immediately responded “I boxed the sh*t outta him lol.” The best part of the response was that I could feel his smile through the phone. There was nothing ostentatious or “braggy” about his claim. It was a statement of fact. As an amateur boxer two years into his training, he was competing with professionals at the highest level and thinking nothing of it.
The accolades started to mount and finding sparring partners that posed a legitimate challenge became more difficult than the fights themselves. Orville was becoming a name people in the NY boxing scene recognized. NY Ring Masters became an afterthought, an excuse to stay busy. After placing second on his first attempt in the national tournament, Orville qualified as an alternate for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The same kid who started boxing in 2017 was an OLYMPIC ALTERNATE.
I couldn’t help but think back on the first day I saw him put on gloves. With very little technical experience, he just had an aura about him. He had a natural charisma and footwork that the New York City Ballet would be lucky to have. Now, this was translating into calculated violence at the highest level and his dreams were very quickly materializing into reality.
Fast forward to 2021 and a pandemic-beaten planet. Life was largely canceled for most of us in 2020. We lost friends and loved ones and had very little to distract us from the endless stream of headlines regarding coronavirus and civil unrest. One of the few people I saw during quarantine was Orville. He was continuing on his mission, staying in shape and following the playbook that his brother laid out for him.
Without regular sparring or training, O entered the 2021 national USAB tournament and walked through every opponent using different methods based on information he would gather in the first 10 seconds of each fight. It was never close. I texted his brother before the tournament started, inquiring into the level of competition to which he replied “no one ever even if they dreamed it.” And he was right. The 178-pound division, consisting of the best male boxers around the country, was always competing for second place. A smile on his face the entire time and always humble in victory, Orville accepted his championship belt and beat his chest in celebration in a manner only Orville and Dushane have truly mastered.
“Style and grace,” as his brother so lovingly refers to him, is the most accurate summation of the kid from Bed Stuy who moves differently from everyone else. He embodies a style of boxing that most people can’t achieve and does so with a level of grace that makes his family and friends proud to know him. He’s already won everything there is to win as an amateur and hopefully, with a bit of luck, he will be on stage in the 2021 Olympics representing the red white and blue. No matter the outcome, remember the name, Orville Crooks, whether a casual or intimate fan of the sport because this is just chapter one of the novel we can all refer to as “Style and Grace.”
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