“THE DOMINICAN DREAM”

In the 1990s, Felipe Lopez was known as “the Dominican Michael Jordan” around Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx. Though his NBA career was cut short by a serious injury, he’s found success and happiness off the court. We’ll tell you about this immigrant’s story tonight.

For more information on “The Dominican Dream,” click here. 

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.
Aired on April 30, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GROWING UP IN NEW YORK CITY, PHILIPPE LOPEZ WAS SO GOOD AT BASKETBALL THAT PEOPLE COMPARED HIM TO MICHAEL JORDAN.

HE WAS ALSO A SYMBOL FOR HOPE BACK IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC.

HE MOVED TO THE NEW YORK WHERE HE BECAME THE TOP RANKED HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYER IN THE COUNTRY.

HE EVENTUALLY MADE IT TO THE NBA.

WHILE HE DIDN'T HAVE THE PRO CAREER OF MICHAEL JORDAN, HIS JOURNEY AND IMPACT OFF THE COURT ARE NOW THE FOCUS OF A NEW 30 FOR 30 DOCUMENTARY.

THIS IS PART OF OUR CHASING THE DREAM INITIATIVE ON POVERTY AND THE DREAM IN MANAGER.

THE DOMINICAN DREAM MAKES ITS BROADCAST DEBUT TONIGHT.

IT WAS THE HAY DAY OF HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL AND HE WAS THE AMBASSADOR.

GAMES WERE EVENTS IN THE MID 90s.

AND PHILIPPE WAS THE REASON WHY.

THE '90s IN NEW YORK CITY HAD SO MUCH TALENT IN BASKETBALL.

AND HE WAS THE GUY.

IT WASN'T EVEN CLOSE.

HE WAS LeBRON BEFORE LeBRON.

IT WOULD BE LIKE JAY-Z WALKING INTO A CLUB.

HE WALKED ON THE COURT AND YOU KNEW HE WAS GOING TO DESTROY EVERYBODY HE WAS A ROCK STAR.

A LEGIT ROCK STAR.

IN A TOWN THAT HAS SO MANY OTHER ROCK STARS, NONE OF THOSE ROCKS WERE SHINING THE WAY FELIPE WAS.

HE WAS THE MAYOR OF WASHINGTON HEIGHTS.

HE WAS THE KING OF NEW YORK.

JOINING ME NOW IS THE ONE, THE ONLY, THE BRONX' OWN FELIPE LOPEZ.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON 'METROFOCUS.'

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

YOUR 30 FOR 30 STORY WAS REALLY, REALLY COMPELLING.

IT WAS ONE OF THOSE STORIES THAT I THINK TAKES THE VIEWER BACK TO A POINT IN TIME.

WE FORGET ABOUT OUR FAVORITE PLAYERS.

I WANT TO START WHERE THE FILM STARTS WITH YOUR JOURNEY FROM THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC TO THE BRONX, NEW YORK.

WHAT WAS THAT LIKE FOR YOU?

IT WAS DIFFERENT.

IT WAS SHOCKING FOR ME COMING FROM THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC.

FIRST OF ALL, I WAS NOT ABLE TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE.

SO RIGHT AWAY, THAT WAS A BARRIER.

SOMETHING THAT I HAVE TO OVERCOME JUST HAVING THE SENSATION, FEELING A LITTLE OUT OF PLACE.

IT WAS SOMETHING THAT PUSHED ME, DROVE ME A LITTLE BIT.

IN THE ONE PLACE THAT I WAS ABLE TO BE COMFORTABLE WAS ON THE BASKETBALL COURT.

SO I KIND OF TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THE FACT THAT I WAS ABLE TO PLAY BASKETBALL AT AN EARLY AGE.

TO BE EFFECTIVE, IT TAKES SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT I WAS FACING EVERY DAY THROUGH BASKETBALL.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT COMES THROUGH SO MUCH FROM WHAT I REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR STORY WHEN YOU FIRST MADE THAT HUGE SPLASH IN THE NEW YORK MEDIA, IT HAS FOR THE DOMINION COMMUNITY IN NEW YORK.

HOW DID THAT AFFECT YOU, HAVING ALL THOSE EXPECTATIONS ON A HIGH SCHOOL KID?

WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT SPORTS, YOU TALK ABOUT LATINO, THE FIRST THING THAT COMES TO YOUR MIND IS BASEBALL.

SO I WAS THE ONE KID OUT OF THE BLUE, SPANISH, THAT IT CAME INTO THE SCENE PRETTY FAST.

BY MY FOURTH YEAR IN THE UNITED STATES, PEOPLE STILL TRYING TO PUT EVERYTHING TOGETHER.

TRYING TO GET ACQUAINTED WITH THE WAY OF LIFE HERE AND I'M ON THE COVER OF 'SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'.

THAT MUST HAVE BEEN BIZARRE.

IT WAS TO THE POINT I HAD NO IDEA.

I WAS ABLE TO FIND OUT PRETTY QUICKLY.

EVERYWHERE I MOVED.

PEOPLE WANTED NO SIGN IT.

I THINK REALLY STRUGGLING MORE ABOUT BEING ON THE COVER OF 'SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.'

THAT IT CAME AROUND THE TIME LATINOS REALLY NEEDED A CITY.

WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT THE '90s, THE IMAGE THAT YOU HAVE, FOR LATINOS, SPECIALLY WASHINGTON HEIGHTS AREA, IT WAS SUCH A NEGATIVE CONNOTATION, BY HAVING THESE STORIES COMING OUT INTO THE SCENE THROUGH BASKETBALL AND MY PERSONA, IT WAS THAT PEOPLE REALLY EMBRACED.

WE GET A CHANCE TO SEE WHAT THAT EMBRACE LOOKED LIKE.

PRETTY MUCH, YOUR SECTION OF THE -- YEAH, THE FANS, IT WOULD BE A PARTY.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE FOR OUR VIEWERS A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT THAT PARTY LOOKED LIKE FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE?

FOR ME, IT WAS MORE OF A DRIVE.

IT GAVE ME THE SENSATION THAT OKAY, I'M PLAYING FOR GUYS, EVERYTHING IS WELL.

I'M ALSO PLAYING FOR A COMMUNITY.

AND THAT COMMUNITY, WITH THE PEOPLE, WITH THE DRUMS, UP AND PLAYING MUSIC AND DANCING THE WHOLE TIME AND SCREAMING.

IT REALLY BROUGHT A LITTLE BIT OF SWAG, LATINO SWAG AND THE WARM BLOOD THAT WE HAVE.

IT WAS A PARTY WHILE I PLAYED.

WELL, SO MUCH OF YOUR STORY IS SUCH A QUINTESSENTIAL STORY.

THE IMMIGRANT COMING TO AMERICA AND REALLY REALIZING SO MANY OF YOUR DREAMS.

WHY WAS IT WHEN YOU WERE IN HIGH SCHOOL AND THUD CHANCE TO JUMP RIGHT INTO THE NBA, MAKING HUGE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, YOU OFTEN SAID TO GET YOUR EDUCATION.

MY MOTHER.

SHE WAS A TEACHER FOR 25 YEARS.

SO OUR COMMUNITY FOR THE WHOLE SACRIFICE, MY FATHER WAS GOING THROUGH IT.

IT WAS TO GIVE US THE OPPORTUNITY.

TO BECOME A BETTER PERSON.

I THINK YOU HAVE TO TAKE YOUR HAT OFF TO THE LeBRONS AND THE KOBES FOR THE GREAT SUCCESS STORIES.

BUT THERE ARE OTHER HIGH SCHOOL PLAYERS THAT DID NOT DO TOO WELL.

SO NOW WHAT IS IT SUPPOSED TO DO FOR YOU?

I REALLY FEEL THAT NOW I'M MAKING THE JUMP TO THE NBA.

HE REALLY GAVE ME THE OPPORTUNITY, TO NBA KIDS FOR THE PAST TEN YEARS.

SOMEONE ABLE TO PROVIDE BACK.

NOT JUST FROM THE STANDPOINT OF SPORTS BUT EDUCATION, SO MANY.

I FEEL LIKE I'M BLESSED.

IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAVE NO REGRETS ABOUT THE WAY EVERYTHING PANNED OUT.

WELL, I'M SITTING HERE TALKING ABOUT IT.

IT IS SUCH --

IT'S LIKE MIND BLOWING TO KNOW THAT.

MY WHOLE FACE IS ON THE BIG SCREEN.

THAT'S A GREAT NOTE TO END IT ON.

FELIPE LOPEZ, IT IS A GREAT HONOR TO MEET YOU.

YOU WERE ONE OF THOSE WHO SPARKED MY INTEREST IN BASKETBALL.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

I THOUGHT FOR HAVING THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE MY STORY.

FOR MORE ON HOW TO WATCH FELIPE, HEAD OVER TO OUR WEBSITE AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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