Sister Gloria Perez, P.B.V.M., remembers Malik Sealy. She was the dean of discipline at St. Nicholas of Tolentine High School in the Bronx when the NBA basketball great was a student there. He was never in her office because of an infraction of the rules. They had business because he was president of the student council. He also was in the Spanish class she taught. And for the 12 years since then he's visited her every summer at Paterson Catholic High School in New Jersey where she is principal.
On Sunday, the day after Malik Sealy was killed in a car crash in a suburb of Minneapolis where he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sister Gloria was remembering many things about the boy who was "such a sweetie" and the young man who stayed that way as success piled upon success.
"He will be sorely missed," she said, "by many."
She called him "a wonderful young man, decent, moral, loyal to his fine family."
She said he was a good student and had a good sense of humor, a knack for clever quips. She was sorry she couldn't remember a couple for me. It was such a sad day.
Sister Gloria was proud of Malik's levelheaded approach to success in the dizzying world of pro sports. "It was never, 'Look at me! I'm rich,' " she remarked. With a salary of $1.1 million at age 30, he was still the quiet kid from the Bronx who led Tolentine to the state championship by trying hard at the sport he loved. Only now he could do things like buy a house for his parents. Once when he visited her in Paterson, Sister Gloria asked him to talk to Tim Thomas, who was just starting on the road that would lead him to the Milwaukee Bucks.
"Malik talked with Tim for a long time," she said. He cut through the glamour, described the bus trips and hotels in the pro-basketball world, warned him about hangers-on, told him to get good financial advice. He encouraged him to go to college first. He spoke from experience, starting with his career and diploma from St. John's Unversity.
Then Malik took his 6-foot-8 frame into the Paterson Catholic gym and played a while with the kids.
When Sister Gloria's conversation returned to the pain of the present, she said, "I received a thank-you for the wedding gift with a picture of Malik and Lisa. It's beautiful." Of course Sister Gloria was invited to the wedding, as she had been to the premiere of Malik Sealy's movie. The wedding was a Tolentine reunion of sorts. The best man was Sealy's classmate Carey Allen, who said in his toast that it was good to see them together again.
"Tolentine had a beautiful spirit, very tight, very close," Sister Gloria said. Sealy was one of the first to receive the Tolentine Ad Astra per Asperam award, named for the school's motto, which means To the Stars Through Adversity. Tolentine presented that goal to a lot of inner-city kids. Malik Sealy was one of the many who grieved over the closing of Tolentine in 1991.
How did a Muslim kid whose father had been a bodyguard to Malcolm X and gave his son Malcolm's middle name wind up in a Catholic high school? According to Joe Moore, who was a Tolentine basketball coach, the idea came from Ernie Lorch of the Riverside Church basketball program. Moore described Lorch as "a fan of Catholic schools." Moore, in turn, ranks with Sister Gloria as a fan of Malik Sealy's. "He was always the first at practice and the last to leave. When you coached, he would listen," he said. "He was a leader. Those kids looked up to him in many ways."
And something else. "There was a sweetness about him," he said.
Then, Joe Moore gave me some more phone numbers of people to talk to about Malik. He'd been talking to a lot of them and to Malik's fine parents, since the tragic news broke. I didn't call anyone else, though. I'd gotten the picture.