That's when everything went wrong.
"It was crazy, man," Blalock remembers. "It felt like I blacked out. I couldn't feel nothing. It was like something got numb."
He was on the phone in the terminal when he reached down to pick up a drink. "I couldn't feel my hand," Blalock says. "I hung up the phone and my arm was dangling."
A woman sitting next to him asked if he was okay. He said yes, and stood up to look for his ticket. When he got to his feet, he discovered that he was drenched in sweat and that the left side of his body wouldn't move. The woman ran to get help. He took a step back, and began to pray.
"The next thing I remember," says Blalock, "I wake up and everyone's gone." He had just suffered a stroke.
Blalock was rushed to the hospital, where doctors performed an MRI and a CAT scan. He knew about the small hole in his heart — he was born with it, although it had never been a problem — but a blood clot was found near his neck. Either could have caused the stroke. The doctors told him that if he had boarded the plane he could have died.
"I was scared," his friend Will Dickerson recalls. "I had tears in my eyes, because that's my little brother. Had he got on that plane, God knows what would have happened."
The Johnson Center
The two Wills may be unrelated, but they're as close as family. Dickerson is five years older and remembers first seeing Blalock as a 13-year-old kid throwing behind-the-back passes at the Thomas Johnson Center in Roxbury. He's been watching, critiquing, and supporting his friend ever since.
To the extent that Blalock has an entourage, Dickerson and a small group from home are basically it. Blalock still lives in Boston and Dickerson fondly recalls Blalock riding his bike over to the Johnson Center after his season with the Pistons to spend time with the kids who hung out there. "He's got a big heart," Dickerson says. "Will doesn't know how to say 'no.' "
Blalock grew up a few feet from the center and it was there that he watched local legends like Randall Jackson and Wayne Turner play — not to mention his sister, Marsha, who was the reigning hoop star in the family at the time. It was where he began to get serious about ball, and where he began to get his own rep.
His talent took him from East Boston High to Notre Dame Prep. In the summers, his toughness was forged by Leo Papile's Boston Amateur Basketball Club, whose players delighted in going to high-profile AAU tournaments and beating their more-hyped opponents.
Jeff Adrien, the powerful former Brookline High and UConn star, remembers watching Blalock in his BABC days and being in awe. "Nobody could guard him," says Adrien, a free agent who played with the Grizzlies in Vegas. "Still, no one can guard him."
Blalock signed with Iowa State, but on the day he Fed-Exed his letter of intent, ISU coach Larry Eustachy went on ESPN to announce that he was leaving the school because of a drinking problem, after photos of him partying with co-eds hit the Internet. It was a huge scandal, but Blalock is able to laugh about it now. He spoke up for assistant Wayne Morgan and kept his commitment once Morgan got the job.