ABOUT 700 CITIZENS OF BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (pop. 15,000), have turned out on a crisp, cloudless Friday afternoon for the dedication of two renovated basketball courts next to the high school. The courts are cause enough for rejoicing in a town that has seen unemployment climb to 35 percent since a nearby Whirlpool factory closed three years ago. But adding to the thrill is the return of the celebrity son they once knew as David Adkins.
“The name is Sinbad, man,” he keeps having to remind the throng of well-wishers, even as he exchanges high fives, smiles at familiar faces and obliges every autograph request. “Sinbad. Come on, man. Help me out!”
To the folks he left behind in this mostly black community, the 34-year-old Star Search winner and co-star of NBC’s Different World is still David Adkins, the preacher’s kid whose father, Donald, is pastor of Benton Harbor’s Second Baptist Church. Sinbad—the second of six children—has come back from the San Fernando Valley, where he lives with wife Meredith and children Paige, 6, and Royce, 2, to donate these courts to the city, see the folks (bringing with him siblings Dorothea, Donna and Mark, who work for him) and do a couple of benefit shows to help reopen the town’s teen rec center—closed, like so much else of underfunded Benton Harbor.
But it’s the basketball courts that were always Sinbad’s field of dreams. Growing up—way up, to 6’5″—he wanted to be Benton Harbor’s answer to Wilt Chamberlain. His maternal grandfather, John Blackmore, taught him to stand even taller. “One day when I was about 12,” says Sinbad, “I was walking along with my head down and I ran into him. He stopped me and said, ‘Son, you hold your head up. Show people you deserve respect.’ ”
Benton Harbor reveres him. “He’s really an inspiration,” says his former Sunday school teacher, Emma Whitelow, who remembers a boy literally dribbling his life away. “He used to carry a basketball around everywhere with him.” Well, almost everywhere. “Not to church,” adds Emma. “But as soon as he got out, he was at it again.”