He Saw ‘Greatness’ in the Lakers When They Were at Their Worst

Burney first held up a similar sign 15 years ago on a street corner in Highland Park, Mich., a small city surrounded by his hometown, Detroit. He said prayer led him to do it.

In the years since, he has taken his sign all over the world, flying for free as an airline employee. He has shared his message on street corners and during protest marches, in small gyms and outside professional arenas. He has shouted it as a contestant on “The Price Is Right.”

“He’s like the Forrest Gump 2.0,” said Morris Peterson, a former N.B.A. player who grew close with Burney after a charity event Peterson hosted with the rapper Snoop Dogg to support people affected by the water crisis in Flint, Mich. “He’s just everywhere. He’s everywhere. You might see him in Paris with the sign.”

Burney played basketball for one year at Prairie View A&M University, and in the years after he’d often get asked to participate in pickup games and workouts. In 2007, he was preparing for a workout with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, then the G League affiliate of the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, when he spotted Rasheed Wallace, then playing for the Pistons, sitting at the bar of a T.G.I. Friday’s.

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