At the same time, Newcastle United Football Club, which plays in a 52,000-seat stadium, has not won a top-tier championship since 1927. Flournoy has coached the Eagles to seven league titles. Paul Blake, the team’s owner, described Flournoy’s influence on British basketball as “absolutely massive.” But it remains a work in progress.
“The kids teach the parents about the sport,” Blake said. “Some of the parents have no idea.”
As the force behind the Eagles’ understated brand of excellence, Flournoy has found a home in one of Europe’s lesser-known leagues, packing his life with discoveries, big and small. He is the type of person who actually says things like, “That was a great discovery!” He once engaged in a two-year project to find the perfect shave. (After trying dozens of products, he settled on a Japanese-made feather blade.)
In his endless quest for self-preservation, Flournoy makes his own almond milk and presses his own juice. He concocts toothpaste out of baking soda and coconut oil. He keeps a bottle of special drops handy to measure the pH of the water that he drinks. He knows the difference between A1 milk and A2 milk, which come from different breeds of cows.
“I’ve done a lot of research on milk,” said Flournoy, who no longer drinks milk.
He devours books about diet and psychology and fitness. He recently lifted weights every day for six straight weeks. He owns two hula hoops — “The weighted one is downstairs,” he said — which he uses to build his transverse abdominal muscles. He practices yoga. He has a set of electric muscle stimulators. He does his own cupping therapy. He has completed home workout programs like p90x, p90x2 and Insanity.
And he abstains from alcohol except for one day of the year, on the anniversary of his older brother’s death. He drinks, he said, to remember.
Because while Flournoy cannot stop, neither can he forget.
Speeches, With No Notes
At any moment, Flournoy is likely to be doing one of three things: coaching, training or giving a speech.
“I don’t sleep much,” he said.
His speeches — to students, to law firms, to car dealers — are events.
“If you’re in a room of 500 people, I guarantee there’s someone in there that lost a loved one,” he said. “I guarantee there’s someone that got bullied. I guarantee there’s someone that got mistreated. I guarantee there’s someone that wants to be more than what they are. I guarantee there’s someone that’s just like me.”
Flournoy delivers his speeches without notes. He laughs. He cries. He might mention how his father abused his mother when he was drunk and how she eventually left him, working to provide for her four children while shuffling them from one ragged building in New York to the next, where Flournoy and his siblings would cram into one bed.
“Two facing the headboard, two facing the foot,” he said.
As a child, Flournoy felt like an outsider. His feelings of isolation were especially acute, he said, because his older brother, James Divine Flournoy, who was known as Jimmy, was popular and athletic.
“He had this energy about him,” Flournoy said. “Everybody liked him.”
When Flournoy was in the first grade, a teacher at his school sensed his sadness. What followed was an act of kindness that Flournoy has never forgotten: an afternoon trip to the movies to see “Superman.” Flournoy saw himself in Clark Kent, the awkward outcast. But he also saw the potential of what he could become, and he began to believe.
Credit Kieran Dodds for The New York Times
“I knew from that moment on that I was going to find a place for myself in the world,” Flournoy said, “even if it took my entire life to do it.”
When Flournoy was in his early teens, his mother, Lucy Flournoy, found work at a nursing home and moved her family into public housing in the South Bronx. For the first time, Flournoy had some stability.
“I know everyone talks about how they’re trying to get out of the projects,” he said. “But we were trying to get into the projects.”
As for basketball, Flournoy did not start playing until his sophomore year at Jane Addams Vocational High School in the Bronx. He was no prodigy — far from it, in fact. But he was growing into his 6-foot 4-inch frame, and he dedicated himself to the game.
“I saw how all the other good basketball players had the sneakers and the track suits,” Flournoy said. “And all of a sudden, I became a jock and I found power and acceptance.”
Any dream Flournoy had of jumping to a high-level college program, though, was derailed by bad grades. A severe case of dyslexia went unidentified for years, he said, and even when teachers suspected he had a learning disability, no one knew how to address it.