Dorothy Ruffin cradled the scuffed basketball in her arms, a painful reminder of the day her grandson died.
Five months ago, that basketball was in the arms of 10-year-old Marlon Eason, when he was killed by a stray bullet.
On Sunday, the Ruffin family and friends gathered at the Williams Park recreation center in Overtown to mourn the loss of the little boy and celebrate the birthday he will never have. Marlon, who family members said was obsessed with the Miami Heat, would have turned 11 on Sept. 10.
A special guest showed up: Dwyane Wade Sr., father of Marlon’s favorite player.
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“It was a blessing that he came to acknowledge my son,” said Elizabeth Ruffin, Marlon’s mother.
On March 24, Marlon was bouncing his basketball outside his home at 1975 NW Fourth Ct. in Overtown when a bullet pierced his head.
About four months later, police arrested two neighborhood teenagers and charged them with Eason’s murder. Khalib Newkirk, 15, who goes by the street name “K-Hound,” was charged with second-degree murder. Ernest Rowell, 18, known as “Woo,” was charged with first-degree murder. Both are in jail awaiting trial.
But Sunday was about Marlon.
Wade Sr. delivered a new basketball, signed by his superstar son, and an invitation for Marlon’s mother and grandparents to attend the next Heat game, where Wade the player promised to sign Marlon’s basketball.
The signed ball will go to the foundation started in Marlon’s honor by his uncle, Richard Ruffin — The Marlon Eason Jr Violence Awareness and Prevention Foundation.
Having Dwyane Wade’ signature was symbolic for Dorothy Ruffin.
“Dwyane Wade is chasing his dreams,” she said. “And when my baby was chasing the ball his dream was lost."
Wade Sr. spoke to the gathered group, including Marlon’s old basketball team, about the importance of education and cautioned the children not to let sports be the sole purpose of their lives.
Dorothy said Marlon’s best friend, Arthur Smith, still cries for his lost friend. Arthur, 12, picks flowers and brings them to Dorothy in honor of Marlon. Soon after the shooting, she remembers him asking “Can y’all make a clone?"
Arthur said he met Marlon playing basketball.
“We made a good team, a great team,” he said. “We had so much in common."
They both loved the Seattle Seahawks, jogger pants and playing football. What will he miss about his friend? “Everything,” Arthur said.
After Dwyane Wade’s father left, family and friends ate cupcakes and drank soda as they shared memories of Marlon.
While the new ball will go to the foundation, Dorothy Ruffin said she will put the old one in a protective case in her room, close to her.
“I can keep my baby’s dream alive,” she said.
Miami Herald staff writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.