THEY LEARNED FROM an early age to keep their heads bowed and their voices low. Around the Erie Avenue row house where Marcus and Markieff Morris grew up in North Philadelphia, eye contact with the wrong person could be misconstrued as a sign of disrespect or, worse, a challenge. "Then, next thing you know, the guns are coming out," Marcus says. "I've seen guys get shot just for sitting on the wrong front step. We were surrounded by violence, gangs. You wake up every day thinking, 'How am I going to protect myself?'"
The Morris brothers were exceptional athletes, providing them with an occasional escape from an environment Marcus says felt like a tinderbox: Light a match, and the whole thing will blow. Like many boys their age, the Morris twins dreamed of playing in the NBA or the NFL. "But," Marcus says, "we were living somewhere where you never saw anybody do that."
When the twins were in high school, their house burned down with their family cat trapped inside. Their mother, Angel, moved them and their brother Blake into a small home in Hunting Park with their maternal grandparents, a tight squeeze fo