Powe Answers the Call
By John Gardella
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
BOSTON, June 8 -- Boston’s second-year forward Leon Powe has spent significantly more time on the pine than he has on the hardwood during the Celtics’ playoff run. When he does get on the court, the 6-8, 240-pounder with a seven-foot wingspan, plays with reckless abandon.

In Game 2, he scored a playoff-career-high 21 points on 6-of-7 shooting in less than 15 minutes, helping the Celtics to a 108-102 victory and a 2-0 Finals lead over the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Phenomenal, one of his best performances,” Kendrick Perkins said. “I mean, we see it every day in practice honestly. We know Leon can score the ball at will.”

Not surprisingly, and despite inconsistent minutes in the postseason, Powe is having the time of his life.

“It's just been a great experience to be out there playing in The Finals and just to be in this atmosphere,” Powe said. “It's great for me because I grew up watching the games and wishing I was there because it looked like a lot of fun, and this is your dream and your goal, and to finally reach it the process ain't done yet, but to finally get here, it's like a sigh of relief and a sigh of happiness for me.”

As a child in Oakland, Calif., however, the odds of Powe growing up to experience any happiness were about as good as winning the state lottery. The story, though well-chronicled, bares retelling as a character study of one young person’s determination and dedication in the face of unbelievable adversity.

His father left him when he was two. When he was seven, his younger brother, Tim, accidentally burned the house down, turning his family into nomads who spent years sleeping in homeless shelters, cheap motels, even abandoned cars. Incredibly, things would get a lot worse before getting better. Powe’s mother developed a drug addiction leading Child Protective Services to place her seven children in foster care.

“That shaped my character real fast,” Powe said of all the adversity. “I had to grow up as a little kid quickly, and I did that.”

Growing up fatherless in one of the nation’s toughest inner cities would have been daunting enough. With his mother battling drug addiction, many in Powe’s position could have easily taken the gang-banging route. Instead, Powe picked up a basketball.

A seven-foot wingspan, soft hands and an off-the-charts work ethic turned Powe into one of Northern California’s best players. By his junior year in high school, he had led Oakland Technical to the state championship. Powe’s good fortune, however, wouldn’t last.

Days before the championship game, Powe’s mother died of a heart attack at age 41. Weeks later, he ripped the ACL in his left knee while playing in an AAU tournament in Houston.

Despite the injury, Powe rehabbed and earned Parade All-American and a McDonald’s All-American honors after his senior year. Powe took his game to nearby Cal, where he earned Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors.

Then life interfered for the umpteenth time. After his freshman year in Berkley, Powe needed two surgeries -- one was a bone graft to relieve the pain that still existed from his ACL tear, the second was another reconstruction when the knee failed to respond. The count: three major surgeries on the same knee in about two years. After all he had been through in his short life doubt finally entered his mind, but only briefly.

“There was a point where I thought that I wouldn’t be able to play anymore, but I told myself to never give up and to just keep fighting and hang in there and then if I put the work in and if it don't work out, so be it, but if it does, more power to me.”

Powe red-shirted the 2004-05 season and rehabbed his knee for 16 months. After sitting out the first four games of the 2005-06 season – yes, another injury -- due to a minor stress fracture in his right foot, Powe led the Pac-10 in scoring (20.5 ppg) and rebounding (10.1 rpg), becoming only the sixth player in league history to accomplish the feat and the first Cal player since Mark McNamara in 1981-82.

Powe’s sticktotiveness paid off when the Celtics selected him in the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft. And in only his second year in the league, Powe is realizing his childhood dream that he developed while surviving a nightmare.

“I don't take nothing for granted,” Powe said. “I can't speak for anybody else, but I appreciate [The Finals] a lot. Nothing is guaranteed. You never know when it can be taken away from you, and that's why when I go out there and play, just treat every minute like it's my last and try to play 110 percent every time out.

“You've just got to keep preparing yourself, for games, practices, just keep preparing, and then when [coach] calls on you, just be ready to answer the call.”

No problem there. Powe’s been answering that call his entire life.

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