Getting to the NBA is not easy. Of the millions of kids playing basketball around the world today, only a very small percentage will make it to the Association. Along the way, there will be highs and lows, ups and downs.
As they prepare for the 2007-08 season, 30 current players reflect back on their journey to the NBA and some of the things they went through to fulfill their dream of playing basketball for a living.
Finish this sentence: Growing up, the basketball court was my...
AI: Growing up, the basketball court was my life. I guess that is all I did. That is all I did.
To what lengths would you go for a chance to play basketball, even if it were to just to shoot around?
AI: Our rim broke down, so we used this small rooftop as a basketball hoop. It was like nine feet tall and had to bounce the ball like twice on top of the roof if it was a good shot. And we used this other garage, we had this marked spot you had to hit for the shot to be good. We built hangers. We opened a hanger up and we would stick the hanger in the door in the house and we would use a sock as a ball. And then we would have three-point contests and use the microwave as a timer. That was crazy. That was fun.
Who was your basketball hero and why?
AI: Michael Jordan was my hero. I am pretty sure that everybody (admired) Michael Jordan growing up. He was the figure we saw the most. He was the best player. He carried himself well on and off the court. He was just a guy I wanted to be.
What is your favorite childhood basketball memory?
AI: I hit like a half court shot in the Final Four of an AAU National Tournament to win the game. We were down by two. It was kind of like I shot the shot and then everything else was in slow motion, like an hour for the ball to go in the hole. That is a low percentage shot. You don't see too many too often. When it went up everyone was like "Oh we lost" and when it went in, we just went crazy.
Best piece of basketball advice you received was...
AI: Just always play hard no matter who you are playing against. I always have been better than a lot of guys where I am from. You tend to relax sometimes, be complacent with where you are at. But there is always room for improvement, so just try to get better everyday.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to play in the NBA?
AI: Just go after your goals. You have to understand the hard work that you put in, those are the results you are going to get. Everyone is not gifted. Everyone is not blessed to jump out of the building. So, just put in as much hard work as you can.
How old were you when you received your first basketball and what did it feel like to have your very own?
AI: I can't remember. I was like 4 or 5 when I started playing basketball. That is all I remember. I was in like Kindergarten.
When did you realize you had serious game?
AI: Right around like second grade, I knew I was good. I was better than everybody else. I can remember I shot a far shot. I remember I was far from the hoop. I remember I was young, probably like 7 or 8. And I remember him (my cousin) saying "shoot it" and I just shot it and it went in. And I was like far, far, far out. From that point on, I started playing with older kids and I knew I was pretty good.
Did it ever strike you in the middle of a game in front of a packed house, "Man, I can't believe I'm here..."
AI: Probably once my rookie year, but after college you get use that.
How proud is your family that you made it to the NBA?
AI: My family, they are very excited to see me on TV. My grandma always calls me and says "I saw you on TV." It is kind of crazy when I go back home. I don't think anyone knew I was that good. I knew I was good but I didn't know I was good enough to make it to the NBA until I got to college probably.