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...
DN: It was fun. I played all sorts of sports when I was young but basketball, I don't know what captured me, there was just something there. I wasn't very good at it, but it was just fun to play with the team and try to reach a goal.
To what lengths would you go for a chance to play basketball, even if it were just to shoot around?
DN: We would have to take a little train downtown. I didn't really grow up downtown. We grew up in the suburbs. I would take a subway and go downtown, see what was going on, see who was playing. If nobody was there I would play by myself, shoot. If another guy was there we would play one-on-one, two-on-two, depends on how many guys were there.
Who was your basketball hero and why?
DN: When I started, I was like 13. It was the 90's and that was obviously the Bulls' era. That was when they were starting to win everything with Jordan. And I really loved Pippen. Jordan was the man of the team and I loved him, but I think there was something about Pippen. I loved him too. He was so smooth out there. He was a great all around player. He could do everything on the court, from handling it, shooting it, defend, rebound, post. There is really nothing on the floor he couldn't do and that was my goal, to be a great all around player.
What was your favorite basketball childhood memory?
DN: I always played a little bit of street ball, always with friends. And when I joined a team for the first time, I must have been like 13, and I joined a club program, a youth program. The first game I ever played in club, we had a championship for the area I grew up in. It was really like my first game, we ended up winning that tournament. So right away, from nowhere really, we won this tournament for the local kids. That obviously got me more fired up.
Best piece of basketball advice you received was...
DN: It wasn't really basketball advice, but just keep your eyes and ears open, always learn. It is a good lesson for life too. You always want to improve. You can never think you learned it all in life. There is always something else coming. That is the same with basketball. You can always work on your game and be a better player and person.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to play in the NBA?
DN: I always say to kids obviously, when you are young, you have to finish school first, because you never know what can happen with your career. You could blow out your knee when you're young and your whole career is over. You have to realize that you can dream, but not everyone gets to live this dream. I always say get an education, and I think if you specialize too early on in one sport, that is not great either, because when you become 14 or 15 you can get bored and other sports come into play, distractions come in. In the beginning, I think it is more about fun with your friends and teammates. When you're older, 16, 17, 18, then you can start working towards your goal.
How old were you when you received your first basketball and what did it feel like to have your very own?
DN: We always had one flying around in the house because my mom was a National Team player. And my sister played for the National Team in basketball, so I always grew up with the sport even though I wasn't really playing. I always played tennis and handball. Then I got on the basketball court when I was 13 and basically loved it from there.
When did you realize you had serious game?
DN: Things started to develop pretty quickly. At 16 (I had) a coach that has been with me to this day, just working out and getting better. You know people said you could have a nice little career with this sport, but I didn't really know what to expect. Next thing you know, I was 20 and I was drafted by the NBA. So just everything went so quick, I didn't really know what to expect or what my job could be. So everything obviously blew me away when it went so quick from 16 to 20. I finished school, went to the army, next thing I know, I was in the NBA. It's just an NBA amazing ride.
I entertained thoughts of playing in the NBA at age ...
DN: Never really until I was drafted, I didn't know if I was good enough. I played in the second division in Germany ... to make that huge step was unbelievable. I am usually always a pessimistic guy. So I was always saying everyone else is better, I don't know if I can do it. But then once I got over here. It took a while to get adjusted but then it worked out alright.
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..."
DN: There are so many games in this league, 82 games in the regular season and the 8 preseason. And there are just some nights that you are slow and you are tired, you haven't slept well or you're sick. But then you get to the gym and walk out with 20 minutes on the clock and you look around and the house is packed and that gives it that kick and that is what the fun is all about. You play and you play for the fans and that is that extra kick that you need sometimes. You look around and you are like, "This is amazing, this is the greatest job in the world."
How proud is your family that you made it to the NBA?
DN: You can't really describe it. My whole family is my biggest fans. I could go 0-20 one night and my mom will still call me and be like "hey you did this and this good." They supported me from day one. They drove me around to practices all over when I played tennis, handball. They let me make my own decision. I was pretty decent in tennis and handball. When I said I wanted to stop, they didn't say a word, they said "hey it is whatever you want to do." Then I started playing basketball. They drove me to basketball practice, to the games. So they have been really supportive of my sport career. They come over here every year for like two or three weeks and they love to be here, love to see me play. With the National Team in the summer, they travel wherever I go and try to watch. I grew up in a very close family and it has been great.