Fighting Through Hardship - Something Kris Has Always Done
On and off the court, Kris Dunn never seems to give up.
The Bulls this season in the start of their rebuild are going to know hardship, frustration, and perhaps desperation. They may feel abandoned, but not lacking determination, hope and belief.
So they may have just the guy who knows from bitter experience how to fight through those doubts and odds and succeed. That he plays the game’s most vital position, point guard, is just a bonus.
“We’re starting again,” said Kris Dunn. “I think it’s about developing everybody, improving, building that chemistry. In practice, we are competing and that’s what we want to do every game. We’re not going in there to hear people say we are going to lose. We’re not going in with a losing mentality. We are going in to compete, to win. That’s how you should approach anything when it comes to competitive sports; everyone has that competitive attitude. We’ll go out and play our hardest.”
It’s the way Kris also approached life, enabling him to overcome the most brutal of childhoods. In an NBA world where childhood hardships are common, Dunn’s amazing story is arguably the most uncommon. The Bulls had Jimmy Butler and his “Blind Side” like adolescent existence of being run out of his home at 13 and having to rely on the kindness of strangers.
Dunn was nine years old, his mother previously having kidnapped he and his brother, and learning that he and his brother, then 14, would with their mother in prison live on their own. Fearing being split up and sent to an orphanage, the brothers in Alexandria, Va., hustled the streets for food and rent money, keeping child welfare and school officials unaware. It’s an almost impassable road from there to college degree and the NBA, as well as Kris’s brother going on to become a successful accountant.
They survived and endured against unspeakable odds and grave doubts. And then they came out on the other side winners, the sort of life lesson Dunn, perhaps, can help at least symbolize with his new team.
“Not saying we didn’t get in trouble, but we were smart enough,” said Dunn. “We were good kids. We had plans for each other. We had dreams and weren’t going to let things get in the way of our dreams; we grew up fast. I tell people when I was little I wasn’t oblivious to things. Most kids are. We weren’t because we had to grow up fast. I started to see the world faster than others.”
That sort of attitude got Dunn a college degree when it is rare for top players in this era, a view toward a post basketball career in special education, and the chance after being the No. 5 pick in the 2016 NBA draft to help educate the Bulls going forward about coming back from nowhere.
Dunn had a rocky opening Summer League game with 11 points and three assists on three of 12 shooting. He then had to leave with a family emergency. But he is back at the Advocate Center working out again with the Bulls in anticipation of playing a major role in the Bulls’ revitalization.
Dunn is a powerfully built 6-4 who plays the position with force and a bit of recklessness. His strength now is on the defensive end. His shooting is average, needing improvement. He sees himself as more a facilitator for now, though the Bulls also will need him to be a scorer with their limited offensive resources.
Dunn doesn’t look like he’ll ever be a big time scorer as he’s not as explosive as players like Derrick Rose before his injuries or Russell Westbrook. He doesn’t shoot like Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard. He doesn’t handle as well as Chris Paul.
I can see Dunn playing like Fat Lever, a triple double threat with the Denver Nuggets in the 1980s. Lever wasn’t a great shooter, but used his strength to get inside, rebound and move the ball. You can see Dunn playing a little like Deron Williams, a physical guard in his prime. Maybe a little like Baron Davis. In an earlier era, Dunn has characteristics like John Bagley or even Joe Dumars, though Dumars was a somewhat better shooter. Others similar who come to mind are Derek Harper and Gus Williams. Perhaps a bit of Dick Van Arsdale, who was more shooting guard. They’re the physical players who get in the lane and make plays. Not flashy or spectacular, but capable of leading and vital.
It’s how the Bulls probably are looking toward Dunn. And he’s not someone you’d ever want to doubt or underestimate.
“What Derrick Rose did in Chicago before his injuries was amazing,” noted Dunn. “Since Jordan, he had the city where it needs to be, coming out, loving the team and the game. I’m not saying I’m the next D-Rose. But I watched him a lot and why not, great point guard. You can take something from their game and put it in yours, see how he ran a team, the mentality. Hopefully, I can get to that stature. Hopefully, if I keep working hard that can happen.
“Everybody here is trying to develop,” Dunn added. “We don’t have many veterans; we don’t have the 'talent’ everyone else has. But we can build up to it. That’s the beauty of it, the process. The great thing about this team is that everyone is trying to work together to develop and get better. I think down the road you will see that."
“I like to pass the ball first,” said Dunn. “I like to get guys involved. I like to get guys open shots. When guys make open shots, it makes the team better. That’s my thing. At the same time, just can’t pass because then you become too predictable. I’ve been scoring all my life. That’s what got me to this point. It’s a natural instinct. Once I find my spots that will help me down the road.”
Kris Dunn’s spot in life seemed just that, a tiny speck about to be blown away in a world flying by with little regard or interest. He and his brother, John, seemed destined to be among the pile of victims our society stacks up like dried out pieces of wood. Perhaps fit only for being burned.
Kris was a year old when his mother, Pia, took the boys from their home in Connecticut, leaving their father, John Seldon, to search for years. He would not give up, Kris and John eventually being reunited with their father and his new family, which also wasn’t easy. But hardly the most difficult of the trials.
Pia would be in and out of jail on minor offenses, the kids alone a day or two until a more serious offense. John Dunn realized the boys would be taken away and took charge.
“I trusted him because he always had my back,” Kris said of his brother declaring they’d be on their own. “He was my first father. I tell everybody that before I met my dad. He had to stop being a kid for me.”
For almost six months, in a story often told in national media during Dunn’s time at Providence, the kids defied providence given their plight. They sold their clothes, didn’t answer the door for fear of school officials as they weren’t much attending anymore, gambled to try to pick up a few bucks, which really is gambling without money in your pocket. It wasn’t all Huck Finn, either. They picked fights with drug deals to “borrow” money. They were good kids; not great kids. They were kids doing anything to survive.
It can be a useful trait if you can make it through.
Eventually, dad found them, obtained legal custody and drove down to Virginia to bring them back to Connecticut.
Kris had some of the chips off the old block, dad John having been a collegiate linebacker. Kris quickly was a star running back and defensive back. He had obvious pro potential. “Too cold outside,” he says with a laugh about leaving football. “My dad was pretty upset I didn’t want to play football.”
Pretty good at basketball, as well. Kris became a Connecticut state player of the year twice and went on to Providence, which took an early interest. But the challenges continued.
Football is a tough game. Kris needed shoulder surgery before entering college and again as a sophomore. But he worked into becoming Big East Player of the Year and seemingly a lottery selection as a junior. Kris applied for the draft, but then decided to return to school to get his degree, which he did in social sciences with a minor in business.
“Coming from where I did a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to go to college,” Kris acknowledged. “I wanted to do that. Anything can happen in basketball. I never wanted to be someone without a fallback plan. I have a college degree. I’m not planning to fail, but I have a plan B. That’s what a college degree did for me. I’d like to be a guidance counselor or special education teacher (eventually). I came from poverty. I know kids going through that. They’re just in that situation; it’s not their fault. I want to be one of those guys who helps kids out.”
That it never was easy perhaps has made Kris.
The Bulls entertained trade offers to get into the draft last year to take Dunn. None materialized. Dunn went to Minnesota, where he played sparingly, often at shooting guard and fell behind Ricky Rubio. Apparently falling out of the Timberwolves’ plans, he was available. This time the Bulls went for the deal.
Dunn is honest about his disappointment over last season, but that also is the attitude that has served him so well.
“I had a bad year because I wasn’t who I was, playing with that fierce competitiveness. I play with that swagger, that confidence, and I didn’t feel I had that when I was in Minnesota. I wasn’t playing a lot. I wasn’t playing my natural position. I was under a tough coach; everything was so new. I played point guard four years (in college), so getting to play point guard again, getting guys involved, knowing how to run the team again, knowing when to pass and shoot, get guys involved."
“Last year people around said I had a bad year,” Dunn acknowledged. “I’m trying to fix that, trying to improve. I want people to respect me like when I was coming out of college. I’m here now to listen, learn, work hard, do whatever it takes to improve. It’s also about chemistry with you and the coach and building that bond. You saw that with Derrick Rose when he was an MVP. He was on his way to being the next Michael Jordan before his injury. He had that bond and trust with his coach.
“There will be rough patches,” Dunn agrees. “It’s the good teams that find ways to get through it, stick together, want to improve. Work hard every day and you will get past that rough patch.”
Few know better than Kris Dunn.
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