Balancing Basketball and First-Time Fatherhood

By Sam Perley, hornets.com

Becoming a professional basketball player is a status everybody in the NBA has worked long and hard to obtain. Although it means one has reached the pinnacle of the sport, Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams would be among the first to admit it pales in comparison to both the rewards and challenges of fatherhood. The rigors of an 82-game regular season schedule can certainly take their toll, but both these Hornets veterans have figured out how to balance life in the league with their roles as recent first-time dads.

The soon-to-be one-year-old Ayden Richard Batum made his way into the world shortly before Game 6 of Charlotte’s first-round playoff series with the Miami Heat last April. Although running low on sleep and nursing a foot injury at the time, a proud Batum recalls the once-in-a-lifetime experience quite fondly nearly 12 months later.

“I remember earlier in the week, I nearly broke my ankle in Game 2 [against Miami]. The next day, I lost my grandma back in France. Two days later, my son was born. It was a crazy week. It was that day that really changed my whole life,” he said.

Becoming a new dad certainly holds extra-special meaning for Batum, whose own father passed away while playing professionally in France when he was just two years old.

“Me, personally, I take my new job [as a father] very seriously because I am now what I missed the most in my life,” Batum said. “I missed [my dad] my whole life and now to be a dad myself, I really want to be there for [my son].”

Williams also reminisced on what a special time it was when his daughter Ari was born in May 2015.

“It was the most amazing day for me,” the 12th-year NBA veteran said. “It was the most amazing thing I’ve seen anybody ever do, [seeing a] mom give birth to a child. I heard that from a couple of my buddies before, but to actually witness it was unbelievable.”

Easily the biggest challenge for Batum, Williams and other fathers around the NBA is the in-season travel, which sometimes means missing special moments as their children grow and develop. Still, players make it work thanks to a big assist from modern technology.

“I’m glad FaceTime exists,” said Batum. “It’s tough because you want to see his face. At that age, he’s changing every week. If we’re on the road for like 10 days, you’re going to see a difference from when you leave to when you come back. I’m kind of scared right now to miss his first steps. I want to be there so I tell my wife, ‘If you see something, put him on the ground!’ I don’t want to miss that."

“It’s very difficult to leave [Ari] now because she understands I have to leave, but she’s not sure when I’m going to come back or how long I’m going to be gone,” added Williams. “That becomes very difficult, but thank goodness for FaceTime. I don’t know how parents did it in this profession 10 years, 20 years ago when you couldn’t see your kid every day. Skype and FaceTime do change the game a little bit, but it is difficult to have to leave her.”

In a few years, Ayden and Ari will be older and perhaps better understand what it is that their fathers do. For now, both fathers enjoy simply having them in the stands.

“I want him to have some souvenirs, memories about me playing,” said Batum. “I’m 28 years old so if everything goes pretty good for me, hopefully he will have plenty of time to see me play.”

“[Ari] comes to the games and blows me kisses before every tipoff,” Williams noted. “No matter how I played last night or what happened, she’s always so excited to see me and so excited to be [at the arena]. It definitely does change everything [and] put things into perspective.”

Both players also agree that they wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for the extraordinary efforts of the very important women in their lives who take care of things at home while they’re out on the road.

Using the word “great” to describe his wife, Aurelie, Batum said, “Sometimes, I want to do [things for Ayden] myself because I want her to get some rest as well. I want to do it too because I don’t want my job to take me away from those moments to get up at night at 4 a.m. and do the bottle or change a diaper. That’s tough to get up at 4 a.m., but those are the memories I want to get as well.”

“It puts a ton of stress [and] strain on the moms,” added Williams. “You have to definitely tip your hat to the moms for enduring the challenge as well. The moms have to carry the whole load sometimes for three days or two weeks or whatever the case may be.”

As for their kids becoming future basketball players, both Batum and Williams say there won’t be any pressure to follow in their footsteps down the line.

“If he’s a basketball player, that’s cool, but I won’t force him,” Batum confirmed. “If he wants to play basketball, fine. If he wants to play soccer, baseball, swim, he’s going to do whatever he wants,” confirmed Batum.

Williams also mentioned he doesn’t care what his daughter chooses to do, but looks forward to the possibility of potentially learning something new together, like maybe baseball, volleyball or track.

Although each NBA campaign can stretch for close to seven months, most of the offseason generally remains commitment-free and flexible for fathers around the league to make up for some of the lost time with their families. Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams have both put together incredibly accomplished NBA careers, but no amount of points, rebounds or assists will ever measure up to the pride and love that they feel when it comes to being a father.