When Chris Douglas-Roberts was growing up on the west side of Detroit, there were times when he'd go to bed without without heat or light, with the echoes of gang violence ringing through the night.
When he played professionally in Italy during the lockout in 2011-12 after three previous years in the NBA, he had to heat up water on a stove before bathing his baby daughter.
The last signing to L.A.'s training camp roster, CDR is now fighting to make it back into the NBA.
But as he describes to Lakers.com in an extended Q&A, the hardships in his life have defined him, have made him stronger, have hardened the resolve it's taken to get this far.
He's a happy man, and having to overcome odds to make it back into the league is the least of his worries.
Douglas-Roberts details the toughest part of his early NBA years, describes his childhood in Detroit and the school system he came from as well as the difficulties of growing up in a single-parent household. He also delves into how Kobe Bryant treats his teammates and the results of 1-on-1 matchups with Bryant in practice and shares his thoughts on the personalities - and skills - of Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard:
Below is a complete transcript of our CDR conversation:
MT: How do you reflect upon how you handled that situation?
CDR: Now that I'm two years older, I know I should have handled it differently. I was 22 at the time, and I handled it the wrong way. I have to be honest with myself. I was very upset, and I was very honest in the media when they asked me why I wasn't playing. I'd say, 'I don't know.' It hurt me, I think, in the way some executives see me. My agent would tell me that they think of me in a way that doesn't really represent me. As if I were a bad locker room guy, and that couldn't be farther from the truth. A lot of stuff was said in Jersey that stuck with me that was just false. But you can't defend yourself to everyone because that can make it worse. I figured that out, but not until later, man. The best way in this league is to keep your mouth shut at times. It's not just about basketball. If you're better than someone, you aren't always going to play over them and you just have to swallow that. I'm such a competitor that it was so hard to take the first time I went through it.
MT: Kobe Bryant seems to like that attitude in you; I've noticed you spending time with him at practice...
CDR: Right, I think that's it. Kobe respects that. I'm trying to kill you out there every time. There's no such thing as friends on the court, and I felt like I'd (earned my place). So when I got benched, I didn't know how to handle it.
MT: You said something earlier that struck me, calling yourself an underdog. You're 6-7 with great talent and skill, more so than most, so is it just more of a mindset?
CDR: That's just been the way I've been making my way the whole life. I've just had that chip on my shoulder to drive me, and I think it's what's gotten me this far. Even when I walked in here to the Lakers facility, I walked in like I'm supposed to be here. I don't have butterflies. The only thing that makes me nervous is the business side. But I feel comfortable on the court, and that's why most of these guys respect me. Honestly I cringe when I think about the fact that I'm just on the training camp roster. I don't think of myself in that light, but I'm just here to work.
MT: On the court, I've heard stories about such leagues not being particularly fond of former NBA players. But maybe that ended up teaching you something?
CDR: That's right, they didn't love me. It was hard getting any fouls called. But you can't change that, man. It's how you're perceived. With all that said, it changed me as a person and made me a better basketball player. That's the main takeaway. I'd just never have known how great it is to play in the NBA. I learned so many life lessons over there. I had a good time with my teammates, guys from Italy, Finland, Georgia (the country), Serbia. Basketball lives on regardless, and to them, they don't know any different or better. And they weren't complaining, so I why should I?
MT: Give me something about food, and something about music...
CDR: First of all, we ate pasta every day. EVERY day. That's what it is over there. Pasta with grilled chicken. I was like, 'Man, you don't have alfredo sauce? The white sauce?' They're looking at me like I'm crazy. So one of my teammates, Peppe (Poeta), an Italian, said American pasta is like Finnish rap music. You know. And that was great for me. They destroy our American pasta. 'You all don't have real pasta,' they say. And my boy Patrick from Finland would listen to Finnish rap in the weight room, and I was all over that, telling him it was terrible. So Pepe made me relate to it. They like the mainstream classic rap over there, and they aren't into the gangster rap lyrics. They want Alicia Keys or the Jay-Z that's on the radio ... no mix tapes. Like Meek Mill, someone that I like that's in over here, they won't listen to.
MT: God Forgives I Don't?
CDR: Heck no. Rick Ross isn't in the mix over there. It has to be really watered down. They wouldn't dare.
MT: I know that where you grew up and what you went through there has had a profound impact on who you are. Is that where the chip comes from? Were you born with it?
CDR: I'm from the west side of Detroit, Mike, and I'm very prideful of that. I'm from the number streets: 30th Street. I got that tattooed on me not to glorify the neighborhood - because there are many nights I didn't want to be in the hood - but that's what I am, it's a part of me. I feel like if I made it out of that, there's nothing that can hold me back. People think I'm really stressed out by being in this position trying to make a roster. But I made it out of the number streets in Detroit, man! I made it out of there! I can make it through anything. There were tough days and tough nights, and I had to keep a singular focus to make it out of there. This is a luxury now, trying to make it back in the NBA.
MT: Who was your biggest influence, your biggest support system?
CDR: My mother raised me by herself, basically. I had contact with my father, but he was in New York, you know? A lot of the time was spent with my mother, and the reason I'm so confident and mentally tough is because of her. She did that by herself! She worked every day, catching the bus in the bad neighborhood at night. She did it with ease. I've seen her cry two times in my life, and now that I have a family of my own I know how tough that is. She was the biggest reason for everything that I have right now. Everything.
MT: It's really transparent to see how much that meant to you, but stories of that kind seem all too common, where that burden is all on a single mother. Why? I know how much your daughter means to you, and that you couldn't imagine not being there for her...
CDR: That's the million dollar question. How does this happen? But it's extremely common. None of my homeboys had their pops around growing up. None of them!
MT: Of course not. Let me ask you a difficult hypothetical: what if you were 5-7 instead of 6-7?
CDR: Who knows. I'm very thankful with how things worked out, but I'll tell you this: I never had a plan B. I used to talk to kids at camp in Memphis and Detroit, where I may have an impact because guys just don't make it out. So when they see someone like me make it out, it's huge. My teachers always used to ask me what Plan B was and I said, 'I don't know.' I think Plan B is a crutch if Plan A doesn't work. If you just give your Plan A your all, it's never over. Once I put my mind to playing basketball and making it the the NBA this is why I'm here.
MT: I have a ton of respect for that perseverance, but what about kids that don't have your mix of ability and work ethic? Education has been the backup plan - if not the first plan - of many communities, but I don't want to judge how the schools were in your community?
CDR: Honestly Mike, (it's hard for me to) believe in education to that extent where I'm from. I've seen guys who have no interest in the least in school just get passed along to get them out of a class. My mother would correct me if I spoke incorrectly in the house and my father was a professor on a college level, so the intellect goes back to my family for me. But I learned most of my stuff through my parents and experience outside of the classroom. Just because of the place where I'm from, we didn't have good schools. You could feel a different way because of where you're from, I'm guessing, but in west Detroit, it's tough.
MT: That's hard to hear, to understand the root of the problem that goes back years and years and must be so complicated. Devil's advocate: no matter what the school, if one really applies him or herself in the classroom, there's a way out?
CDR: I have a little cousin who was a straight A student, a great student throughout high school who just graduated. But when the standardized tests came back in order to get into college, she failed. She was that student who believed, who worked hard, but the level of education she got just wasn't good enough. She didn't meet the standards. And that's (a common) story of that area.
MT: To what extent has the spirit gone out for many of the children from your neighborhood?
CDR: Detroit as a whole has been beaten down for years. We're trying to bring it back, but you can just look around. The heart of Detroit are these neighborhoods where kids are just running wild. But the thing is, I understand exactly where they're coming from though. They feel hopeless. They feel like, 'What are we supposed to do? We don't have money, we don't have anything. What should we do? What can we do? We're just gonna be out here!' They feel mistreated, they feel like they don't have anyone to trust. I try to let them know that they have to deal with disappointment better.
MT: You had dealt with plenty of disappointment as a child - the lights going out, like you said - but you'd never been as disappointed in basketball, which had always rewarded you? You had to step away to see it, after New Jersey?
CDR: That's right. Of course I'd had tough basketball experiences and losses but I eventually persevered. It came as a shock. But you know what, things could be worse.
MT: And how do you feel now?
CDR: Right now, even though I'm in a moment of uncertainty, it's the first time I'm really at a moment of peace. I'm just positive now. I think it'll work out. (Lakers assistant) coach (Bernie) Bickerstaff told me this: 'You're never done paying dues. You're never done, no matter who you are.' I felt that was incredible, because it's true.
MT: So as you fight for a roster spot, trying to show what you can do, how do you reconcile that with the difficulty of actually getting a spot as an non-guaranteed player?
CDR: It's hard to put it in perspective. Even though I know it's about business to a degree, the court is the only place I feel comfortable. I come in this gym and you have to recognize me. You have to recognize me here. I knew that coming in. Whether it's the coaches, the media, the other players, I knew that I'd come here and compete and be recognized - and I believe in that. Now, I've learned that the things you can't control you can't focus on too much. I'm in the gym so I just want to try and be one of the best and see what happens. That's what I've been doing so far, and I'm at peace with that. I'm just a basketball player.
MT: So how often does he win?
CDR: Well they were drills, not just classic 1-on-1. Maybe it was 5-2 him or something like that. Or 7-3. I'm not going to front. He wins the majority of the drills. It's funny - my homeboys always call me because they want to hear all the stories about what Kobe does. How does he maneuver? And Kobe knows that I'm watching. I have no shame in flat out watching and asking him for advice.
MT: What are your first impressions of Pau Gasol?
CDR: I think the world of Pau. From afar, I've always thought he was the most skilled player at his position, whether it's the four or the five. But off the court, if you're around Pau for a few days, his personality is gonna shine. He's the type of person that if you say something bad about him, you're a bad person. If you don't like him as a person, there's something wrong with you. He's great with his teammates. He had us listening to some Spanish (stuff) in the locker room, he said it was 'To get your body moving music,' and that was all right. That showed him, showed what he's like. So that was fun.
MT: How about Steve Nash?
CDR: He's so unbelievable. He's super cool as a person, but as a basketball player, the plays he makes are unbelievable. The way he works, how you can't pressure him because of his handle. The handle is what I call a 'cuff handle' where it allows him to always make a pass off the dribble. His hands are underrated, they're big for a point guard, and that's how he's making passes with either hand because he can control the ball so well. Until you see him every day you wouldn't know, but that's where it starts.
MT: So would Dwight be better on the court if he was meaner? Even if that's not his natural way?
CDR: I feel like yes. Just demoralize your opponent every time. Dunk on him. Don't help him up. "I just dunked on you!' I want opponents to fake injuries when it's time to play Dwight. I grew up watching the Bad Boys, and those guys were mean out there, man.
MT: OK I'll bite on the tangent: How does Bill Laimbeer play in the hood?
CDR: Oh man, we LOVE Bill Laimbeer. He could just walk into the worst part of the hood. My guys all love him. He could walk in there today, and just take photos with people. Don't forget, he would knuckle up if he had to also when he was playing. He's going to rumble if it's that time.
MT: And it's our time to go. Thanks, Chris.
CDR: My pleasure.