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.
What was the biggest obstacle you overcame to reach the NBA?
Randy Foye: I guess by now everybody in the United States basically knows the story about my parents. Some of the hardest things I had to go through when I was achieving things when I was younger was just I would be in a group, and people would be achieving awards. I would always be there with my grandmother, aunt or uncle and I would see everybody else with their mother and father. And it didn't get to me at the time, but when I think back on it I think to myself if they were here how different it would have been.
Explain what happen to you as a child and how tough that was.
RF: I would say around three years old my dad was killed in a motorcycle accident and around six my mom disappeared. Then I moved in with my grandmother. And basically, I moved back and forth between grandmoms and aunts and uncles and basically just stayed in the neighborhood, but went back and forth between my family.
What do you remember as far as how you felt back then about the situation?
RF: Most of the time, when I get interviewed or when I speak to family members or friends about it, I always tell them that I was lucky that I lost my parents at such an early age. Because I didn't really understand much and I didn't really know what was going on. But I couldn't imagine what it would be like to lose parents between the ages of 12 and 15 or something like that, because that is when you are just going to high school. You are just starting to learn certain things. Without your parents there, it would be tough. Every time I talk to my family members about it I always just say I was lucky that it was early even though it was a tragedy and everything and everyone is upset about it. But me and my younger brother were lucky to lose them so early.
Do you think the situation actually might have helped you build character and succeed in life today?
RF: Yeah, I feel as though as a man, I am quiet but really aggressive. The way to explain that is I just go by my personality on the court. For people who don't know me, I am quiet, but at the same time, I can be an assassin. When no one is thinking I am going to do something, I am going to do it.
I look back and I look at how I grew up and how I had to handle myself. I was always quiet and I always had to watch my surroundings, who was around me. But at the same time, if someone tried to hurt me I was an assassin. And I always let people know that you can't get over on me even though I don't have parents here or I don't have adults around. I still understand what is right and what is wrong.
Finish this sentence: Growing up, the basketball court was my...
RF: Basketball, forever, ever since I was nine, always meant so much to me. I always tell people the way that I started playing basketball was funny. I was coming from football practice and one of my friends said "If you get a chance, come to the gym." There was a gym in our neighborhood that all the kids went to. He said, "Come to the gym. There is this guy there picking a team to come to Delaware."
Even though Delaware is only two hours from my house, I wanted to get out of the city. So I was like, "OK, cool" and I went down to the gym after football practice and I really never played basketball like that. I had to be like nine. I was in the fourth grade. And I went in there and I started playing. I was the tallest one, so I played center. And they had the rims kind of low. So we just started playing, and I was just dunking the ball, taking the ball coast-to-coast, passing it, handling it and then he took me and put me on the AAU team. I didn't really understand what it was at that time, but it gets you more exposure now then high school. So I am just glad I went to the gym that day.
To what lengths would you go for a chance to play basketball, even if it were just a shoot around?
RF: One of the places where I would go was probably about half a block away from my house. It was a little elementary school. They had an outside court and an inside court and Monday through Friday we were always in the inside court playing from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. And then on the weekends, we always got there at the court early around 1 a.m. and played until probably about 5 p.m. Any type of sports, baseball, football or basketball, I would do anything. I would travel far to play against people or they would come play against us. But I'd do anything to play those three sports.
Who was your childhood hero and why?
RF: I can't pick just one. I would say my childhood hero was my family. Because a lot of my family members played an important role in my life, they helped out. When you look at it, a lot of them had kids and they still helped me and my younger brother out a lot. When I look at it and say "Oh that was my role model," I just pick my family because they were there for us through thick and thin.
What is your favorite childhood basketball memory?
RF: I just remember the first time I really fell in love with the game. I never really watched it on TV or nothing like that, because I was always outside playing. I was watching a public school game. It was in Newark. It was a Christmas tournament. We had cablevision and it was on channel 3 and I remember I turned to it. I don't remember the team, I just remember them playing and I was like man these kids live in Newark and they are playing on TV. If I ever get a chance, I want to play on TV and I would like the people in Newark and the people at home to see me play.
Best piece of basketball advice you received was...
RF: The best piece of advice I got was just to keep a tight circle. I started getting a name and people were familiar with me and I started to go play places in high school and stuff like that. College coaches were coming to see me, a lot of older people in my neighborhood just told me to keep a tight circle because there are going to be people coming out of the blue now that are going to try to hang out with you because of who you are. They just told me to keep a tight circle and just watch your back. Watch who you hang around because if there are 10 people in a group, eight people are probably there to hurt you, two people are probably there to help you.
How old were you when you received your first basketball and what did it feel like to have your very own?
RF: The first ball I ever had, I found it. I had to find it. I was at the basketball court and someone left it there. I was the last one there, so I just took it home. The leather was coming off and everything. I remember we drew that ball until the black rubber part showed. When I look back at it and I drive by and I see kids playing basketball, they have basketballs that barely bounce or they have a lump on the side and they are still playing with them and that is just love for the game. When I look back on it, that is the same way I was.
Where is that ball today?
RF: It is probably still around. It probably popped or something. Like I said, when I see younger kids playing with balls like that, I just say man that was me.
At what age did you entertain thoughts of playing in the NBA?
RF: I think coming out of high school. I played the point guard coming out. I was bigger than most the guards, height and strength and I just said to myself I might be able to flirt with this dream with basketball. So I said to myself, I am going to try to get to a big time college where the opportunity is there.
I had a lot of looks from a lot of big time colleges in the country and I chose Villanova because of Fred Hill, who was an assistant coach at Seton Hall. But then Tommy Amaker left and went to Michigan and Fred Hill went to Villanova with Jay Wright. So he told me, I didn't know about Jay Wright, but he told me he was this great guy. So I go in there and I am playing against college guys and I am doing really well, scoring and everything. When coach explained it to us, I didn't get it at first, that I couldn't take off any possessions to be great. I had to do all the little things, because I could already do all the big things ... make shots, dunk the ball. But I had to do the little things, dive on the floor, talk to my teammates. That helped me out a lot. The end of my sophomore year in college that is when I knew I was going to be an NBA player.
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…"
RF: During the season? When I got drafted, that was probably the best feeling I have ever had in my life. It all happened so fast. I graduated from college. I got drafted into the NBA. I went high, I went really high. I went seventh. And so I said to myself the night I got drafted, I remember I thought I was going to be playing for Portland because Boston drafted me and traded me to Portland and so I was waiting in the back. And me and Brandon Roy were sitting there and I remember Brandon Roy said to me, "Man, can you believe it?" He asked me that and I was like "This is crazy."
Then he left and he started doing interviews because he thought he was with Minnesota. So he started doing interviews and then I just sat there. During the time he left, I sat there and I was by myself at a table, and I was like man I can not believe I made it from basically nothing and if I keep a good head on my shoulders, keep working hard, be a good person, I can have everything. And he came back and gave me the Minnesota Timberwolves hat and I just looked at the hat and said to myself this is where I wanted to be the whole time. I was hoping they would take me at No. 6, but they had to take him at No. 6 and let me go No. 7 to make the trade. So I just said to myself at the time, "God works in mysterious ways," but it worked out for me in this situation.
How would you sum up your journey to this point?
RF: The way I would sum up my journey over the last 24 years, I would say probably the first seven was the roughest. After my mom and dad passed away, it opened up the doors for me a little bit to be a man and take charge. I would say between seven and 14, I was trying to find myself. Basically putting myself in different situations, playing different sports and trying to find myself, which sport I wanted to play or what I am good at in school.
And I would say between 14 to 21, between high school and the beginning of college, I came on the scene and I made it be known that I am going to be here for good. Since then, it has been two years and I have just been trying to carry my dream out. Keep working hard, always trying to do the little things and always trying to help someone out if someone needs something. Like if you see a bum on a street and you got a dollar or something, you need to give it to him because money is not nothing. It always comes around if you give. So that is what I try to do. So if you were to sum up my life, just a person who works hard whose willing to help and willing to give.