Family at the Heart of Pelle's Journey
Back in February, Norvel Pelle achieved a significant personal milestone, landing his first standard NBA contract with the 76ers. Prior to the league suspending play, Studio 76 had been working on a feature about the 27-year old, and the tight-knit nature of his family. Here's the story of how Pelle's signing was made that much more surreal, thanks to a heartwarming plot twist.
Norvel Pelle and his family talk. A lot.
Like, a lot a lot.
How much is "a lot?"
"Every day, " says the 76ers' big man.
When it comes to his immediate family, Pelle is always on the phone - calling or texting. It could be his mother, Darlene; his father, also named Norvel; or one of his three sisters.
Bring up the topic of family with the 27-year old Pelle, and you get the sense it's as much a part of his identity as the sport he's turned into a profession.
So imagine then, for a moment, the following scenario:
It's the day you're signing your first, full-time NBA contract.
You've played out the scene in your head countless times, and in each instance, Mom and Dad are right there with you.
But here's the rub.
Mom and Dad live three time zones away. Everything's happening fast. There's no way they can make it across the country in time for the big moment.
On Feb. 7, Pelle made his way to the 76ers Training Complex. He got his normal treatment for about half an hour, then it was time to make his deal official.
As Pelle rounded the corner from the training area to the first-floor conference room where he was going to ink the pact, he did a double-take.
Could it be? No…
Was that really...Mom and Dad?
As sure as Pelle's contract was laying on the table, yes, Darlene and Norvel Pelle were standing right there in the conference room, waiting to celebrate with their son.
It was hard for Pelle to contain his happiness.
"I almost cried bro. I literally almost cried."
The surprise was befitting of the bigger story.
Pelle was always considered a longshot. He wasn't supposed to be there, in that room, sitting side-by-side with Elton Brand, who was offering Pelle an NBA contract.
But there Pelle was, and - to his absolute shock - so too were two of the most important, supportive people in his life.
The script was perfect.
About 1,300 miles off the southern tip of Florida, close to where the Carribean Sea flows into the Atlantic Ocean, are the islands of Antigua and Barbuda. Norvel Pelle was born there, in the capital city of St. John's, in 1993.
When he was seven, Pelle and his family moved to Los Angeles. A few years later, he picked up basketball.
At the time, his fanbase might not have been big, but it was damn sure loyal.
"When I used to play, my mom would be the loudest one in the whole stands," Pelle recalled, a nostalgic fondness oozing from his voice.
Mom would stand and cheer. Dad would cheese.
"I could hear her over everybody," said Pelle.
By the time Pelle reached high school, he was already considered one of the best prospects in the country, ranked among the top 25 by Rivals, top 40 by 247sports, and top 100 by ESPN.
A feature on Pelle in the Los Angeles Times once described him as a "knockdown mid-range shooter" who got the nickname "Gazelle" because he could "run the court more nimbly than players a foot shorter."
When his high school career ended, Pelle went straight to the pros. The organization that gave him his first shot?
Pelle was chosen sixth overall in the 2013 NBA G League (then 'D League') Draft, becoming the first-ever pick in Delaware 87ers (now Blue Coats) history. He averaged 5.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in 13.1 minutes per game that season, then spent parts of the next four years overseas, bouncing between Lebanon and Italy.
During his off-seasons, Pelle landed a couple summer league gigs - with Miami in 2016 and 2017, before reuniting with the Sixers as part of their 2018 summer squad.
He turned enough heads in Las Vegas that year to earn an invite to Sixers training camp in the fall, which eventually led to another shot in the G League with Delaware. Pelle averaged 14.1 points and 9.4 rebounds in 2018-19, en route to G League All-Defensive First-Team honors.
After another solid summer league stint with the Sixers in 2019, Pelle signed a two-way contract.
He shuttled back and forth between the 76ers and the Blue Coats for the first month of the current season. Right before Thanksgiving, he went on a tear in Delaware, and erupted for 51 points, 35 rebounds, and nine blocks in the span of three games.
Pelle subsequently made his NBA debut a few days later at Madison Square Garden, turning aside four shots in 12 minutes against the Knicks. He even started a game Dec. 15 at Brooklyn.
"I started in the D League a few years ago, it was the 87ers, then just traveled across the world and came back last year," said Pelle. "I did what I had to do, and now I'm sitting here in the Sixers' locker room, which is crazy."
In the aftermath of his promotion, Pelle was doing more than just holding his own. He was having a productive, inspired impact.
"Norvel has explosive athleticism and has proven that he can be an elite rim protector," said Brand, the 76ers' General Manager. "He adds valuable depth to our front court."
Which became more and more apparent the more Pelle played.
Once the Sixers' moves at the February trade deadline were official, a roster spot had opened up. Brand filled it by signing Pelle to a standard NBA contract.
"I'm excited for Norvel," Brand said. "He's worked really hard to get to this point, and is well-respected throughout our organization. We're all really happy for him."
Pelle described his journey up to this point as "hectic" and "humbling."
"Every moment, every second I've been appreciating it," he said. "This year is just like a dream come true. I'm just taking it all in."
But seeing his parents at the 76ers Training Complex when he showed up to sign his first NBA deal, that was almost too much to be believed.
Not only does Norvel Pelle talk constantly with his mom, dad, and three sisters by phone, the family also has an active group chat.
Whether by voice or by text, rarely do these conversations revolve around Pelle's profession.
"It's more taking me away from the whole life of a basketball player," he said.
But when his signing was imminent, it was impossible for Pelle not to bring up hoops. The full-time NBA contract he had long been striving for was finally at his fingertips, and he was proud to share the news.
Long before it was even a remote reality that Pelle would become a full-time NBA player, he often told the people closest to him that his wish was to have his parents by his side whenever and wherever he signed.
"We knew that if this was ever going to happen, we wanted to bring his parents in," said Tod Seidel, who’s been Pelle's agent since his second pro campaign.
It was an idea that Seidel and Dwyane Thompson, one of Pelle's first cousins, had been talking about for "a couple years."
Pelle would drop his own hints, too.
"He expressed deep interest in definitely wanting his parents to be there for the signing, if he ever got the opportunity," said Thompson, whose father is brothers with Pelle's dad. "If nothing else, he wanted his parents to watch him sign because this was the process of making his dream come true."
So, after Pelle finally broke the news about his impending signing to his family over text, Seidel and Thompson helped Darlene and the elder Norvel Pelle catch a red eye from LAX to Philadelphia. They landed around 6:30 in the morning, about four hours before Pelle was due to put his name on the dotted line.
To pass the time, Seidel, who grew up in Villanova, actually set the Pelles up at his own parents' place so they could catch their breath and grab some grub. Then, it was off to the 76ers Training Complex, where the Pelles were ushered through the proverbial back door.
"11 o'clock came, and boom, they were standing right there, man," said Pelle.
He was stunned.
"I was happy, and then my parents were there, and that put the icing on the cake. It was just like, 'Oh man, wow.'"
It may have been a lot for Pelle to absorb, but everything that was happening was real.
"Surreal," Pelle said. "It's crazy."
The Pelle family will forever have that moment - together - as it seemed like it was always destined to be.