The lesson that helped me be four different players in four seasons – and led me to music today
I’ll just say it up front, so I don’t sound like I’m hawking a mixtape: I dropped a single this week.
That’s not a line I ever thought I’d be saying, but here we are. And excited as I am to share it, this feels like a chance to talk about what got me in the studio to begin with.
When I think back to playing in Miami, I remember the words we used over and over again as a team: Focus. Determination. Repeat. Then there’s another, one we said aloud every season, that came to have personal meaning long after I’d left the court, right up through today: Reinvention.
It was one of the first things I heard when I got down South. Our early team conversations started revolving around the idea of reinvention: that each one of us couldn’t just start the season playing the same as we had wherever we’d come from – in order for our game to be cohesive, we were all going to have to rethink our roles.
I landed in Miami imagining I was going to be the leading scorer – that Bron and D would make plays for me as much as I’d make them for myself. It didn’t take very long to realize that wasn’t going to be the case.
Over that first season together, I began to understand the kind of role I needed to fill – for the rest of the team, and mostly, myself. By the spring, I was thinking less like the center of attention and more like an off-ball playmaker, trying to jam the other guys up when we had the ball and acting as the center of our interior defense when we didn’t.
People sometimes think that having to shift your style to mesh with your team means sacrificing your best game. I think it’s the opposite: When you’re forced to evolve, you pick up skills you’d never even thought of having before. I was no slouch as a defender in Toronto, but offensive domination had always been top of mind. Here, defense was king. And even when we were driving toward the basket, I was a facilitator above all else.
Of course, we finished that year without a chip, even hungrier than when we’d all descended on Florida. So it was time for another reinvention. This time, the change was even clearer: I was going to start at center. I’d dabbled with it in Toronto since I was a rookie, but this was going to be permanent. I approached it like it was midnight in the Whataburger drive-thru: Head-on. (Braking as necessary).
Under that new strategy, we finally won. Okay, great. Guess what, though? You have to reinvent yourself again – even as a champion. Not least because we now had Ray Allen. And you don’t just do business as usual with one of the best shooters alive suddenly wearing the red and white. With Ray, the direction was clear: I was going to have to be even more of a playmaker, specifically for him – which meant flipping the facilitator switch even harder halfway through the first quarter of almost every game. That forced me to get even more creative, using my size to find ways to get Ray the ball. Obviously, that ended up working in my favor in the postseason.
I could sit down and define each year of my career by the kind of ballplayer I was – a different one every season. But that’s not what this is about. Because as crucial as reinvention was to me as a player, it’s become way more important in my life beyond the league.
If you’re reading this, you probably know that my retirement happened fast. I haven’t written about it much here, but I’ll be honest: When I had to step away from basketball, I had no idea what to do. When someone retires from any job, there’s always talk about their “second thing.” But when you’ve dedicated your life to playing basketball at an elite level, there is no immediate second thing – you have to go out and find it for yourself. And until you do, your whole life is your family. During that strange, scary in-between time, I was so lucky to have mine there. Adrienne and the kids supported me as I stared down a fresh opponent: the rest of my life.
When I was a kid, my dad used to give me one piece of advice again and again: “Don’t have a job that you hate,” he’d tell me. “That’s the worst thing in the world.” He knew from experience, having worked jobs he hated just to get by – and then putting himself through college in order to give us and himself a better life. I never forgot his advice, but it took years for me to realize that the man had lived his own philosophy – and given us so much in the process.
Decades later, I tried to listen to my Dad again as I looked for the next reinvention. The first thing that came to mind? Music. Before I could second guess myself – or even realize what exactly I was doing – I had a guitar in my hand.
Trying something new, especially an instrument, in my 30s, I just felt silly. There’s no other way to describe it. I wasn’t sure I’d ever pick up the skills, and I was worried about what people would think even if I did.
Then I realized something: I’d felt the same way during those early days in Miami. I was so used to having the ball that when it was someone else’s turn to be a playmaker, I was lost. It was just a new way of playing, but I thought it meant I sucked. Eventually, as I settled deeper into our new team dynamic and got to know the guys I was working with, I got over the fact that I wasn’t going to be good right away. And that’s true about most things – they take time, practice, and repetition. They take doing the work.
I had to transfer those lessons to my day-to-day life once basketball dropped out of it. I may have felt a little different in some of my career’s toughest moments, but today I can confidently say this: Real life is a bit more challenging than ball, especially when you’re not even sure what you want to do.
The guitar helped. Even though I may have sucked at first – apologies to all the family and friends that had to listen to me practice – I was trying. And just like I had with basketball my whole life, getting into the gym and shooting jumpers day after day, I started bearing down on music. I didn’t even realize I was beginning my next reinvention until I’d already done it.
Part of changing yourself is feeling the discomfort of trying something new. Hell, I’m still on edge – because now people know about my music, and it’s only on me to keep making it. But I’ve always believed that in order to truly keep yourself changing, you have to stay moving – and that will always put you somewhere uncomfortable. Sometimes that looks like adding something to your repertoire. Sometimes it looks like dropping something. As I learned in Miami, it’s a balance.
Lately, I’ve added something: producing music. I can imagine it might take time for people to get used to that. But I know it’s what I want to be doing. It’s the best way for me to prove I’m adaptable, and pay tribute to the people who taught me some of the lessons I’ve written about here.
Above all, I hope my story can be some inspiration to anyone reading this. Don’t be scared to reinvent yourself – try doing it now, before life does it for you.
Listen to “I Want It All” (ft. Deezie Brown) on…