I have to tell you: It is truly an honor to be considered for the Hall of Fame—and it’s a blessing to see my name next to so many greats. Basketball has given me everything in my life. And not a day goes by where I don’t realize that.
When I first picked up a ball , I knew this was all I wanted to do. I can’t tell you that I had a fail plan or anything to fall back on. Sure, I told my teachers I had backups—and if my kids are reading this, don’t get the wrong idea, I always paid attention in class—but that was a practiced line. Once I saw Michael and Magic squaring off in The Finals, that was it for me. I knew what I was going to do with my life.
As a young black male in America, there weren’t many people who looked like you that were successful. Which is why it meant so much to me when I was a kid to huddle around the TV with my family and watch NBA games. Those are some of my earliest memories, which have been etched in my brain from the jump. And I’ve thought back to them throughout my career, as I’ve realized the next generation of kids found hope watching with me and my teammates on their screens.
Loving the game is one thing. But traveling the world. Inspiring people. Teaching the game to boys and girls in India, Ghana, South Africa, and China. Meeting friends for life. Accomplishing my dreams. Those were all things I never could have imagined as a kid but have been so lucky to experience. And I am couldn’t be more grateful for every step in my journey. Playing in the Garden the April after 9/11 as a teenager. Going down state as a senior. Traveling out of the country to Venezuela with the 18 and under team. Being able to represent an entire country on the court, redeeming the loss in 2004, and bringing the gold back in 2008. And then actually winning an NBA championship and holding that trophy like my heroes. As a kid, I never would have told you I thought that was possible. I wouldn’t have wanted to jinx it…I just had a dream and I knew that I wanted to be like the guys I saw putting work on the court day in and day out, the guys my family watched on TV.
It was all such a blur but I’m so happy that I was able to stay in the moment and experience it all. To take it all in. My career ended quicker than I thought it would, but I can finally say that I’m okay with that. An unfinished piece that’s perfect. A perfect imperfection, if you will.
I keep thinking back to a conversation I had with a close friend of mine while I grieved the end of my career. “It can’t end like that,” I told him. “It’s not ending the way I want it.”
He looked at me and without even blinking, replied: “It never ends the way you want it to.” Such a simple statement, but I knew I’d eventually have to move on. I had done everything you can possibly do in the game.
I’ve since been able to reflect on what’s been important to me in looking back on my career. If I could pin it to one word, it would be Teamwork. You hear about its importance as a young athlete, but when I arrived in the NBA, I realized just how important it really was: You could have your own dreams and aspirations, but none of them would come true without a team. It takes individuals to come together and accept roles for a greater purpose, a common goal. That’s the hard part. That’s the part where you have to fight and win the battles you never thought you’d fight. When you lose, it’s painful, but when you win, it’s the sweetest feeling. Accomplishing things through being a part of a team is what it’s all about. Sure, there are plenty of individual accolades and accomplishments to strive for, but they only mean something if you do it with people you care about by your side.
I’ve gone from being a Hutchins, Texas kid just playing ball with friends at the playground every day to an NBA Hall of Fame candidate. As I think about it, my whole career flashes through my eyes. From Hutchins Park, to Kennedy Curry Middle School, to Lincoln High School, to Georgia Tech, to Toronto, and then finishing in Miami. What a ride! Now, when I look back on my life as a ball player, all I can do is smile. Because my time in the NBA may have been an unfinished piece but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.