My Side of the Tracks

You know where I was yesterday afternoon? Disneyland. With my family. The Martins were doing the holidays up. My youngest daughter was about to get on the teacup ride and I was watching her. I would’ve rode it with her, but I can’t do the teacups because going in circles makes me dizzy. So I’m watching her spin around and that’s when my phone started blowing up. It’s Twitter. It’s going nuts. I went on Twitter and said what I said. I was upset. Then my daughter got off the ride and I shut my phone off and we walked to Space Mountain.

I’ve been called a lot of things in my career. There’s certain terminology people use to try to characterize people, especially athletes.

I got called hot-headed a lot. I honestly don’t understand that term. I know what it means, but I don’t understand the way people use it. Basketball is a game of emotion, and I always played with a lot of it. Maybe more than most other guys, I don’t know. I think I just wear my emotions on my sleeve.

Asshole. I’ve been called an asshole dozens of times … maybe hundreds. And, you know what? I accept that. I can accept the asshole label. My whole career, I had the mindset that if you showed me that I could get into your head, why wouldn’t I keep doing it? I’d be a fool not to.

I’ve been called a thug. Whenever I’ve heard that, I knew that I was doing something right. My game was having an effect on your mind. So that means I won. 

I’ve been called a dirty player. Maybe I was, maybe not. I played hard. The league was getting softer and softer throughout my career, I know that. Some of it was rule changes, but a lot of it was that guys didn’t want to bang anymore. Basketball can’t be played soft. So I guess people can interpret “dirty” how they want to interpret it. I’ve got my definition.

I wasn’t the nicest player during my whole career, and I didn’t make all the right decisions. I admit that. I bought a lot of jewelry at like age 23 that I probably didn’t need. I talked back more than I should’ve. I probably went out too much. I got a lot of technicals. I once punched Karl Malone in a game for no real reason. I’m not sorry for most of my fights, because I believe in standing up when I’m tested. But I feel bad about that one.

LOS ANGELES - MAY 19: Kenyon Martin #4 of the Denver Nuggets receives instruction from Head Coach George Karl while taking on the Los Angeles Lakers i
LOS ANGELES - MAY 19: Kenyon Martin #4 of the Denver Nuggets receives instruction from Head Coach George Karl while taking on the Los Angeles Lakers i / NBAE/Getty Images

I was heated when I first tweeted about what I read. Beyond heated, actually. Later, when I got back to my house and was able to relax, I really gave some thought to everything. One of the big things I realized was that his book isn’t even out yet. Maybe those excerpts didn’t include some important context. Maybe he didn’t mean the words the way I read them.

But the thing that really bothered me is the mention of my childhood, and how I didn’t grow up with a father in my life. A lot of us guys who make it to the NBA come from a background like mine. It wasn’t an easy path for any of us. I hope people can see why it’s frustrating for someone to assume they know what my life was like or how my childhood did or didn’t shape me.

Today I’m retired, so I first and foremost consider myself a father. I’ve got three girls and two boys. Both my boys — they’re 15 and 11 — are good athletes. They play ball, and my oldest son is already 6’ 6”.

I’m proud to say they listen to their dad most of the time. I’m trying to instill in them some of the lessons I had to learn growing up in some rough situations. They’re tough kids, but they have it easy, too. They grew up a lot different than I grew up.

Nothing was given to me growing up. My mom raised me, and she worked hard as hell to support me. We moved to Dallas when I was little and lived in the projects. I knew what it felt like to have an empty stomach from missing meals. I knew what it was like not to have electricity to do my schoolwork at night because we couldn’t afford to pay the bills. We never had a car, so I took the bus everywhere. To me this was “normal” until later in life. That’s just the way I grew up. I didn’t have nothing. I’m not saying that for any other reason than because it’s true.

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 24: Kenyon Martin #6 of the Denver Nuggets fights for a rebound against Nazr Mohammed #2 and Bruce Bowen #12 of the San Antonio Sp
SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 24: Kenyon Martin #6 of the Denver Nuggets fights for a rebound against Nazr Mohammed #2 and Bruce Bowen #12 of the San Antonio Sp / Brian Bahr/Getty Images

When I tell my kids about my childhood, I have to remind them, This ain’t a sob story. It’s true. So listen and you might learn something. There were a lot of kids like me. Still are. Some make it, some don’t. Not make it to the NBA, I’m talking like, make it out of the projects. I didn’t have a dad in my life. George Karl was kind enough to point that out. But what for? I don’t really know. Again, maybe when the full book comes out, we’ll find out whether he meant something different. George and I had our differences in Denver. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on anything, in basketball, life, anything. For the most part since then I’ve tried to avoid talking about it. I’ve tried to let it go.

I think what happened Thursday just set off my survival instinct.

I tell my kids that the reason I played basketball with the passion I did started as a survival thing. I fought my way through basketball most of my life. Some of the time, I literally fought.

When I was young, a path to the NBA didn’t seem possible to me in any real way. Basketball existed, and of course I watched a little NBA and some college ball, but the way to get to the pros wasn’t clear to me. I wasn’t playing AAU ball or anything. I didn’t have coaches who knew what steps to take to get me more exposure.

I just started hooping because that’s what they did down the street at the Salvation Army at Cedar Crest near the projects in Dallas. There weren’t youth games or anything like that. It’s not like you could just go outside and find 10 or 15 kids your same age and get a game in. I just had to play with whoever was at the gym when I showed up. So I ended up playing against grown men starting when I was as young as 10. And what happened was, after a while I stopped looking at them as older. They were just opponents. It was just basketball to me. If you throw the ball up, someone’s going to come down with it. I had to fight to come down with the ball more often than the next guy. I had to learn early on in life that there were no excuses, only results.

My skills were advanced at a young age, but fighting … I didn’t know what I was doing against bigger, older dudes. Those Salvation Army games had like two to three fights … per game. A hard foul or a questionable traveling call? The game was likely to stop, and a couple of players would come to blows. I’m talking about real fistfights sometimes. It was the scariest thing ever — being like 12 years old and having to hold my own against grown men who called me out. But you didn’t back down. You couldn’t. So I just had to put my hands up and scrap and hope for the best.

DENVER - OCTOBER 1: Kenyon Martin #4 of the Denver Nuggets poses for a portrait during NBA Media Day at the Pepsi Center on October 1, 2007 in Denver,
DENVER - OCTOBER 1: Kenyon Martin #4 of the Denver Nuggets poses for a portrait during NBA Media Day at the Pepsi Center on October 1, 2007 in Denver, / Michael Martin/NBAE via Getty Images

One incident I remember was when this guy Danny Boy, who was twentysomething years old, and my local league coach Leroy Phillips got in a fight. Danny Boy didn’t like the foul Coach Phillips called. They got into it, and the fight spilled over into the hallway. The next thing you knew, they had knocked over this massive Coke machine. We were all just standing there staring at a cracked vending machine lying on its side for like five or 10 seconds. Then someone said, “Check the ball,” and the game went on.

Some people seeing that scene might be like, Damn, that’s not even basketball. And I get that.

But I had a different feeling. After seeing a level of passion for basketball that was intense enough to knock over a damn vending machine, I thought to myself, THAT’S the way I want to play every possession from now on.

With a day to sit with this, I don’t want to spend any more time worrying about what someone else wrote about me or my former teammates. I wasn’t happy with what I read, but I believe I’m a bigger man.

The main reason I wanted to speak up is to stick up for my mom, who did a great job raising me and my sister under hard circumstances. We shouldn’t assume we know about other people’s lives until we ask them.

Three of my kids are old enough to be on the Internet and read this kind of stuff. That’s what really made me mad about all this. Luckily, I’m not worried about what they read. My kids know what their dad’s really about.

All in all, yesterday was a crazy day. But it wasn’t all bad. My baby got to meet Queen Elsa.