Life After Basketball
I heard someone once say there comes a day when they tell us all that we can’t play anymore. We’re not good enough. Surplus to requirements. Too slow, maybe. When you’re a teenager with outsized dreams and a growing obsession, and someone tells you this ain’t gonna last forever, it’s scary. I never forgot it.
So what did I do? Stayed obsessed. Set goals. Worked. Dreamed. Schemed. Pushed myself beyond what was normal or expected. I looked at my hero, Isiah Thomas, and thought to myself, “O.K., I’m nowhere near the player he is but if I get better every day for 5 or 10 years, why can’t I be as good as him?”
The greatest gift has been to be completely immersed in my passion and striving for something I loved so much — visualizing a ladder, climbing up to my heroes. The obsession became my best friend. I talked to her, cherished her, fought with her and got knocked on my ass by her.
And that is what I’m most thankful for in my career. In my entire life, in some ways. Obviously, I value my kids and my family more than the game, but in some ways having this friend — this ever-present pursuit — has made me who I am, taught me and tested me, and given me a mission that feels irreplaceable. I am so thankful. I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons about myself and about life. And of course I still have so much to learn. Another incredible gift.
There are so many people who had a profound impact on me and who share in my successes. I can’t name them all, but I’d like to recognize some.
Don Nelson insisted that I score. I always wanted to pass but he said, “It’s goddamn selfish when you don’t shoot.” Or, “If you’re a dominant fucking player — dominate!” He insisted that I be aggressive. That growth was a turning point in my career.
Mike D’Antoni changed the game of basketball. There’s not many people you can say that about. No wonder I had my best years playing for him. His intelligence guided him to never over-coach, complicate or hide behind the game’s traditions. He deserves a championship.
When I dribbled by our bench as a rookie on the Suns, Danny Ainge would say, “Take him!” with intensity and contempt in his voice. That was a huge vote of confidence for a rookie.
I remember when Dirk and I were nobodies. He used to say over dinner sometimes, “How are us two stiffs gonna make it in this league?” Somehow we made something of ourselves. After all the wins and all the great times we’ve had around the world together, what really means the most to me are the late nights early in our careers when we’d go back to the Landry Center in Dallas, to play a few more games of HORSE and one-on-one. Dirk and the great city of Dallas got their championship, and I couldn’t be happier for them.
Michael Finley was twice an All-Star in his prime, when Dirk and I were young guys on the Mavs. Michael never played in another All-Star Game, but our team went from last place to the Conference Finals under his watch. Do you know how rare that unselfishness is in our game? A true friend and teammate.
I looked up to Jay Triano, a star guard on the Canadian national team, as a kid. He recruited me in high school and coached me in the Sydney Olympics. His love for the game and competitive nature was always infectious. I never had more fun playing for anyone. Representing Canada in the Olympics was the best experience of my career, and he got us there.
Rick Celebrini had as big an impact on my career as anyone. Physiotherapist, sounding board, accomplice, coach, big brother. World class.
Alvin Gentry coached the heck out of our teams. Underrated and sharp, he found the elusive line between coach, friend and disciplinarian. It was a pleasure to play for him.
My sister is amazing. She has all the class and humanity you could ever dream for in a sibling. Her support is endless.
My brother and I battled it out in every sport, in any space, at any time. We had amazing memories growing up and emulating our heroes in every sport, while we tried to one-up each other in every game possible. You’ll never be as good an athlete as me — but you were so close, bud.
My mom supported me endlessly. She encouraged me and I could do no wrong when it came to sports. She is tough as nails and I think she rubbed off on me a lot. Not everyone has a mom like mine and I hope she never feels like I’ve taken her for granted.
My dad was an athlete who played semi-pro soccer. In the backyard or after games as a kid, he always applauded creative play. He always appreciated the unselfish. He never said, “Wow, three goals!” Instead he said, “Brilliant vision to see your teammate coming in behind the play,” or, “So unselfish to pass when you could’ve shot. That makes me proud.” I know that’s not normal and I’m grateful.
Jenny Miller has run my foundation for over 10 years, and she has never once left me or our mission exposed along the way. We’re childhood friends and her immense talent matches the trust I have in her.
My junior high coaches, Lanny and Sheff, saw this ball of energy and passion for the game in me, and went way out of their way to foster that passion while reining me in a little. They started something.
Ian Hyde-Lay, my high school coach, is as good a coach as I’ve ever played for. He taught me discipline, attention to detail and preparation. It still amazes me when he sends me an email about a game 20 years after high school saying I missed a box out with 8 min left in the 4th against Memphis. When I would re-watch the 4th quarter later, he was right. Details.
Ken Shields gave me a chance to practice with the Canadian national team when I was 16 years old because he saw something in me. Four years later, I was his starting point guard in the World Championships. I owe him.
I didn’t know at first, but my Santa Clara coach, Dick Davey, pushed me so hard only because he thought I had it in me. He made me mentally strong. That toughness allowed me to keep overcoming and taught me to never give in.
Bill Duffy has been my agent the entire way. My big brother. He always had my back.
What do they say about men with big hands? They have quick feet? A’mare Stoudemire had both — and he made me look like an artist at times. Thanks, big man.
It will always hurt that Phoenix Suns fans didn’t get the championship they deserved during our run. Yes, we had some bad luck but I always look back at it and think, I could’ve made one more shot, or not forced a turnover, or made a better pass. But I don’t regret anything. The arena was always sold out and rocking. It was the time of my life. Thanks, Phoenix.
When people ask me if I have a favorite game or play or moment on the court that stands out the most, I can’t answer them. It all blends into one. What comes to mind are all the great teammates I’ve played with and the friends I’ve made through the years. Guys like Al Whitley, Chris Isherwood, Jason Sedlock, Drew Zurek, Rowan Barrett, Andrew Mavis, Rex Chapman, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell, Grant Hill and Rob Sacre. Nothing beats the times we’ve had through the years and that’s what I’ll remember most.
The Phoenix Suns training staff (or Training Room Mafia) always called us on our BS. They kept me on the court and kept me sane. Man, we had some damn good times.
When I signed with the Lakers, I had big dreams of lifting the fans up and lighting this city on fire. I turned down more lucrative offers to come to L.A. because I wanted to be in the “fire,” and play for high risk and high reward in my last NBA chapter. In my second game here, I broke my leg and nothing was the same.
Last spring, when I returned to the court, I was given a standing ovation at Staples Center. It was a dark time in my career and that gesture will be one of my best memories. There’s been a lot of negativity online, but in my nearly three years in L.A., I’ve never met anyone who didn’t show me anything but love and support for my efforts. There’s a lot of class in Lakerland, and the organization and staff have given me unwavering support.
Fans around the world have shown me so much appreciation throughout the years, it’s unbelievable. Going out to shoot hour after hour, day after day as a kid, I never sought or dreamed of the amount of support and love people have shown. It’s been a huge source of motivation and inspiration. Thank you eternally.
My girlfriend, Brittany, has stuck by me tirelessly through the hardest times in my life. I know I drove her crazy internalizing everything as she lost me to my battles. Without her love things would still be pretty dark.
I will likely never play basketball again. It’s bittersweet. I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else. This letter is for anyone who’s taken note of my career. At the heart of this letter, I’m speaking to kids everywhere who have no idea what the future holds or how to take charge of their place in it. When I think of my career, I can’t help but think of the kid with his ball, falling in love. That’s still what I identify with and did so throughout my entire story.
Lastly, Lola, Bella and Matteo, you’re the center of my universe. All my focus and energy is here for you guys and moving forward, I couldn’t think of anything more exciting or rewarding.