I developed a weird talent as a kid: I was good at tiptoeing.
Yes, tiptoeing. Around the house.
Like, I got really, really good. I like to think I was top 10 in all of the Bahamas, where I grew up.
I’m serious. I was a stealth little kid. I could walk across a creaky wooden floor and you’d never hear a thing. Tiptoeing is all about footwork, and I had pretty decent footwork. (But the secret is holding your breath at just the right moments.)
When you grow up with six brothers and sisters who all sleep in the same bedroom, you learn some pretty weird skills.
Anyone with a big family knows what I’m talking about. In a big family, everything becomes a competition.
Even your morning routine. For me, it was all about getting the first bath of the day.
On school days, I turned my morning routine into a commando mission. I’d wake up before sunrise when the house was still dark and quiet. Time was of the essence.
I just had to make it to the kitchen without anyone waking up. Easier said than done. Between me and the bedroom door were my six sleeping siblings, who all slept next to me, head-to-toe, in one room. The room was maybe a little bigger than my freshman year dorm at OU. Our “bed” was two big mattresses pushed together on the floor. So it wasn’t easy room to move around in.
Good thing I was a pro.
In the dark, I would navigate my brothers’ and sisters’ bodies. Pillows and blankets looked like arms and legs. Sometimes I’d step on my sister’s hair or my brother’s foot.
“It’s still early, go back to sleep.”
And usually they would. And the mission wasn’t compromised.
Once I got to the kitchen, victory was close. I’d light up two burners on the stove and fill a five-gallon pot with water. You see, growing up, we didn’t have hot water in our house. We couldn’t afford it, so we boiled our own. On the floor, I’d do some pushups while I waited.
Then I’d carry the boiling water to the tub for a bath.
First to boil the water, first to take a bath.
Victory at last.
If this seems like a lot of work to get the first hot bath, think about the alternative: It’s 8 a.m. and you’re fifth in line to boil water. You’re going to be standing outside the bathroom with your towel and be late for school.
Instead, I was always the first one in the bathtub. This was my favorite part of the day. I would climb in and relax in the hot water, with my arms hanging out of the tub. The house was quiet, and I felt like a king. In those moments, I think about something my mom always said to us growing up.
“We may not have a lot of things, but it’s enough.”
Enough. She was right.
We have enough.
Growing up, I was aware we were poor. Even at a really young age, I knew it. We had three other rooms in our house that were full of relatives — my two aunties and their kids in two of them, plus my grandma in another. We never had new clothes, just the same ones passed around from our brothers and sisters. It’s funny thinking back about my fashion style as a kid. It was just whatever T-shirt another brother wasn’t wearing that day. Or some jeans that were a couple inches too short. My mom never made a big deal out of it, so we didn’t either.
My mom was the hardest working person I knew. She spent her days cleaning the houses of wealthy families in nearby neighborhoods just to put food on the table. Sometimes she worked a second job catering weddings.
When you’re a kid, you don’t know what to think about having money or not having it. It’s just your life. You find ways to adapt. Sure, you want the new toys that the other kids have. But you learn to accept what you’ve got.
Despite how hard my mom worked, laughter was everywhere in our house. When I got to OU, people said, “Buddy, you’re always smiling, what’s up with that?” And I always tell them where it comes from.
Our house was small but always full of the smell of my mom’s amazing cooking. It still makes my mouth water to think about all the local dishes, from Jamaican chicken to curry stew to or conch (my favorite), the national food of the Bahamas.
Dinner time was competitive, too. There was always enough food for all seven kids, even if our mom had to share some of hers. Everyone shared. I figured out a simple lesson. If you shared an extra piece of chicken today, maybe you’d get an extra drumstick tomorrow.
We never had a whole lot of food, but it was enough.
Just like my mom said.
And we were happy.
That made mom happy.
We grew up in a rough neighborhood. There are a lot of little townships in the Bahamas, and mine was called Eight Mile Rock. Inside my house, there was nothing but smiles and love. But outside, we’d always hear arguments. Older kids dealt drugs on the corners. We all knew who they were. It was hard to find jobs, so people just hung out in the streets during the day.
We didn’t even have a real basketball court in the neighborhood until I was 12.
So when I was around 11, I decided to build my own hoop.
Let me just tell you, I wasn’t meant to be a carpenter.
I was determined, though. I would explore abandoned houses for materials. I’d break off pieces of plywood from houses, but they were never the right size or shape. So I’d get a saw and try to cut it, but I was too small to hold it steady. My first few backboards were crazy looking. All sorts of bizarre shapes. Looking back, they were kind of artistic and cool.
But kids would complain.
Hey, Buddy, how we supposed to shoot on this upside-down triangle, man?
Dude, Buddy, the backboard is rotting.
My friends would give me a hard time for it. But secretly, I think they appreciated it.
Because we had our own court.
I loved the feeling of creating something out of nothing. I don’t just mean the basketball hoop. I mean the freedom the hoop gave us. Freedom to play whenever we wanted.
I could hear my momma’s voice.
We may not have a lot, but it’s enough.
Anyway, I got better with the saw over time and soon I knew the exact dimensions of the backboard by heart. I could have one done in a couple hours, max.
Sometimes the drug dealers on the corner would ask what I was up to when I walked by.
“Hey, Buddy, what the hell you doing with that milk crate?”
“It’s gonna be a basketball hoop,” I’d say, smiling.
(I used to steal my grandma’s milk crates. Sorry, Grandma.)
The drug dealers were guys most kids wanted to avoid. But it was funny, they never pushed drugs on me or gave me any trouble. Why? Because they knew about my mom — everyone in Eight Mile Rock knew my mom — and they didn’t want to get in trouble with her. People back home respected my mom because she opened her doors to kids who needed a meal. That meant less food for me and my siblings, but we made it work. We always listened to our mom.
One of those drug dealers used to come over when he was still a kid. I was too young to remember. The kid’s name was Miko. I’ll tell you all about Miko in a second.
My basketball hoops were decent (I upgraded from milk crates to bicycle rims over the years) but they didn’t last. We’d tear them down every few days — with a windmill dunk or when someone stupidly hung on the rim. That’s why I was always building new ones.
Finally, a few years later, Eight Mile Rock got a brand new park. It was like Christmas. It was a big, big deal. Brand new courts, new nets, new rims. It was one of the most memorable days of my childhood. We finally we had our own full court to play on. And everyone wanted to come down to play.
Overnight, you had some of the best ballers down there.
That brings me to Miko.
Miko was a park legend. He was one of those guys that gets the oohs and aahs around the park — the kind of player everyone lined the court to watch when he was playing.
I watched him play all the time. He was a legend. He was maybe 10 or 15 years older than me, which made him in his mid-twenties at the time. And he just dominated. His jumper couldn’t miss. His handle was crazy. He was an amazing finisher at the rim. All-around competitive guy. Miko didn’t lose.
And Miko would show up to the courts always wearing nice gear. Expensive, flashy new gear.
I’m telling you, Miko could ball.
I wanted to be Miko.
But Miko was a dealer. He was caught up in that life.
When you’re 10 or 11, you don’t really understand certain parts of life. When you get older, maybe 13 or 14, you get to understand stuff better. I looked up to Miko like a pro basketball player. He was like Iverson or Kobe to me. But as I got older I started to see that Miko was a superstar who was stuck — in Eight Mile Rock, in the drug business, in life.
It was a shocking for me to realize at that age. As good as Miko was, he was never getting off the island. As good as his stutter step was. As smooth as his stepback-three was. He had no chance.
I entered high school and lost track of Miko. I was playing organized ball and didn’t go to the park much anymore.
About three years later, our family moved from Eight Mile Rock. By that time, I was being recruited to a prep school in Kansas. It was the big break I needed, and without it I would probably never have had the chance to play at OU, or any American college.
One night I remember I was over a friend’s house watching the NBA playoffs when someone told me the news.
“Did you hear about Miko?”
I didn’t have to hear the rest to know something bad had happened. Later we learned the details. Miko had been shot and killed.
Even today, I’m still really sad when I think about Miko. Even though he probably made some bad decisions in his life, I still think about how it could have been me. There are a lot of Mikos in the Bahamas. In a way, it could have been any young boy in Eight Mile Rock. The truth is, there were guys who were way better at basketball than me back home, with way more potential than me. They never got the support I did. Or maybe the luck. Or a little of both.
I remembered what my mom said about being grateful.
I can’t believe this is my last year at OU. My last year … that’s a crazy thing to even say out loud.
My senior year … that’s even crazier. Because I almost didn’t have a senior year.
Last spring, when I had the chance to enter the draft, I’m not gonna lie, it was a hard decision. Any kid from the Bahamas could only dream of the NBA. I thought back to guys like Miko — and all the other kids I grew up playing ball with.
The draft was coming up and it was time to make a decision.
So I went to the person I was closest to, and that’s my mom. In the end, it wasn’t that hard to decide to come back to OU for my senior year.
There was no way I wasn’t coming back to the basketball program. OU Basketball is the program that turned me into the player I am today. There was no way I wasn’t coming back to all my fellow classmates, the crazy fans who camp outside of Lloyd every game. There was no way I wasn’t coming back for my final year at OU, the university that believed in me before I became Buddy Hield. Back when I was just a fast-talking kid named Buddy from the Bahamas.
We have a special team this year. Looking back at what my teammates and I have accomplished, I feel so blessed. For me personally, I’m proud to have spent four years at Oklahoma. Whenever my last game in the NCAA tournament comes, I’m going to hold my head up really high. OU has given so much to me, and I’m going to leave everything I have out there on the court. I’m going to give it my all. I know that’ll be enough.
That reminds me, I better not forget to thank one of my best friends for talking some sense into me. She’s the person who travels from the Bahamas every winter to see me play all the way in Oklahoma. She’s my rock. She always will be. You might even have seen her on TV rocking her Sooner gear.
No matter how this season ends, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. The last four years — they’ve been an unforgettable ride. I owe it all to my teammates and the coaching staff for always believing in me and pushing me.
I’ve made good decisions so far in life, with a little help from my best friend. Thanks, Mom. It is more than enough.