I’ll never forget the first time Michael Jordan called my phone.
It was a few days after Charlotte picked me second overall in the 2012 draft, and I was sitting at home with my family.
My phone starts buzzing, and I look down and notice it’s a number I’d never seen before. So, of course, I’m like: No way … I’m not answering this.
Number’s not in my phone? No name pops up?
I’m usually pretty good when it comes to not changing my mind about answering those unlisted calls. But the crazy thing is that in this instance, for some reason, it seems like the phone is ringing for a looooong time without kicking to voicemail. So I kinda get sick of hearing it, and I just pick up.
After a slight pause I hear….
So what do you do when you pick up a call from a strange number and the person on the other end says, “Yo,” and nothing else? Obviously, I’m just like….
Then there’s a little chuckle, and the voice on the other end goes….
“It’s Michael Jordan.”
And, I mean … in my head I’m like: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Is this for real?
Like, Are you kidding me?
I’m an 18-year-old boy, barely a year removed from high school ball in Jersey, and I’m on the phone with the greatest basketball player to ever walk the earth.
And not only am I on the phone with him … HE’S CALLING ME!
Michael Jordan. MJ. The GOAT is calling … me?
That’s when I think everything sunk in for me — just in terms of being in the NBA, and realizing that I had reached a whole different level. It was like….
Welcome to Charlotte, young buck.
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Over the next eight years, MJ and I would talk on the phone dozens of times, and I’ll always cherish those conversations — those bonds we built, the friendship, really. Lots of times he’d just call me to offer support and encouragement. Other times, he’d be looking to push me to be my best and would be really direct and tough on me. But that first call, a couple days after Charlotte picked me? It was pretty straightforward and brief.
Basically it was just: Be ready for a challenge. Try to improve every single day. Work hard. This city will love you if you do that.
And the cool thing about that last part was that I already knew it was true.
I’d heard that same thing over and over again from longtime Charlotteans on my trip to the city for that first press conference the day after the draft.
I’ll never forget this one gentleman in particular.
I was walking down the street in Uptown with my parents and my sister, just kind of taking everything in, maybe looking for a place to eat or whatever. And I can still picture it. It was the most beautiful sunny afternoon, just one of those days when you can’t find a single cloud in the sky.
Out of nowhere, a tall gentleman dressed in a business suit approached us.
He was super polite and apologized for intruding. What he said next has stuck with me ever since.
“I just wanted to welcome you to our city,” he said. “And tell you that this town can’t wait to support you in all that you do. Charlotte is going to embrace you.”
I really appreciated that sentiment. When MJ said it, for sure, but also when that kind man pulled me aside on the street to provide a thoughtful word of encouragement.
I remember hearing him say that stuff, and just making a commitment to myself right then and there. I decided that I was going to work as hard as I possibly could for the people of Charlotte — that I’d do whatever I could to bring them some joy and happiness.
From there, a true love affair developed between me and the city of Charlotte.
I think the best way I can describe it is by saying that over the years the city actually became like a sibling to me.
Not just family.
It was even more than that. Something greater.
It was actually like the city became a big brother or big sister to me during my time there.
I’m someone who went off to college at 17. I played one year at Kentucky, and then it was straight to the league.It was actually like the city became a big brother or big sister to me during my time there.
When I said above that I was just a boy when I got drafted, I meant that. Literally.
And not only was I young, but I was also really shy, too. Plus, I had a stutter. And I wasn’t really into being social and making tons of friends and being all over the media. Nothing about any of that appealed to me. I just wanted to put in the work and let my actions speak for themselves. That’s how I’ve always been.
It was terrifying in a way — all the attention and expectations that went along with being a top pick. That stuff … it had me on edge.
But then, as soon as I showed up in town….
It was like the whole entire city of Charlotte opened its arms and gave me a big, huge hug.
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The people of this incredible town, they just showed me so much love and encouragement from the very first moment I set foot here. And that helped put me at ease. It allowed me to feel more self-confident, and to develop, and to learn about myself over time in an environment that couldn’t have been more supportive.
I became more comfortable in my own skin, and before I knew it Charlotte had become home.
It became a place where I felt like, no matter what went down or what adversity I faced … everyone would always have my back.
This city, the people, the organization, my teammates (shout out to Kemba, Big Al, Marv, Zeller, Biz, and all my other guys over the years) … just at every level imaginable, I felt supported and loved. And that support, more than anything, allowed me to grow from a boy into a man.
Charlotte taught me how to become more engaged, and an integral part of a community. I learned to build relationships, and to overcome my shyness, and to be responsible, and a million other things that are now central to the 26-year-old man you see today with two kids and a soon-to-be wife.
I know this might sound a little corny. But, you know what? From age 18 on….
Charlotte raised me.
This city. This place. You all….
You raised me.
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Now, we obviously didn’t win as many games as we all wanted over the past eight years, but I can honestly say that I gave this city everything I had.
I wanted to win as bad as anyone. So the losses … they ate at me. But, at the same time, when I look back on the past eight years, basketball really was just one piece of what was important to me about my experience in Charlotte. When I talk about this city, it’s very hard for me to limit it to the basketball side of things, because to me, there’s so much more to my time here than basketball.
My main goal, even more than winning or putting up numbers, was to help this city grow and succeed in any way that I could. My desire was to embrace this town with as much energy and passion and love as I could. Because Charlotte was constantly doing that for me.
Any time I was down — whether it was after the passing of my grandmother, or while fighting through injuries — this city was right there to lift me up.
And I’ll never forget that, Charlotte.
It means the world to me, and it speaks volumes about how special this place is.
This will always be home for me.
I am Charlotte for life.
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I may not be around as much, now that my time with the Hornets has come to an end. But I will always remember how good you all were to me, and I hope you’ll continue to check in on me every now and again to see how I’m doing.
As tough as it’s been to leave, I gotta say: I’m excited for this new chapter in Dallas, and I’m ready to get after it. We’re looking to make a deep run in the playoffs, and I’m all set to do everything I can to bring my new team that competitive fire and edge that you all know me for.
I’m not gonna be fixated on numbers, or all worried about my stats. I’ve never been that guy. I’m just looking to be the best teammate I can possibly be, including being one of the fiercest defenders in the league.
I figure, even eight years after he gave it to me over the phone, MJ’s advice remains true to this day — try to improve every single day and work hard.
The city will love you if you do that.