Dudes like me ain’t supposed to talk about this type of stuff. I’m about to tell you some real shit. Things I haven’t told anybody. But first, we gotta go back in time. We gotta go back to when the NBA was still the NBA. Way back when I had the pager with the two-way alert.
I’m about to tell you the most Y2K story ever.
I’m about to tell you how I almost died at Alonzo Mourning’s crib in the year 2000 on some dumb shit.
Picture this. I’m 18 years old. I just got drafted by the Clippers. Just got drafted by the Clippers with my boy Q ― that’s Quentin Richardson, my O.G. from way back ― who as a matter of fact is gonna be riding with me on this joint as my special guest editor.
Editor Q’s note: What’s going on, y’all? Lemme keep this man honest.
We did everything together back in the day, so we might as well do this together, too, right?
Anyway, they messed around and gave us millions of dollars and put us in Los Angeles, of all places. Only Donald Sterling could’ve been wild enough to sign off on that. Right after the draft, I’m on a private plane to L.A. with Q, and we’re just lookin’ at one another like, Bruh. Bruh. We on a PJ.They messed around and gave us millions of dollars and put us in Los Angeles, of all places.
I mean, I’m from East St Louis.
Q is from the Wild Hunneds.
My momma drove a school bus.
Q’s daddy drove the L Train.
Now we’re sitting on the PJ, bro? We made it.
So we land and it’s like straight outta the movies ― dude is standing next to the black town car holding up a sign with our names on it.
Editor’s note: Like he’s about pass the Grey Poupon.
It was surreal. I’m coming straight outta high school to this. At least Q had a year of college, you know?
So they take us to the hotel and it’s not just a fancy hotel ― it’s the L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills. Where Ja Rule had just shot the “Livin’ It Up” video with the slip n’ slides and all that. We get to the room, and all the lights are cutting on before we even hit the switch. Automatic. Nowadays, that’s standard. It’s whatever. But this was 2000. This was not normal. I’m looking at Q like, Bro, this is crazy.
Editor’s note: Yo, weren’t we supposed to be talking about the Zo story?
I’m setting the scene for these kids, man! They gotta know what it was like back then. Damn.
Courtesy of Darius Miles
Anyway, you gotta remember, we’re 18, 19 years old. So we land in L.A. thinking we about to have a superstar girl, and we’re about to be running the city. But then you realize you’re still a teenager and you can’t really get down like that. So mostly we were playing PlayStation and doing dumb stuff. Then about a month later, we finally get our moment. Alonzo Mourning invites us down to Miami for Zo’s Summer Groove.
For those who don’t know, Zo’s Summer Groove is legendary. Actors, singers, ballplayers. It’s like a whole week of camps for the kids, and cookouts, and parties. Iverson’s gonna be down there. Marbury. Gary Payton. Lenny Kravitz. Tommy from Martin.
We’re like, It’s on.
First day, we’re doing some basketball camps for the kids, and I go to bed that night feeling a little bit sick. Achy, you know? Then I wake up the next morning and I’m dying. I got these spots all over me. So I go see Zo’s doctor, and at first he didn’t even know what it was.
Then he goes, “You ever had chicken pox?”
I’m like, “Chicken pox?”
He’s like, “Son, you got adult chicken pox.”
I’m like, “Adult chicken pox?”
Can you believe this? I come down with adult fucking chicken pox at Zo’s Summer Groove. I mean, honestly.…
Now, you can laugh all you want, but if you’ve ever had adult chicken pox, you know it ain’t even funny. I was in bad shape. I was calling my momma like, “Momma! Get on a plane! You gotta come take care of me!”
Man, Q is running around South Beach with these boys and I’m sitting in the tub taking oatmeal baths and shit. And the worst part was that he’d come back to check on me and I’d be laid up in bed with a big-ass ice pack on my forehead, and he’d come running in the room like a little kid — like he was having the time of his life.
Like, “Bro! I was just with A.I. and them! We was in the limo! We was at the club with Wyclef, bro! It was crazy!”
I got the thermometer in my mouth, just looking at him like, DAMN.
I was so heated. But, after a couple days, I got better. I was back on my feet again. So it was cool. We got to hang out at Zo’s house, and Zo is the man. Zo is the best guy on earth. So Zo being Zo, he’s like, “You guys should go out on the WaveRunners!”
I’m like, “WaveRunners?”
Zo’s like, “WaveRunners. You know, Jet Skis.”
Courtesy of Darius Miles
I’m from East Saint. I’ve never been on a Jet Ski in my life. But me and Q are like, Yo, we’re at Zo’s house. Let’s go on some WaveRunners. So we get out on the water, and we’re loving it. We’re some 18-year-old millionaires living in a rap video, right? We’re cruising around, laughing, looking for dolphins or whatever. WE LIVIN’ IT UP.
Now, what you gotta know is ― there were all these boats docked in the marina. But one of them was real low in the water, like a speedboat or something. You could barely see it. So there was this little red flag sticking up out of the water. Before we went out, I remember Zo saying something about this little red flag. “Watch out for that little red flag,” and such and such.
But now we’re out in the water, and the sun is shining, and we’re flying around.
Bro, the last thing I saw was that little red flag.
Then I was in the air.
Editor’s note: You were in The Matrix. Floating.
I hit the edge of that boat with the Jet Ski and I flipped ― I’m talking flipped that bitch. And now I’m upside down, flying through the air. And I can just see the newspapers flashing in my mind, like, NBA ROOKIE DIES IN DAMN JET SKI ACCIDENT IN SOUTH BEACH.
So I’m like, Nah, I did not survive 18 years of my life in East St. Louis to drown in Alonzo Mourning’s damn marina. We’re not going out like that.
So I do a little tuck-and-roll or whatever, and I hit the water. Ploosh. Go under. Now, you might not know this about me, but I can really swim. I’m like the black Michael Phelps. That’s no problem. But the thing about me is, I don’t do ocean water. Too murky, man. If I can’t see underneath me, I’m out.
So I pop my head up out the water, and I’m treading, but I’m feeling this seaweed touching my foot. This creepy-ass seaweed. I’m not having that. I’m yelling at Q, like, “Bruh! Come get me! Yo, come get me!”
Editor’s note: This man is like, “Q! HELP ME! This seaweed is touching me, bro! HELP ME!” So I come flying over there to rescue my boy on some Baywatch shit. We get him up out of the water and away from the seaweeds, and we ride out.
Now, imagine this …. two dudes from East Saint and the Wild Hunneds on a WaveRunner in the summer of 2000, going back to Zo’s crib to tell him we crashed his damn Jet Ski into his neighbor’s damn speed boat.
That was the old NBA. That was before they wised up.
That don’t exist anymore.
Courtesy of Darius Miles
When you pop out the womb in East St. Louis, it’s guns, drugs and danger, from start to finish. And I’m not saying that to brag or nothing. It’s just what it is. It’s the murder capital. And the thing about it is that it’s only 89 blocks.
So no matter who you are, or how much you try to keep your head down … there’s nowhere to hide. You’re in it. There’s no choice. Fact of the matter is, I had a lot of cousins who were street pharmacists. A lot of my people were Streets Disciples. It was what it was. You heard gunshots every night. Routine. You don’t know any different. But that’s the thing ― you might read about those kinds of places, or see them on TV. I don’t think the average person reading this in Montana or whatever understands what it’s like to be a kid in that environment.
You don’t have any dreams. You’re just thinking about survival.
I’ll give you a story. I was in sixth grade when those roll-away basketball hoops just started coming out. Before that, you had to nail a backboard to a light pole or whatever. But when the roll-away hoops came out, you could play wherever. So one day, we were playing in the middle of the street. Normal day.
All of a sudden, this dude comes walking out of one of the houses. And you could just tell by the way he was walking that something was about to happen. You develop a sixth sense for that kind of thing, even when you’re a little-ass kid. You got that PTSD Spidey Sense in your gut, like you’re in war or something. And just the way this dude was walking, I got this feeling like I should run.
But I didn’t run.
I mean, I didn’t do nothing wrong. What do I got to worry about?
He walks straight up to me.
Pulls out his gun. Puts it up to my forehead. And I remember I could see the bullet in that joint.
He’s saying something about a car.
The funny thing is, I can’t even remember what exactly it was all about. He thought somebody was trying to steal his car, or his car stereo, or his CDs, or whatever. It didn’t matter. In that moment, when you got a gun to your head, details don’t mean anything. Right and wrong don’t mean anything.
I was the youngest kid out there, but I was the biggest. So he came straight at me, thinking I was the leader. When you’re looking down the barrel of a gun, you got one thing that can save you, and it ain’t reasoning with the man. It’s power.When you’re looking down the barrel of a gun, you got one thing that can save you, and it ain’t reasoning with the man. It’s power.
So I said, “I’m so-and-so’s son.”
I dropped my dad’s name.
He said, “What?”
I said, “I’m so-and-so’s son. I wouldn’t do this.”
My father wasn’t really in my life, but he was a known guy. His name carried weight. That was probably the only thing that saved me. The dude lowered his gun, told us to get the hell up out of there, and he went back inside.
But that’s not the end of the story. Like I said, this is East St. Louis. This is 89 blocks. There’s nowhere to hide. This dude could still get to me whenever he wanted. So I ran straight home and told my momma what happened, and she went and got her gun. Then she called all my cousins, and they rolled up on the dude’s house and popped the trunk.
When they pop the trunk on you, they’re coming in like Navy SEALs.
So they went in and sent the message.
And the message was, “You do not ever, in a million years, fuck with Ethel’s son again.”
Dude got the message, you feel me?
My momma had my back every single day. If she didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be here. It’s ruthless. You can be minding your own business playing ball with your friends when shots start ringing out. It’s everyday. It’s routine. I’ve been shot at many times. I’ve got homies who are locked up, homies who are dead and gone, homies who got bodies on them like they’ve been in wars, for real.
I tell people like this: In East St. Louis, nobody’s going to the gun range. I never went to a gun range in my life. When dudes shot their guns for target practice, they did it right in their backyard. I’m talking AR-15s with the 50-round clip. And no police are coming around. The police and the ambulances, they aren’t showing up until it’s all over.
That’s the environment we came up in. We weren’t dumb enough to have dreams. So it ain’t no surprise that nobody made it out of East St. Louis. We had one guy to look to when I was a kid: LaPhonso Ellis. He made it to the NBA and he never came back.
I remember when I got to high school, and I started getting letters from colleges, it didn’t even feel real. It felt like another world. That world wasn’t for us, you know? There was one moment that kind of changed my life, though.
It was the day I met MJ.
I was in 10th grade, and me and Q got invited to his camp in Chicago. Now, up until that point, I was playing a different kind of basketball. I was playing with grown men in pro-ams, for money. I was 13 years old playing with 30-year-old dudes, and after we’d win the championship, they’d be asking my momma if I could go to celebrate with them at The Pink Slip.
The Pink Slip was a real popular gentlemen’s establishment. That was the kind of ball I was playing, you know what I’m saying?
But then me and Q got invited to Jordan’s camp, and that was mind-blowing. We had WGN, so we got every single Bulls game. MJ was a hero to every kid, but to us, it was a different level.
We get to camp the first day, and there’s MJ, in real life.
Editor’s note: MJ is like your pops. As soon as he walks in the room, you straighten up. You’re on your best behavior.
And when he starts playing with us, nobody wants to guard him. Remember, we’re kids. Who’s trying to go at MJ like that, for real? But me and Q are looking at each other like, Shoot, we ain’t scared.
So I went at MJ hard ― and of course he’s MJ, so he got moves. He killed me. But I still went at him hard, and he started showing me respect. After the camp, I got a picture with him and everything, and I took it home and put it on the mantle like MJ was one of my uncles or something.
And I remember my momma said, “What’s MJ like?”
And I said, “Momma, it’s so crazy. Michael Jordan was out here cussin’. He talks just like us!”
That was the first glimmer of hope, like … Oh damn, Michael Jordan is like me. He’s a normal dude. Maybe I can make it.
But if I’m being honest, I still didn’t really believe it. Day to day was too intense. You don’t know what might happen. By my junior year, I knew I was one of the best players in the state for sure, and maybe the country, but this was back when stuff was way more word-of-mouth. You didn’t really know like that. I just knew that our games were packed. It was like the whole city shut down. People used to stop selling drugs for two hours just to come see me play.
And then one day, we come out for warmups and I see the security guards roping off this section in front of all the students. Literally like a velvet rope. I see these dudes walking into the gym in polo shirts. Only white dudes in the gym. Only white dudes in East St. Louis.
I knew right then. It’s on. I’m about to put on a show for these guys.
It was like that every game. They set up their little VIP section for the dudes in the polos.
Then my senior year, I’ll never forget it. I look over to the Polo Section during warmups and I saw that logo.
I saw that damn purple dinosaur.
The Toronto Raptors’ scouts came out to watch me.
And that’s when I knew I was really, really, really about to do it.
I was really about to get out.
Let me try to break it down for you. I don’t think people really understand how crazy it is to go from high school to the NBA. And not just to the NBA, but to the damn Los Angeles Clippers.
If Twitter had existed back then, it would’ve been a wrap.
Editor’s note: A wrap.
We used to have Alvin Gentry losing his damn mind. We literally showed up for Day One of training camp with Super Soakers.
Editor’s note: Big dumb-ass Super Soakers with the shoulder strap and everything.
I remember we busted in and we were terrorizing everybody, and the OG Derek Strong just looked up from his locker, cold as ice, as he goes, “Don’t you be shooting me with no water.”
We were just kids ― all of us. Me. Q. Lamar Odom. Corey Maggette. Keyon Dooling. We were like a college team. We used to roll everywhere together at least five deep. Imagine in this day and age, five NBA players rolling up to the damn mall together, walking into Macy’s, like What’s Good?
Andy Hayt/NBAE/Getty Images
This was a different time, man. This was the peak of the Sterling era. I mean, we used to literally practice at a damn JUCO. A junior college. In South Central.
Editor’s note: You couldn’t even shower. The showers were those old-school joints with the one big-ass pipe in the middle of the floor with the spouts sticking out every which way. Half of ’em broke. It was ridiculous.
We had players pulling up to a JUCO parking lot in Inglewood driving Aston Martins and Ferraris. Random dudes were coming out of class, walking across the cut, like “Yooooooooooooooooo!”
I mean, me and Q, we were used to it. It was nothing. We grew up in that environment.
But you know, we had Eric Piatkowski coming from South Dakota, and he was just like, “Yoooooooo, what the hell is going on? Get me outta here.”
We didn’t know any better. We’re thinking this is the NBA. But then I remember we went to Dallas for a preseason game, and we rolled up to their locker room and saw what they had going on. And we were like, “Yooooooo!”
They had flat screens in every locker, heated seats, everything.
That was the first sign that something was up.
Then we played against Houston, and Moe Taylor had just left the Clippers to go there in the offseason, and this man is looking like he just escaped from a kidnapping or something. He drops like a 30-clip on us, and after every bucket, he’s running past Donald Sterling’s seat, grabbing his damn nuts.
We’re like, Bruh. This is not normal.
That’s when we knew: Something is going on here.
Editor’s note: People ask us about Sterling all the time, looking for crazy stories. But honestly, he wasn’t really around like that. Every once in a while, he would pop into the locker room outta nowhere with all his old-ass friends wearing mink coats and shit. We’d be buck-naked, changing, and he’d say wild-ass stuff, like, “Look at these boys! Look at my beautiful boys!” And we’d just be shooting each other looks like, “Yo! Duh fuuuuuuuuck?”
We knew that we got stuck with the worst team in the league, and we knew the owner was a weird dude, but we just felt like we had the talent and the energy to change the culture.
Maybe we weren’t gonna win, but we were gonna entertain the hell out of you.
Now, I’ll be honest with you. I wasn’t a shooter. I couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean. But I could dunk on anybody. Go ahead and check the tapes. I was aggressive. I was a dog.
It’s funny, I ran into Shawn Kemp after we played Portland, and he was one of my heros. I used to watch all his tapes.
He said, “Look, I’m not gonna try to tell you anything. But lemme just say this. Every time you dunk, you dunk hard. If you do that, you know what’s gonna happen?”
I said, “What, Shawn?”
He said, “They gonna stop jumpin’. They gonna start wavin’ atcha.”
Man, after Shawn Kemp told me that … every time I dunked the ball, I tried to dunk the shit outta that motherfucker.
And he was right.
After a while, they was doing this
We had the city electrified, man. If you weren’t alive then, and you just looked up the stats, you might think I’m lying.
But I ain’t lying.
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)
We only won 31 games that first season, but you would’ve thought we made the Conference Finals. Everybody showed us love.
Editor’s note: Everybody.
I remember one day I was running late for practice, so I was flying down the 405. All of a sudden, I look in the rearview, and I see the flashing lights. This unmarked police truck is right up on me. Tinted windows. Big heavy-duty truck. Woop-woop.
I knew I was speeding. So I pull over, and I roll the window down, and I’m reaching over into the glove compartment to get my papers ….
… Then I hear this voice. Big, booming voice.
“WHERE YOU G’WAN, BOY?”
I’m like, Damn, they got the sergeant on me or something?
I turn to look out the window, and I can’t even see this dude’s face he’s so big. All I see is his chest.
“I SAID WHERE YOU G’WAN BOY?”
Then he bends down and looks in the window.
Big, dumbass grin on his face.
I’m like, “Yo! I’m going to practice! You made me late!”
He don’t miss a beat. He taps side of my truck, turns around and says, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll pay your fine. Just holler at me.”
I’m looking in the rearview mirror, like, How the hell …
Shaq’s got one of those old-school police lights that you put on the hood of your car like you see on C.O.P.S.
He gets in, laughing his ass off, waving at me.
Editor’s note: Shaq would really be messing with you like that. He was the coolest dude in the world. Remember he invited us over to his house for New Year’s Eve?
I don’t even really know how to describe what was going on …. We walk in the crib and Shaq’s got this movie on his big screen. Like a DVD. And it’s real professional. It’s a real movie. Only it’s Shaq and his boys just messing around, fighting ninjas and shit. I’m talking real extras, throwing ninjas stars and everything. And Shaq’s got this crazy wig on, and he’s doing Kung-Fu flips and flying through windows and whatnot. It was crazy.
Editor’s note: I turn around and Mystikal is standing there, eating a potato chip or something, watching this movie, like, “Damn …” I was buggin’ out. I was like, “Yo! Is this real life?”
The respect we got from the legends in the league was something nobody can take away from us. If you were anybody back in 2001, 2002, 2003 and you threw down a dunk on somebody, or you just were walking down the street and you saw somebody real, you knew what to do.
You were throwing up them fists.
Two taps to the head.
Editor’s note: You want to clear it up for the people? You want to tell them the real story?
Man, we heard everything over the years. Every theory in the book. Some people thought it was a gang sign, some people thought it had something to do with aliens, some people thought it was a sign of disrespect. It was none of that. For whatever reason, we decided early on to keep it between us.
The real story is this.… We were so young that we couldn’t really go to the clubs, so we used drive around L.A. going to high school basketball games. We always used to go to Westchester High games because they had the prettiest girls.
Editor’s note: Yo! I was trying to go to the club. But D used to drag me to these games on his young-boy shit, and he would literally have these high school girls thinking they were about to go to prom with a Clipper.
I’m 18. I’m in my element, you know? I’ll mess around and go to prom. Why not? Anyway, it wasn’t just about the girls. Westchester had a really good team, so we used to go watch Trevor Ariza and Hassan Adams and Bobby Brown and those boys. I don’t know how it got started, but they’d throw up their fists after they made a three.
So we’d be hanging with them, and they’d be like, “Come on, when you gonna shout us out? You gotta do it. Show us some love.”
So cut to me dunking the shit out of the ball, or Q hitting a big three-pointer or something, I can’t even remember, and one of us throws it up. Two taps to the head. For them boys from Westchester High.
We didn’t think anything of it. But then it just took on a life of its own. Everybody started doing it. I was sitting on the couch one day watching football, and Jerry Rice catches a touchdown and he’s doing it. Jerry fucking Rice is throwing it up in the endzone. It was totally unplanned, unexplained, uncut.
It didn’t mean nothing, but it meant everything.
It was just … the culture.
Editor’s note: We started a movement, all because D was trying to mess around and go to prom.
For a minute there, we really were the culture.
Editor’s note: That’s on MJ, too.
People ask us all the time how we got signed by Jordan Brand so young. We were rookies rocking Jordan Brand. Man, it’s a crazy story. Right after we got drafted, me and Q were at Jordan’s camp in Santa Barbara. This was right after Zo’s Summer Groove. So we’re sitting around after a game, icing our knees or something, and MJ comes walking over to us, looking all concerned.
Or maybe disappointed is the right word.
You know when your pops is disappointed in you?
He’s looking down at our feet.
He says, “What’s all this bullshit?”
Man, that summer, And1 had been sending us all this free stuff. I’m talking crates of shoes, clothes, headbands. That was when And1 was really popping, so we were rocking with it. We don’t know no better! We’re 19, like, we winning!
MJ is not having it. He’s looking down at our feet, wild disappointed.
We straighten up, like, “Uh, yo … They sent us … Yo it’s free. We don’t know.”
He’s looking at us, cold. Studying us.
Then he’s like, “But you want to be Nike, right?”
We’re like, “Yeah, MJ!”
MJ turns around, super cool, and he just goes, “Alright, I got you.”
Like two days later, our agent is calling us up all breathless and whatnot, like “Guys! I just got these contracts faxed over from Jordan Brand! Guys! God damn!”
I mean, Mike’s picture was on my mantle in East Saint, you know? That meant more than anything that he showed us respect like that and made us part of his family. We started getting all these boxes of super-rare Js mailed to us before they even came out. And maybe this sounds crazy, but that was the moment that really gave me chills. If you’re not from where we’re from, then maybe you won’t understand what I mean.
But that was the moment that was like … Damn, look at where we are now.
Mike is sending us Js.
Mike is sending Js. To us.
We’re talking Mike.
Man, I had my whole family rocking Js.
I had my grandmomma rocking Js.
I had the whole of East St. Louis rocking Js.
We were on a mission. We wanted to put our whole swag on it. Everytime we laced ’em up, we wanted to entertain you. We really felt like we were doing it for the culture.
I’ll never forget, Paul Pierce came up to me after our second year in the league. Now, Paul is a real dude. He’s from Inglewood. He was like, “Man, lemme tell you something. I don’t got nobody’s jersey in the league. I don’t get down like that. But I got your jersey. I like you guys.”
That was the ultimate respect, for us. We got put on the worst team in the league, with the weirdest owner in the world, practicing in a damn JUCO in South Central. But if you were anybody in Los Angeles back then, you want to rock the red, white and blue.
We were aggressive. We were some dogs. We were The Show.
We were fucking real.
And then they blew it all up.
My OG used to tell me some words of wisdom, and I never wanted to listen.
He said, “You can stay real. But don’t be too real.”
I used to go back to East St. Louis every summer, even when I was in the league. I bought up damn near the whole block I grew up on. I remember as soon as I started getting some buzz, everybody would say, “Don’t forget about us.”
And I promised I wouldn’t.
In my mind, I was coming back for the kids, so they could see what kind of car I was driving, and how I was living, and the stories I was telling.… Just to see that it was possible to get up out of there.
I thought the streets loved me. That was my curse.
The streets don’t love you like that. The streets don’t love nobody.
When you’re young, you think the money is gonna last forever. I don’t care how street smart you are, or who you got in your corner, when you go from not having anything to making millions of dollars at 18, 19 years old, you’re not going to be prepared for it.
If you read the headlines about me now, it’s all about me going bankrupt. People ask me, “Man, how can you lose all that money?”
That part is easy to explain. You already heard that story a million times, with a million players. The cliche is that guys go broke buying Ferraris or whatever. Listen, it takes a long time to go broke buying Ferraris. What makes you go broke are shady business deals.
They’ll make the money disappear quick.
But if I’m being honest, that’s not really the most interesting part of my story. In the end, when I was at my lowest point, I didn’t even want the money anymore. I didn’t care about anything. I couldn’t even leave the house.
I was paranoid. I was depressed. I was gonna hurt somebody.
I was in a dark, dark place, man.
Jeffery Salter/The Players' Tribune
It’s crazy to think about, but six years after we were at the peak with the Young Clippers, I was basically out of the league. I was 27 years old, and I had doctors telling me that my knee was too messed up to play basketball ever again.
My whole life, I used basketball as an escape. When you grow up how I grew up, I think you’re probably bound to have some kind of PTSD. I ain’t a doctor, but when you grow up running from gunshots all the time, I think there’s something inside you that never leaves. I used to feel this pressure on me — I’m talking like a physical pressure, you know? But I used to be able to go out onto a basketball court and just unleash it. You could let it all out. You could dunk the shit outta that motherfucker in front of 100 people or 20,000 people and feel good for a minute.
Basketball got taken away from me at 27, and I was lost. I was just kind of going through the motions. Then a couple years later, my momma got taken away from me, and I pretty much went insane.
When you’re in the NBA, people think you’re a superhero. Maybe you think you’re a superhero, too. But there’s all kinds of stuff going on under the surface that nobody has any idea about. My momma battled three different cancers while I was in the league ― liver cancer, colon cancer, bone cancer. When I think about all the teams I played for after L.A. ― Cleveland, Portland, Memphis ― what I remember first is the doctors and the hospitals in all those cities.
I was dealing with all that for most of my career, and I was just … burying it, you know? I prided myself on standing tall through it all and never breaking. I never cried ― not once. My people were dropping like flies when I was in the league ― homies, cousins, my grandmomma ― and I never cried, not one damn time.
I lost my grandaddy to throat cancer. Lost my grandma to heart disease. Lost my best friend Geracy to the streets. He got stabbed to death in 2004, when we came back home for the summer.
I’m not saying that for sympathy. Everybody goes through darkness. I’m just saying that I kept my head up through all of that.
But my mom was a different story.
I don’t care how hard you are … your momma is your momma.
Courtesy of Darius Miles
I remember when she was near the end, she was doing chemo twice a week, and she couldn’t even put her hand in the refrigerator. She couldn’t even have a cold glass of water. She went to pick the dog up one day, and her arm broke. She was kind of disappearing right in front of me. That’s my momma, you know? When a dude pulled a gun on me, this was the woman who went and got her gun.
She was the one person who always had my back, no matter what I did.
The last two weeks, she couldn’t talk.
We didn’t have to say anything, though. She was with me the whole way. The whole damn ride. She knew.
When she died, I ain’t gonna lie, it broke me.
After the funeral, I was supposed to clean out her house, and I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t leave her house for an entire year. I never made it past the front yard, for real. I just didn’t have the will to do anything. I went Zero Dark Thirty on everybody. I wasn’t answering anybody’s texts. I wasn’t even answering Qs texts. And it wasn’t like people weren’t trying to help me, but I didn’t want the help. I was just … gone.
I would sleep in the daytime then stay up all night drinking wine and smoking weed, just to try to get out of my head. I was paranoid. I had my concealed carry permit, so I had a gun on me at all times. The worst part was that I had people who owed me a lot of money, and I just got to a point where I was seeing red, for real. I felt like I was gonna hurt somebody, or I was gonna wind up in jail.
I know dudes like me aren’t supposed to talk about depression, but I’ll talk about it. If a real motherfucker like me can struggle with it, then anybody can struggle with it.
I was stuck in my momma’s house in East St. Louis for like three years. I worked my whole life to get out of there, and I was back. Just … trapped. Carrying my gun with me everywhere. Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t escape my own head. Couldn’t find any peace.I worked my whole life to get out of there, and I was back. Just … trapped
Then one night, I just had enough.
I called up Q.
Q had been living down in Florida for years.
I said, “Q, it’s nice down there?”
Q said, “Hell yeah.”
I said, “I think I’m gonna come down there.”
Q said, “Hell yeah.”
I packed up a U-Haul, and I drove 14 hours straight through the night. I had to do something. I had to make a change.
I hear people talking, like, “What the hell happened to Darius Miles?”
Jeffery Salter/The Players' Tribune
They ask about the money, but they don’t ask about my momma.
They don’t ask me where I came from, and all the things I’ve seen.
I done it all. I made it and spent it. Went from The Pink Slip to the L’Ermitage. I rode in all them limos. I lived a life, boy.
Now, I live down the street from Q in Florida. I like it down there. For the first time in years, I can sleep at night. I don’t have to carry a gun. I can finally get a little bit of peace. I’m just trying to get better, day by day. Trying to be a better person, day by day.
Me and Q, we don’t got the matching trucks no more. We’re not living that lifestyle. But you know what? You can say whatever you want about us, but you can’t take away a real simple fact.
It don’t matter who we run into ― MJ, Paul Pierce, Shawn Kemp, some random dude on the street …I done it all. I made it and spent it. Went from The Pink Slip to the L’Ermitage. I rode in all them limos. I lived a life, boy.
They know. They know what we did.
Editor’s note: They know.
Matter fact, I was checking into a hotel just the other day. Bellhop is going about his business. Loading some bags or whatever. Then he looks over at me.
He’s like, “Is that … are you … yooooo!”
He don’t have to say anything else. He just looks me dead in the eyes from across the lobby, and he throws it up.
Two taps to the head.
So, What the hell happened to Darius Miles? Man, a lot. A lot happened to Darius Miles.
But it’s 2018 now — and I’ll tell you one thing.
Editor’s note: (Two taps to the head.)