The Anomaly

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Myles Turner, Center / Indiana Pacers - The Players' Tribune

I wanted to quit basketball.

I wanted to walk away for good. I was fed up.

It was my freshman year of high school, and I had just started taking basketball seriously. At the time, I played for four different teams. I played for my school, I played for my dad’s men’s league team, and for two different AAU teams. I had practice every day of the week, including weekends, and usually it was two practices a day. If it wasn’t practice, it was a track workout or a two-hour lifting session. I was burnt out. I was working out constantly, and I hadn’t really fallen in love with basketball yet. All my friends were going to the mall, going to the movies, going to parties. I just felt like I wasn’t a normal teenager, and I hated it. My parents tried to do whatever they could to help me feel normal, but I just never really felt normal. I always felt like I was missing out.

Then, when I was 14, I broke my ankle in an AAU game.

I went up for a block and came down wrong. I knew it was bad immediately. It turned out that I fractured my tibia. I had to get two screws inserted into my right ankle. I felt beyond frustrated.

After the surgery, I was loopy from the anesthesia. My mom was there, and she said that as I was lying in my hospital bed, I kept repeating the same thing over and over and over again.

“I want to play basketball!”

“I want to play basketball!”

“I want to play basketball!”

Subconsciously, basketball had rooted itself in my mind. All said and done, I was sidelined for eight months. Having the game taken away from me for that long made me realize how much I missed it, and how much it meant to me. As I rehabbed, my dad would make me do shoulder exercises, core workouts and hip exercises every day. I gained 40 pounds of muscle during that rehab period. Before my surgery, I was about 185 pounds. After rehabbing, I was somewhere between 215 and 220 pounds. My dad and my trainer, Ken Roberson, really helped me develop my shoulders and chest. I could have used that period to rest, but my dad prided himself on helping me get me through the situation — by pushing me through it. I would be on the couch, right in the middle of busting someone’s ass in 2K, and he would unplug the game, grab my crutches and say, “It’s time to get better.”

I did all that for a reason. Before I got hurt, I used to get pushed around on the court. I had gotten tired of it. I was this skinny little kid who had sprouted up after a pudgy phase, and I hadn’t really figured out what to do with myself. Before I packed on all that muscle, I had developed a finesse game because I was reluctant to go in the post and bang with bigger dudes. I wasn’t a big physical presence, and when I was rehabbing, I knew I had to work to change that. I had mastered different finishes around the basket, I always shot the ball well, and I had a fadeaway-type of game. But I eventually realized that to really stand out, I needed to have both  finesse and strength elements in my skill set.

So, with my newfound size and strength, I began to develop my post game.

I still had a lot to learn, though.

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Looking back, I like to joke that I literally grew into my love of the game — I grew from 6’ 4’’ to 6’ 9’’ my freshman year of high school. But I also grew into it figuratively because as a young kid, basketball was just something I did because people told me to. Since I was tall, all my friends told me I should play. So I did, even though I didn’t really enjoy it. It was something to do after school, something you could do to get all the girls to look at you. But it wasn’t my primary interest by any means. I was always really into my academics, which is something I got from my mother. She was hardcore about studying. If I brought home a C, it was going to be hell for me.

One time I got a 79 in algebra and she made me sit out all of my AAU games until I raised it up to a B. Growing up, I was never allowed to watch TV on weekdays. At school, my friends would be like, “Did you see that episode of Family Guy last night?” and I’d always be like, “Nope.” That sucked.

I took honors classes from the seventh grade on, and for a long time I wanted to get into psychology — I liked the thought of helping people as a counselor. My parents made me read books every night. (I’m still not much of a reader to this day, but I do remember reading Ender’s Game and loving it.)

Believe it or not, I was that kid who would rather have a conversation about global warming than about last night’s football game, the one who brought his lunch from home every day with a handwritten note from mom, the one who listened to rock ’n’ roll and alternative instead of rap. (I listen to everything now, though.) I was that tall, lanky kid searching for a niche in the show-off world of public school. You might assume, now that I’m in the NBA, that I was the big man on campus in high school, the alpha dog. But you can ask any of my peers from that time — I was a normal kid trying to find my way, just like everyone else. By no means was I the nerdy, anti-social kid who sat in a corner by himself, but I wasn’t that popular jock who everybody had to be associated with, either. I was just Myles.

Enough about me, though. I should probably tell you a little bit more about my parents, because I can’t tell you my story without telling you theirs.

My mom is one competitive mofo. She goes about doing things like she’s not gonna stop until the job is done. She’s the youngest of 10 kids, and she’s been working since she was 13. Her first job was at Whataburger. She’s been more or less on her own since she was a teenager — her dad was a truck driver and her mom pretty much always travelled with him. Mom moved to Texas from Fort Wayne (originally she was from New London, CT) and had to work for everything. Eventually, she got into hospitality, and climbed the ladder to become the director of housekeeping at the Sheraton in Irving, Texas. Because she and her staff had the highest inspection rating in the area, she transferred to the Sheraton in downtown Fort Worth, and became one of the best employees in the local service industry. She became so good, in fact, that she earned national attention and awards from Sheraton.

As I grew up, I watched my mom and saw that she had to fight for everything she’s ever gotten. She is a African-American female in the business world — a world where the white male is king. She was constantly overlooked at work, but she would never let anything stop her. She would work overtime, punch into work three hours early, and endure sleepless nights just to get that number one inspection rating. I got all my spirit, fire and passion for the game, and for life, from that woman.

My dad worked nights. He started out as a bus driver at the DFW airport, where he ended up working for 40 years. He was a customer service guy, so yeah, he was that guy who rode around on the Segways and directed people to where they needed to be. My dad was that guy who drove that long cart between terminals, dealt with all the complaining travelers every single night, and carried the rollaway beds to passengers by his lonesome when flights were cancelled. He slept during the day. So I didn’t see him as often as I would have liked to. But he never missed one of my high school games — he always found a way to sneak out of work and come support me.

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My mom bought my first basketball hoop when I was three years old. My dad told her to get the Little Tykes one, but she didn’t listen. My mom said, “Hell no! We need the 10-foot goal!” So there I was, a 3-year-old who wasn’t physically able to get the ball up to the goal. I gave my all, but I couldn’t get it up there for years. I’d shoot on it and eventually could get it up on the rim. Just to give you the visual, it was one of those goals in the driveway that you had to weigh down with sandbags. I had it until I was a senior in high school.

Probably because of that, I could always shoot the ball. My dad would always make me go outside and shoot in the driveway. We were Mavericks fans. After watching the Mavs game, I’d go out there and mimic the moves that Dirk did. The one-legged stuff, the fadeaways. During halftime, I’d have my parents move the cars and I’d go out there and shoot. My dad used to get so pissed because sometimes he was sleeping and he’d hear the ball ricochet off of his black Chevy Suburban. If you know my dad at all, you know how much he loves his cars. Since I didn’t know how to drive, and I couldn’t move it, I just tried to shoot around it.

I spent a lot of time in that Chevy Suburban over the next few years.

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Growing up, we weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich. We lived in a single-story suburban-style home in Bedford, Texas, which is in between of Dallas and Fort Worth. Both of my parents worked to support me and my younger sister, M’ya, and our two younger cousins, Alyssa and Bettina, who lived with us. I remember begging my parents for a pair of Jordans every week, and they would always hit me with the same response.

“Do you have Jordans money?”

I wore the same pair of size 18 faded black Chuck Taylors every day of high school.

We couldn’t afford airfare, so over the years, for my AAU tournaments and then eventually for my recruiting visits, we drove everywhere. We drove from Texas to Minnesota — that’s 14 hours, each way. Texas to Virginia. Texas to Orlando. Texas to Vegas. Texas to Kentucky. My dad had a great attitude about it, and it was good bonding time for us. This was just one example of how far my parents would go to help me grow as a basketball player.

That’s not all they’d do, though.

My dad was a big dude — at one time, he was about 500 pounds. He lost a sh-tload of weight through a LiveWell program at his job, but also he’d work out with me constantly as I grew up. Before I went to bed every night, and before he went to work, he would come into my room and we would do sit-ups together, or we’d do push-ups. He bought a BowFlex. After school when he was around, we’d hit that together. He’d make me do the six-inch raises, which I hated the most. But we bonded through that. To this day, that’s one of my fondest moments from childhood. I always looked forward to it.

There’s one moment where everything hit home, though, and I found a new motivation for basketball.

As I grew up, my parents had set up a college fund for me and my sister, something I was hoping they wouldn’t have to use, and one day it was stolen by a family member — unthinkable. I was gunning for academic scholarships at the time, and I even earned one from North Texas before I figured out basketball would be my ticket. Times got hard a few years ago during the whole mortgage crisis — my parents were in a lot of debt and they never told me anything about it. They kept it all to themselves, which amazes me. They would use all their money they had saved up to fund me going to my AAU tournaments, or for the occasional plane ticket I might need to fly to a camp. And I mean all their money — gas money, grocery money, you name it.

I actually learned accidentally of the financial problems my parents were having. (I’ve never told them this, so this will be a funny way for them to find out! Sorry, guys.) One day my dad left out an envelope from the IRS or something — I can’t quite remember — and I saw the amounts of money on the balance, and how much they owed. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I remember that the number was colossal. From that point on, my motivation became to help my parents out, because they had sacrificed so much for me. I took basketball that much more seriously from that point on.

This was around my sophomore or junior year of high school, right before things started to blow up for me.

I had been going to a lot of the premier summer camps in the area, like the Grind Sessions camp in Houston. And there were these guys out there flying around, dunking everything. At age 15, dunking is the s*** — it defines if you’re good or not. So there’s guys like Kelly Oubre, who had moved to Texas from New Orleans because of Katrina — he was dunking everything, and I was like, Dude, who is this kid? Emmanuel Mudiay was there. I had still been rehabbing my ankle, so I felt like I could barely move out there. On top of that, I was so uncoordinated it hurt. In conclusion, I was awful.

These guys were going up, putting it in between their legs, doing 360s. I looked at my dad like, Man, I can’t play with these guys. He said, “Son, one day you’re gonna be better than anyone out here.” It was pretty hard to believe that at the time. I was discouraged, to say the least.

At the next AAU tournament after that camp, a switch flipped out of nowhere. I went off.

Through five games of the tournament, I averaged 30 points. I was scoring every way possible — it was like, Which way do you want it? I was dunking everything. I was shooting the ball well. I was pushing the ball up the court by myself, coast to coast, and finishing. I was just getting busy. Something came over me.

I’ll never forget: After one game, my AAU coach Shawn Williams came over to me and nonchalantly said, “Yeah, big fella, we going to college for free.”

After that tournament is when I started getting a lot of pub. Reggie Rankin from ESPN wrote me up and the hype got crazy. People started paying attention, college coaches calling me out the wazoo. I’m in class, taking a test, and coaches are texting me like, “Good luck on your test today.” Like, what? My mom made me keep every single letter that ever came in. I was probably getting 15 to 20 letters a day, and they were just piling up. Anywhere between 50 and 60 college coaches would text me out of the blue, and they would keep texting me constantly. My mom ended up calling every coach like, “Hey, my son needs to focus on his school work. If you wanna talk to him, you gotta go through us.”

She gave the coaches a curfew.

My mom’s a legend.

It was a crazy time. Even despite the curfew, there were three or four schools that always texted me like, “Don’t tell your mom, but just wanted to tell you that you had a great game today!” One day I was with four of my friends, and we were just driving around like bored teenagers do with one of our friends who had his license. Eventually, we ended up at Sonic. As we’re standing there in the parking lot, I get an incoming call — I knew who the caller was, so I was sure to put it on speakerphone.

“Myles,” the voice at the other end said, “This is Coach Krzyzewski from Duke.”

All my friends just had their jaws on the ground. It was cool as hell.

Texas actually got involved late, but I always had a soft spot for them. When I was younger, the first basketball camp I ever attended was at the University of Texas. I went two years in a row with my cousin. This was after Kevin Durant’s freshman year, and he was still around Austin waiting for the draft. When I went to the camp, he put on a clinic, and he was shooting the ball from literally everywhere. And he was not missing. He was shooting from the free throw line, the three point line, half court, the opposite free throw line. I don’t remember him missing one. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. After the game, I had on my Starburys — you know, the shoes that cost $15 — and I went up to KD and asked if he could sign them. I remember he looked over at his teammates, and they were kind of clowning me, but it was good vibes and I could tell he wasn’t clowning me. That was the first time I met him. It was huge for me. I’ve followed him ever since and he was my favorite player.

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Even though Texas was a late-comer in my recruitment, they showed love constantly — they had somebody at my practice every other day. The day before I was going to announce my commitment, I still didn’t know where I was going. Seriously. At that moment, I thought I was going to choose Kansas — I felt good about it. But then I had a dream that night and I woke up the next morning, and I was like, I’m going to Texas. It was the weirdest thing. When I woke up, I rubbed my eyes and the first thing I saw was my Texas pennant hanging above my door. I took it as a sign and followed my heart.

My career at Texas had its ups and downs, but I love the city of Austin. As a kid who valued academics and being around smart people, I really found it to be a great college town, and I loved the atmosphere. I built relationships there that I will cherish forever. My year there equipped me for the NBA, and I was ready to take that leap — both personally and for my family. After the season ended my AAU coach Shawn Williams gave me an ultimatum: “Myles, you have to work like your family is in grave danger. What if I told you that you either work your way into the lottery, or you’ll never see your family again?”

It sounds cheesy, I know, but that thought really drove me from then on out.

When I came out of college, I kept on hearing I was going to be a top five pick. I did my best to never let that fluff get to me. My mindset going in was, I’m about to go undrafted. Critiques came out of nowhere. People were concerned about my running form all of the sudden, and some of the other scouting critiques really fueled my work ethic before the draft. The summer of the draft, I spent the entire offseason in Vegas working at Impact with the trainer Joe Abunassar. I ate and breathed basketball. I was 18 years old in Vegas. I couldn’t do anything else.

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I couldn’t even get Wi-Fi at my hotel — because I was on a high floor and service was spotty — and plus it was expensive. So all I could do was go to the gym. And it was incredible. I was so bored, but I got so much better. Funny story — that’s actually how I developed my hairstyle. I was literally so bored that I twisted each strand of my hair individually throughout that whole summer. My dad came out for the entire summer as well, and we’d go out and get something to eat in between my workouts, but I couldn’t go party or get into anything besides basketball and resting for more basketball. It was like my story was starting all over again.

The draft process was built to break me, but I never let it. I kept up with the mock drafts and stuff, and after a few of my draft workouts I was feeling pretty confident. The day of the draft, I heard that I might fall to the second round. My head was spinning. I was like, What am I gonna do? Am I gonna go to the D-League? I was sitting in the green room with my agent and my family, hearing the names of people I grew up playing with get called out, one by one. I finally heard my name called by the Indiana Pacers at pick number 11. It felt like a great load had been lifted. I immediately dropped to the floor. It was a surreal moment.

Now that I’m in my second year, I’m feeling a lot more confident. Last year, I had to guess about everything. Am I doing this right? Now, I know. Take for instance this play against Tarik Black:

 

 

He tried to go up and dunk on me, and I got in my help position, like, a lot quicker than I was supposed to. And I caught him in mid-air. The play was an athletic one, but it all had to do with being in that exact spot.

At this time last year, I was feeling a lot worse about everything. After every game, whether I played good or bad, I would go on IG or Twitter and type my name in and see what people were saying. Today I could give a damn about the comments, but back then I just had to know what people were saying. I know that you can’t let what people say about you affect you … but last year I kind of let it affect me.

It’s so hard to stop yourself sometimes, but you have to — your fans, kids who look up to you and your family depend on you. If someone tweets, Myles Turner, you suck! You wanna react so bad. People make fun of my hair, which isn’t that big a deal when you’re joking around with your boys, but when it comes from a random Twitter user, you can’t help but take it the wrong way. There’s no way to reply to that stuff and come out ahead, though. You just gotta log off.

(A quick aside about the fantasy sports situation: I realize that fantasy provides value for the league and it is a way for fans to connect and be more tuned into the game. But it is a field day for hecklers. People cuss me out every other day, people make racial slurs and are unappreciative of the work we do on the court to get a win.)

This year, we have new coach, a new system. Everyone is trying to get acclimated to one another. That’s one of the biggest challenges in the NBA that I’ve noticed during the short time I’ve been in the league. We’ve had some big wins, but also some bad losses. We’re still trying to figure it out. We certainly have some dynamic players.

One guy in particular.

I love playing with Paul George. To me, he’s the best player in the NBA. People say Russ, LBJ, KD, or Harden, but to me Paul George is the best player in the NBA. He can do everything.

I’ve improved a lot this year, but that hasn’t been the most rewarding part of my career so far.

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My parents worked so hard to raise us. They worked so hard their whole lives just to live — I’m talking just to survive, not even to thrive. My sister M’ya is 14 now, and she’s a promising athlete — the other day, she was one block away from a quadruple-double … and basketball isn’t even her best sport. Bettina and Alyssa, my cousins, are 19 and 17 now, and they’re finishing up their high school careers. I couldn’t be more proud of the young ladies they’ve all grown up to be.  

So, when I got to the NBA, I wanted to give my folks something back. I wanted to get my dad off that Segway. I wanted to get my mom out of those hotel rooms.

Both of my parents left their jobs before the age of 50, debt free, and are living comfortably in good ole’ Bedford, Texas. I didn’t have to buy them a three-story mansion, or his-and-hers Porsches. Instead I invested my money into my own management company — MTX Management — and now my parents “work” for me. My father is the president of day-to-day operations, and I like to call mom my M.O.M. (Multi-Operations Manager). Even though they don’t have to work as hard anymore, that doesn’t stop my mom from saying to me, “Boy, I don’t care how rich and famous you get. You might be my ‘boss,’ but that don’t mean sh*t to me. I will still whoop your ass!”

I told you my mom was a legend.

For me, I learned that’s what making it is all about. Not about how many houses or cars you buy, not about how many shoes you got, but putting yourself in the position to help the people you love.

It’s the most rewarding feeling ever.

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