Montrezl Harrell Has Baggage

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You get a one-word player profile pretty fast in this league. Something easy to digest. Like how some guys get the “injury-prone” tag — don’t matter how they got them injuries. Another guy might be singled out by one coach on one squad, now they’re “uncoachable.” 

I can only imagine what they say about me. 

I bet you it’s not the good stuff. I bet they don’t talk about the guy who had to get it out the mud, no handouts. Who had to fight for every minute, and who turned those minutes into eight years. I bet they don’t talk about the Trezz who learned from Lou Will himself how to be a sixth man. How to be a vet. How to work and work, until eventually you feel like you’re one of the best … but even then, you understand there’s a different process to things. Understand this ain’t no video game. This ain’t one of these little road to glory’s where you just challenge a nigga for their spot. Nah. The NBA, it’s about knowing your role — it’s a job to do. Some guys never figure out that part. Montrezl Harrell? He took pride in that part. But I bet they don’t talk about that. I bet they don’t talk about the Trezz who became a national champ, a sixth man award winner, a hustle player who put his team first. I bet they don’t talk about the Trezz who — along with Lou and Pat — said, This ain’t the bench. It’s the bench MOB. I bet they don’t talk about any of that.

Cuz in the NBA, when they’re judging you, it’s not about the good stuff. It’s not about your whole story, or your best self. It’s about cutting you down to one thing. One idea of you that you can’t shake. And for me, I think it’s everything that goes with being that gritty player I had to become, the good and the bad — they just made it into a one-word label:


Man … you think I don’t know that’s the word they use? You don’t make it this far in life without knowing who you are and how folks perceive you. I know the people who fuck with me and who don’t, you feel me? And that’s all well and good. But the problem is, a lot of the time, in the situations where people weren’t really messing with me, I wasn’t able to tell the story. The narrative was just whatever people took away from the headlines and rumors. Listen, they done had me on TMZ, the ESPN ticker, and like every news site in the world. But nobody ever came back to ask Trezz’s side.

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Not everybody’s gonna understand. Everybody’s upbringing was a little different. I get that. But I know at the end of the day it’s my journey. So if you gon write me off anyway because of what you think you know, at least read what I have to say.

I shoulda never went back to the Bubble, if you really wanna be truthful about it. Shoulda just stayed home and told them, “Mentally, I can’t give y’all what y’all need done. I can’t. So, it’s best that I stay home and grieve my grandma.” But after a while of getting calls from the team, I thought, We might as well go ahead and finish this shit. If I flew, I’d have to be quarantined, so I drove myself 12 hours from Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, back to Orlando.

I get back — we’re basically in the playoffs. Fast forward, and we’re in the middle of a game versus Denver. We set up a play. Everybody says they’re switching one through five type shit. Everybody knows coverage. Then in the game, the situation comes. It’s in the pick-and-roll with PG, Jamal Murray, Jokić, and me. Screen comes, I yell, “Switch!” We switch it. He still fights over the screen. Jokić slips down the middle of the lane — boom — shoots and gets the points. Doc calls a time-out just like that.

On the way over to the huddle, I say, “Bro, that’s a switch, P.” 

He’s like, “No, I thought—”

And I’m like, “Bro, ain’t no ‘I thought.’” I said, “It’s a switch, bro. Everybody in this shit knows the coverage but you.”

He was like, “Hey, who are you talking to?”

Montrezl Harrell
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty

OK, time-out — I’m simple. Real motherfucker. That’s why a lot of people, I think, don’t like me. At the end of the day, everybody’s out here in between these lines because we’re trying to, one, feed our family, but, two do some shit for the team, for the organization, for the city. Real talk. I came back to the Bubble for this, after having to bury my grandma in the ground, bro. The person who raised me, the reason I play this game. I was so fucked up mentally, more than I even knew.

Alright, with that in mind…. I told P right then and there, in front of coaches and everybody, “I will knock you the fuck out, bro. You’re trippin’. You was wrong, bro. You’re WRONG.” 

I can look back on that now and realize I went too far in the heat of the moment. I realize this is a business and you can’t talk like that to the star player. But when you’re going through grief, you only see what’s right in front of you.

And it was just all bad from there. We lost in the second round to Denver, in seven games. The next summer, the Clippers sent me a text message saying something like, “Thank you for everything you did for us … but, we’re going to go in a different direction.”

I was in the conversation for the Sixth Man of the Year award three years straight. A two-year finalist, and I won it the third year. But I didn’t get an offer to re-sign with the Clippers after that.

All I ever wanted was to get to the league to make sure my grandmother would be straight. The things she did for me and my family were bigger than anything money could ever buy. Our relationship was indescribable. Without her, I’m not here. Simple as that.

I had to grow up a long time ago, bro. Knowing what love from a family is — I never had to question that. But at the same time, I understood what struggling was. I’ve seen what only having one pair of shoes is. I’ve seen eating leftovers from the same meal multiple times. I’ve seen a person get shot. Shit, I’ve been held at gunpoint before. I’ve seen a lot of shit motherfuckers can’t say they been through at the age I went through it. You weren’t supposed to go through it, but I did. You feel me? I lived in a trailer home until I bought my people a house. Nine people in the household. My grandmother, my grandfather, my mom, my dad, my aunts, and my two younger brothers. 

I always say my grandmother was healing this Earth. Everything that a hero is, that was her. She was partially blind, she dealt with chronic pain, she had high blood pressure, a long list of things, but you wouldn’t ever have known because she was still smiling every day, joking in the house, laughing. Whenever I was at her house growing up, I always had some type of hoop, whether it was a toddler one, the ones you hang up, or any different thing, to the point where basketball was always around. I had no choice but to fall in love with it. It helped me build a bond with my grandmother, and I cherished it.

When I was in my second year with the Clippers, I had a conversation with my grandmother, where I told her I was going to win Sixth Man of the Year next year. I won it, but she wasn’t there to see it.

I remember we had just finished practice in the Bubble, and when I got back to my phone, I had hella messages. My pops, my auntie, my brother called me. My lady had called me and left messages. She was the first person I called back, and she told me to come quick because my grandmother was in the hospital. I just dropped down in the gym right there. I needed to get on the bus to go back to the hotel, but I sat there for like 10, 15 minutes crying because it was out of my control. It was just her time to go. That’s a hard way to lose a person you love. If it was a certain illness, you think, We could have fought that. But when it’s just time, it’s like who’s even at fault?? What was the reason? Why was the reason?

Montrezl Harrell
Courtesy Harrell Family

My grandmother was already on life support when I got to North Carolina. And while I was home, it’s like time just stopped for a second. Like, wherever she was, I was with her, just floating … in whatever that space is between life and death. It came to a point where we had to make a decision about whether to pull the plug. I think that was probably one of the toughest days of my life. I never got to have a conversation with her before she left this Earth. I never got to say one last time that I love her and appreciate her for everything she did. And it still haunts me to this day. I could literally be sitting somewhere or be watching, shoot, a cartoon with my kids, man. And if they have a scene with a grandma, I catch myself starting to cry.

You can go to counseling and this and that. I’ve tried it all. But for some reason, it just takes me back inside that hospital all over again. The only thing that helps me cope is looking at my kids, knowing that my grandmother was able to meet them, and that they’re the reason for everything I’m doing. Now, I have two people who rely on me and call me Dad. No matter what happens in this world, I know that they’re gonna love me. These two running and yelling, “DAAaaAAaD!!!!” whenever I walk in the room, ain’t never going to change.

When we get on the court, that’s a monster. I blank out. I’m in a different mode. That’s a person whose only focus is competing to win. But as far as who I am away from the game? I feel like nobody knows that side of me. And a little bit of that is my own fault. I was never the guy who ran to the cameras. I understood that the work was more important. But in real life, I’m just a laid-back person. Like I said — I’m a dad, man. I fuck with old school cars heavy. My shoe collection is crazy. I have a pond in my backyard about three acres wide, and I fish nonstop. I’m an entrepreneur. That’s who I am. I’m a person away from the game.  

But I’m also a guy who’s been around some shit in my life. 

Montrezl Harrell
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What I appreciated about Doc and Sam is that they were always able to see past all of that. They didn’t knock me for what happened in the Bubble. They didn’t knock me for my situation in Charlotte.

While I was with Charlotte, in 2022, the police found weed in my car and gave me a citation. They were asking me all these questions about the league. Man, I told his ass Jokić was the hardest player to guard. I’m over there talking about basketball. I ain’t giving this motherfucker no reason, you feel me? Then I finished my drive to Louisville and went on about my day. I never so much as saw the inside of a police car.

But when the video of the stop leaked, the story popped. I was seeing headlines saying three pounds. It was less than a pound. I was seeing headlines about “trafficking.” Trafficking??? It wasn’t even given to my friends — this was personal smoke. No matter how you cut it, it just wasn’t the picture they were trying to paint. But it wasn’t a good look for the team, which I understand. After that, Charlotte didn’t want anything to do with me.

Doc and Sam were with Philly now. And when everything with the case was resolved and reduced to a misdemeanor, Philly reached out. Before I signed, we had pretty transparent conversations about my usage…. But then when I got there, none of that was the case. It was disappointing. Now granted, there was different situations on the floor. Things change. That part, I understood.  But I’ll be honest, I just felt like my role hadn’t been communicated to me right. So me and Coach bumped heads during the season. It got to the point where when I pulled up to the gym, I hated being in the gym. And that was a tough feeling. I still gave it my all in Philly, believe me. Every day, every night. But mentally, by the end of that season, I just had nothing left..

Montrezl Harrell
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty

Then, around this time last summer, I was in my normal off-season routine, hooping. One day, I went in to see the trainer because my knee had swelled up, and it turned out I tore my ACL and my meniscus. After me and my trainer looked at the imaging he had done, I sat there and cried. Then I started calling the people that I needed to call to inform them. At the time, I was in one of those contract gray areas with the Sixers … I thought it might be the end.

It was like boom, boom, boom. First I lost my grandmother and had to grieve in the Bubble. Then I get a setback in Charlotte and have to miss out for something else away from the game. Then I finally get with people who I thought understood the person I was, the player I was, and it doesn’t pan out. Then, in an instant, it’s all taken away. All of a sudden, I’m dealing with these emotions I can’t really place. And I don’t really know how to deal because the person who I turned to the most was gone.

People don’t understand. I’m a human being. I’m a person outside of this game. When you’re going through a lot, and your means of providing are taken away in the blink of an eye, you start to question yourself. I dipped into that dark place, and I just shut down, man. I’ve dealt with depression my whole life, and when it happens I don’t really know it’s happening. But to other people, they say they can see it in my body language and hear it in the silence. When I’m in that place, it’s gonna be a quiet day for me.

One night, at the end of one of those days, I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and almost didn’t recognize myself. I saw a man chasing ghosts. The ghost of my grandmother, the ghost of the player I was, the opportunities I missed. I built my name and my family legacy from hard work. Brick by brick. Beating the odds, that’s all I know. But you wanna know something real? In this league, in my role, I’m just looked at like a worker. The stars, the coaches, the GMs, they hold the keys to the city, and I’m just a bricklayer.

But looking in that mirror, man, I realized something. I needed to get that chip off my shoulder. People always say “no regrets.” Not me. Lord knows I have a few. At my age, I can be straight about it. I’m 30. Of course there are a couple of decisions I shouldn’t have made. Places I went where I shouldn’t have gone. Things I said that went too far. But from moment to moment, you go with what you feel in your heart, and you stick with that. When it’s all said and done, I just want to be able to look in the mirror and see a person I’m proud of, and accept the person who’s looking back at me.

Montrezl Harrell
Todd Kirkland/Getty

One thing I had to accept, is how I do have baggage. And how regrets are a part of that. But so are all the lessons I’ve learned, you feel me? Lessons from the adversity I’ve faced. Yeah, I got some baggage from some wars on the court. I got baggage from my knee injury. I got baggage from how I acted at times, or who I been in certain moments. But without all of that, I wouldn’t have who I am now. I wouldn’t have the “baggage” of how I’ve rehabbed my ass off, and who I’ve rebuilt myself into. I wouldn’t have the Trezz who can live with his grief, and who understands this NBA thing in a whole new light. The way I see it is, when you look at baggage as only this big negative, you erase the good that can come from that. You miss the wisdom that comes from going through it.

This past year opened my eyes. I realized I’m not ready to hang this game up — and I have a lot of game left in me. Having a tough season, blowing out my knee … I can’t accept that ending, man. That can’t be what people remember me by. No way that’s gonna be how Trezz went out.

Here’s how I’m going out: leaving it all on the floor. It’s where I’ve left it every night for eight years — and it’s the only way I know how to play. I’m ready to be that hustle dude again, that team-first dude, that bench mob Trezz. That warrior. And there are a lot of things I still haven’t done in my career. I still got boxes to check off.

Now, though, I look in the mirror, and the person looking back is the only person I’m trying to be. Everybody going to say what they’re going to say. But at least now, you have my side, too. I understand a lot more now where I’m at in my life, where I’ve been, and the things I’ve gone through. I understand my own baggage, and everything that comes with it — the good and the bad. I’m fine with that. I can move on.

And I’m ready to see who I can become.