The Word of God
I’m so New York, I got robbed in the second grade.
Man, who the hell gets robbed when they’re seven years old?
This took place in the old Brooklyn. Don’t picture no smoothie shops or whatever. This was early ’80s Crown Heights, you know what I mean? They were out here robbing babies, man.
Let me set the scene. It’s gray. It’s cold. I’m walking my younger brother and sister to school — I’m big bro, so I always had to drop them off at kindergarten first. Now, on this particular morning, I had a little change in my pocket, so we stopped at White Castle. I remember we had enough money for like five of them little cheeseburgers and a small fry.
Listen, man. You’re not really from New York if you weren’t eating White Castle before elementary school. If you never ate french fries in the parking lot of a White Castle before going to P.S. whatever, you’re from the other New York, son.
Anyway, we get these burgers and head out toward school. And this bag is steaming, man. It’s piping hot. Those little grilled onions — oh my God. You know that smell. We can’t wait to get to the playground and eat these burgers, right?
We’re walking, we’re talking. Life is good.
You’re not really from New York if you weren’t eating White Castle before elementary school.
Then, out of nowhere, this random dude walks up on us. And he’s looking at the bag, real curious.
He’s like, “Hey, young fella. Is that … is that White Castle?”
He’s pointing at the bag, like it’s ... interesting or something.
So now I’m holding the bag up, real confused, like, “Huh? This bag right here??”
He’s looking at us real friendly, and he says, “Yeah, you mind if I smell your bag for a second?”
I’m just befuddled. I’m seven years old, son!! I’m like, Smell my bag?
And in that split second of hesitation, dude snatches the bottom half of the bag right out my hand and takes off. He hit me with the kung fu karate swipe — Whappp. Gimmie that, son.
Before I can even process what’s happening, dude is gone.
Gone with the wind, son.
This man hamburgled a couple of little kids at eight o’ clock in the morning on Utica Ave.
I mean, picture me. I’m standing in the middle of the street, still holding the handle of this White Castle bag. My stomach is growling. I’m speechless. And my brother and sister are just looking up at me, tears streaming down their little faces. They’re bawling.
Saddest sight you’ve ever seen in your life.
My sister was like, “I really wanted them burgers, too.”
Snot coming out and everything.
Me? I didn’t even shed a single tear, man.
I just looked up at the clouds like, Oh, alright. I see now. I see what it is out here.
Welcome to New York City, kid.
Welcome to the world.
“That name can’t be real.”
That’s what I heard all my life. But that’s really my government name.
I was actually the second God Shammgod. My father was the original. When I was young, he was a Five Percenter. It was the height of that era. Black Power and Malcolm X and the struggle. And he was deep in that life. Let’s not be too specific about it, but for the purposes of our story, what you need to know is that he got locked up, and my mother moved us from Brooklyn to Harlem when I was 9.
Harlem was different. Harlem was showtime.
Brooklyn was all about fighting. I was trying to be Macho Man Randy Savage off the top rope. I didn’t know anything about basketball. So I get to Harlem and I’m like a fish out of water. I’m spazzing out, trying to scrap with dudes, because that’s what we’d do for fun in Brooklyn. And all these Harlem kids are looking at me crazy like, “Yo! Chill! You gonna mess up my Kangol bucket hat!”
Everybody was at the park talking about hip-hop and fashion and all this stuff, but I’m like a little barbarian, trying to suplex somebody, you know what I mean?
The first kid I got cool with was this dude Mason Betha, and he introduced me to the culture. Mase was like ... you know how every school got that one kid? I’m talking ’bout that one where all the teachers be lecturing you like, “Stop acting up! Y’all need to be more like Mase over here.”
(Fast forward eight years, and he’s not just little Mase with the perfect homework no more. Now he’s Ma$e. Harlem World!!! Hahahaha!! For real. Can’t stop till he see his name on da blimp!!!)
He was actually the one who first put a basketball in my hand. I remember he took me to the court and I literally didn’t know what was going on. I was nervous, but I was so captivated by the lights, the energy, the nicknames.
I remember sitting up in this tree overlooking the court at Rucker Park, watching these guys play for hours, and I was mesmerized. I didn’t know anything about no Magic Johnson, no Larry Bird. I was trying to be a hood legend. In Harlem, you were raised on street basketball. Madison Square Garden? Same city, different planet. Rucker Park was our Madison Square Garden.
I mean, people won’t even believe this story, but when I was 13, I had this P.E. teacher who kept giving me hell for the way I played the game. At that point, I had started making a little bit of name for myself playing in the streets. So I would be in gym class doing all these crazy tricks for my friends, and it used to piss the P.E. teacher off so bad. He was old-school. He was trying to teach me how to do a crisp bounce pass or whatever, but I wasn’t hearing it.
So this one day, he’s lecturing me, like, “Son, you don’t know anything about real basketball. Get out of here with all these tricks.”
Of course, I’m young and arrogant. So I turn around and I say, “What, old man? You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re just a bum-ass gym teacher.”
Everybody’s like, Ooooohhhhhhhh!!
I get in trouble. Whatever. Couple of weeks pass, and I get my hands on this VHS tape. It was like a mixtape of all the best NBA guards — Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd, Isiah Thomas. That was my introduction to the league. Well, in the middle of the tape they had this section for all the O.G. point guards. I’m talking like Pistol Pete, Earl Monroe, all these guys I’d never heard of.
So I’m sitting there and all of a sudden they show this dude named Tiny Archibald. The tube socks. The short shorts. He’s nice.
And I’m like, “Wait a minute. Nah ... nah.”
I rewind the tape.
I’m like, “That dude look like ... nah.”
I rewind the tape like 20 times.
Finally, I’m like, “This dude looks just like my P.E. teacher.”
Mannnnnnnnn, I go to gym class the next day and I’m looking at Mr. Archibald for the whole period like.... Is it him? Nah, man. There’s no way.
I’m squinting. I’m scrutinizing his hairline. Finally, I work up the courage to go up to him, and I’m like, “Hey, Mr. Archibald, this is crazy but … did you used to play for the Celtics?”
And all he says is, “Yeah.”
And I’m losing my mind. I’m like, “Man, you’re TINY ARCHIBALD? You’re on my VHS TAPE!!! Why didn’t you say something?!?!”
He’s looking at me real calm, like Yoda. He’s like, “You ready to listen to me now?”
I’m like, “Hell yeah.”
I mean — for all the young kids out there — this is really the equivalent of you acting up in your eighth-grade gym class, and the next day you go up to your teacher like, “Yo, Mr. Paul!!! Are you really CHRIS PAUL, man?”
And Mr. Paul is like, “Yeah.”
That’s a true story. From that day forth, Tiny Archibald changed my life. He was the one who told me to focus on my handle, because in his infinite wisdom: “If you can dribble, you’ll always have a job.”
From that moment on, I probably dribbled six hours a day — no exaggeration. I’d take the ball everywhere. It was like an extension of my body. My homeboys used to walk past the park on the way to some block party, and I’d be like, “I’ll catch y’all later.”
I’d be out there dribbling by myself with these ankle weights strapped to my wrists. I wouldn’t even shoot. Just dribble in one spot. I was like Nutso in Above the Rim.
I mean, my friends would be walking back from the party at two o’ clock in the morning and I’d still be out there under this one streetlamp, dribbling. This one particular light used to cast my shadow perfectly on the pavement. It was so crisp. That was my defender. My nemesis.
This one summer, I got so nice that I was convinced that I was literally going to shake my own shadow. I’m not exaggerating. When I say I believed I could do it, I believed it. I probably spent like 10,000 hours just trying to cross up my shadow in the park.
That was the birth of The Shammgod. It wasn’t at Providence. It wasn’t in the Big East tournament. The Shammgod was born in the streets.
It wasn’t at Providence. It wasn’t in the Big East tournament. The Shammgod was born in the streets.
Everybody knows the legend of the crossover, but if you’re from New York City, you know I was shaking grown men out they shoes since I was like 15 years old. Man, ask Ty Lue!! He’ll tell you.
When we were in the NBA bubble a couple of months ago, we were catching up before a game, and there were a couple guys standings around — few from the Clippers, few from the Mavs. And Ty was cracking them up, man. He’s pointing at me like, “Man, y’all want to talk to me about Iverson? You see this guy here? When we played Shamm in high school, we thought he was an alien. He did a crossover and he shook our whole zone. He went one way, five dudes went the other way.”
I put Ty’s whole squad on roller skates, man. Goodbye! Hahahahaha.
In high school, I started to become like a local legend. A hood celebrity, if you will. And you really gotta understand how poppin’ New York City basketball was at that time. I’m playing against Stephon Marbury, Skip 2 My Lou, Alimoe (rest in peace), all these guys who would become household names, they were just kids from around the way. Man, even Cam’ron was super nice!!!
I knew all these guys from when we was little kids playing church basketball, and now all of a sudden we got Jay-Z, Puff, Dame Dash — all these guys are showing up to our games. That’s how insane New York City basketball was at that time.
Just the other day, somebody sent me an Instagram DM with this old Kodak photo of me and Steph standing in the tunnel after a random high school game, like “Remember this?”
Man, the third dude in the picture was Biggie Smalls.
We were just kids. But we were the culture.
By my senior year, I was really starting to get some shine nationally, and I got invited to the ABCD Camp, which was a big deal. So I get there and I’m sharing a room with this kid from France.
He was always like, “Man, I’m From Italy.”
But when you’re young and stupid, everything in Europe is just France to you. So everybody was like, “Alright, France, whatever you say.”
This dude walked like Jordan.
This dude talked like Jordan.
This dude chewed gum like Jordan. Right out the side of his mouth like MJ, aggressive.
And then he gets on the court and he’s shooting all the basketballs, man. Alllllllllllll of the basketballs.
Of course, everybody’s clowning him.
“Alright, France. You trying to be MJ? You not gonna be no MJ!!!”
So after all this, his father comes up to me one day at the camp like, “Hey, I would really appreciate it if you could show my son some moves. He can do everything, but he needs to work on his handle.”
In my head, I’m still kind of in my feelings because this kid is shooting all the shots, but I’m like, “Alright, cool. I’ll show him some stuff tomorrow. But I come to the gym early. So make sure he’s not late.”
We were just kids. But we were the culture.
I get there the next morning at like six o’clock. Sun still coming up. I’m thinking there’s no way France is gonna be here.
I walk in and this dude is in a full sweat. He’s even dripping like Jordan.
I’m like, “Alright then, France. What’s up with you?”
He’s like, “Man, my name’s KOBE.”
Hahahahaha. Yes, sir.
Kobe Bean Bryant. My man.
I mean, at the time, he was already blowing up, but in my mind I’m like, I BEEN BLOWED UP. I’M THE MAN AROUND HERE.
We’re at this gym at seven o’clock in the morning doing these dribbling drills, and we BOTH think we’re the shit. We’re BOTH some crazy, obsessive competitors. NOBODY is trying to blink, man.
And we’re not playing one-on-one or nothing.
We’re tryna dribble each other to death.
We’re tryna see who’s gonna drop first.
I think the camp counselors finally came in to start setting up and they were like, “Yo! What the hell?”
If you could’ve seen them two sweat puddles on the floor — it was crazy.
That was the start of a great, great, great, great friendship between me and Kobe. A bond that’s forever. We had no idea what we were gonna become, what we were gonna do in life, you know what I’m saying?
And it’s so funny, man … because it’s so similar to this other memory that always sticks with me. Me and Mase were at the park playing ball one day, and he was all pissed off at me for some reason. We got heated, and you know when you get mad at your friend when you’re like 15 years old and you go right for his soul?
He was like, “Man, you think you’re gonna be Isiah Thomas, huh? You not gonna be no Isiah Thomas. You ain’t gonna be nothing.”
And I came right back at him like, “Oh, you a rapper, huh? You think you’re gonna be Biggie Smalls? You ain’t never gonna be Biggie. You ain’t never getting out of here.”
Couple years after that argument in the park, me and Mase are riding uptown in a limousine with Puff Daddy. I just got named a McDonald’s All-American and he was about to sign a record deal with Bad Boy, and we’re looking at eachother like, “Damn, my bad!!! We was wrong!!!!”
I think of those memories and I want to laugh and cry at the same time.
My bad, Kobe.
My bad, Mase.
Y’all really made it.
We really made it.
I mean, I grew up in a neighborhood where kids I went to school with were getting kidnapped, man. I’ve been shot at for no reason in particular. I’ve been shot at for reasons in particular. When I was coming up, it was really the Wild West.
I was just trying to make it out. See something different. Get a little paper for my mother and my siblings. It really was that simple.
I remember I had this teacher, Mr. Baker. He always used to tell the class, “I know Shamm sits here and jokes with y’all, but when I look in his eyes, I can see his mind is somewhere else. He’s got big dreams.”
To be honest with you, I just didn’t want to be another “used to be” story. In my neighborhood, you always heard, “Man, that guy used to be this. That dude used to be that.”
I didn’t want to be a Used to Be. I wanted my name to ring out.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself, because I only played 20 games in the NBA, but my name still rings out all over the world. I’ll be in China, or South Africa, or France, and kids will come up to me like, “Are you really Shammgod?”
They barely speak any English, and they’re like, “Shammgod! Shammgod!”
Then they’ll do the one-handed crossover with an imaginary ball.
YouTube is a beautiful thing, man.
As a kid, I wanted to be a hood legend. I wanted to make a contribution to the culture. And I know I did that. But the biggest gift that God has given me is a second life as something completely different.
Somehow, some way, through the grace of God, I became a teacher.
When I got into my 30s, and my career overseas was winding down, I was a little bit lost, to be honest with you. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life. And I know a lot of athletes out there right now are dealing with those same emotions, but they’re just too proud to say it to anybody, even their homeboys. You’re sitting around depressed, aimless. You got that anxiety building up inside you, like…. Man, I’ve already done it all. So what do I do now?
I had this slow realization, thinking back on Tiny Archibald changing my life, thinking back on me and Kobe, thinking back on all the dudes who used to ask me to show them moves when I was in the league — C-Webb, Shaq, Chauncey, KG — all them dudes used to catch me in the warmups like, “Shamm, show me something crazy! You gotta teach me, man!”
It dawned on me that I really wanted to be a coach. I wanted to help the next generation. To be honest, one of the best days of my life was when I called my mom and told her that I was going back to Providence to finish my degree, and that I was going to lobby the basketball coaches to let me help out with the team.
I mean, you wanna talk about a story, man….
Right after I got the call from Providence that they were gonna let me be an assistant, I was at this block party in Harlem. I’m back in my old neighborhood and I got on a bunch of jewelry. Watch. Two chains. Bracelet. And I just felt like ... honestly, I felt like a fake. I felt like I was trying to be somebody that I wasn’t anymore.
It literally felt like the chains were weighing heavy on my chest.
I was telling my boy Howie, “Man, I’m 34 years old. I’m trying to be a coach, and I’m still rocking two chains? I can’t be doing this no more.”
Literally, 90 minutes later, me and Howie are walking on Eighth Avenue and 142nd street and two cars pull up on us. They jump out the car and when I say they had guns, they had guns.
Now, I been robbed before, but this was some Biblical shit.
I been robbed before, but this was some Biblical shit.
Gun to the front of my head. Gun to the back of my head. Two guns aimed at my knees.
They’re like, “We know who you are. Give us everything or we’re going to kill you right here.”
I’m fumbling with the locks on my chain, trying to get them off, and my friend is shaking.
They’re like, “Hurry up. We’ll kill you, man.”
Finally, I get the chains off. Dudes put the guns down. They hop in the car and take off.
My boy is sitting there on the sidewalk, crying.
And I don’t know what came over me, but I remember I just started laughing.
My boy is like, “What the hell is wrong with you, Shamm?”
I’m cracking up. I’m like, “Yo, we’re alive. We’re alive. Hahahahahaha. Bro, we’re alive.”
My boy is beside himself. He’s sobbing.
But I didn’t shed a single tear, man.
Just like when I was seven years old.
I just looked up to the clouds, like, Alright, I got the message. I see what it is.
God was stripping me of everything.
If I truly wanted to be reborn, I had to let go.
Over the next 10 years, I worked my way up from Providence to the Dallas Mavericks as a player development coach. And it’s so funny because I think back on my life and how I ain’t even want to listen to my P.E. teacher talking his nonsense. Now I’m the bum-ass teacher trying to get these dudes to listen to me talk about fundamentals.
“It’s all in the footwork! Faster! The hands are an illusion!!!”
Hahahhaha. Crazy, man.
I’ve really been blessed.
Blessed to work with Dirk, one the the greatest to ever play this game.
Blessed to work with Luka, who is gonna be one of the greatest to ever play the game.
I was even blessed to work with Gigi Bryant, who was on her way to being one of the greats, too.
Twenty-five years after I was teaching Kobe how to handle the rock at the ABCD camp, he called me up out of the blue, and he said, “Shamm, I want you to come out here to L.A. and teach Gigi’s team how to dribble.”
How’s that for full circle, man?
Kobe flies me out to the Mamba Academy for the week, and I’ll never forget him giving me the schedule.
He’s like, “Alright, we’re gonna go from eight to 10. Then we’re gonna break. Then we’ll go from 12 to two.”
I’m like, “Kobe, you want me to teach them for two hours?”
He’s like, “Yeah.”
I’m like, “On dribbling?”
He’s like, “Yeah, like we used to do.”
Now I’m looking at these little girls, thinking, Kobe, damn, man, we were 17 though!!! My players on the Mavericks can go for like 45 minutes tops before their mind is somewhere else, and this is their job.
I’m like, “Kobe, you want me to teach them for two hours?” He’s like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “On dribbling?” He’s like, “Yeah, like we used to do.”
But I didn’t even say anything. I know better! I’m like, “Alright, Kobe. Whatever you say.”
We get out on the court and….
These girls didn’t want to stop, man. They ain’t even want a lunch break!!!! This was two hours of nothing but dribbling a basketball.
And they’re like, “We’re not hungry, Coach Shamm! We good!”
I remember they were talking about how they were all gonna go off and play at the same college together someday. That was their dream. And I can still see the smiles of their faces, I can feel the energy, I can feel the love of the game.
I can hear the sound.
You know, when I first met Kobe, I thought I would never meet anybody like him in my lifetime. I thought he was one of one.
Then I met Gigi Bryant.
Same person. The Mini Mamba, for real. She was a beautiful soul. All those girls were. I’m just happy that I got to share those days with them.
I’ll never forget when they came back the next morning, Gigi was dribbling the ball with the biggest smile on her face, man. She said, “Coach Shamm! Isn’t this better? See what I’m doing with my feet? It’s a little better, right?”
I looked at this girl and I saw a kindred spirit.
It’s a little better, right, Coach Shamm?
It was like she went home and practiced it all night.
It’s a little better, right?
Like she was all alone under that streetlight, convinced that she could do it.
Like she spent all night trying to shake her own shadow.
I’ll never forget that, in a million lifetimes.
You know, I always had this sense ever since I was a kid that God was leading me somewhere in my life. And I know that he led me to that moment with those girls, for reasons that I don’t have to understand. I’m proud that I didn’t settle for being a hood legend. I’m proud that I evolved. I’m proud that I became Coach Shamm, too.
I know that when I’m dead and gone, Shammgod will live on. My name will ring out in playgrounds all across the world because of my crossover. Thirty years from now, whenever somebody gets shook out they shoes, they’re not gonna be saying, “Oh shit, he hit him with the Frank!”
Nah, nah, nah.
It’ll always be, “He hit him with The Shammgod, son!!!!!!!!”
And that ain’t bad for a kid from 142nd Street in Harlem, you know what I mean?
I know that when I’m dead and gone, Shammgod will live on.
Everybody always asks me, “How were you so nice with the handle?”
Listen. Ain’t no secret.
I was born into a cold world.
They were out here robbing babies, man. They were trying to snatch our burgers.
Little sister crying. Snot coming out. Stomach growling.
I made a decision that day. I made a promise to myself, and the legend was born.
Nobody was ever, ever, ever gonna snatch my shit again.