Providing for my mother was one of the main reasons I jumped from high school to the NBA. My father passed away when I was 12, so my mother was pretty much on her own raising us and trying to make ends meet. Since she was in and out of jail for various things, I had to make some big decisions as a youth, which included going to six different high schools. My family didn’t have any money, and when some schools promised to provide meals for me and it didn’t happen, I was forced to transfer. Because of all the transferring, I missed my junior year of high school, and since I started playing organized basketball at age 14—I was concentrating on football before then—I played for only about three and a half years before going pro.
My favorite mistake was going to the NBA straight out of high school. It’s my favorite because I was able to accomplish my dream, but I very much wanted to go to college and pursue an education.
I’d committed to the University of Memphis out of high school and was collaborating with two other NBA prospects, Dajuan Wagner and Qyntel Woods—who had also both committed to Memphis—to team up there and win a national championship together. But I believed I was ready for the NBA. I had trained very hard and was one of the top players in the country, ranking alongside my Knicks teammates Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton. I ended up being drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2002.
Despite missing out on college, I’ve taken summer courses at Arizona State University and the University of Miami, and my favorite course was human geography. I love history. I think it’s important for us to know the history of our origins. I’m Hebrew through my mother’s side, so I was able to research the culture of the ancient Hebrews. Visiting Israel was an amazing experience where I learned about the history of the Hebrews and the 12 tribes of Jacob and how, even though we’re different ethnic groups, we’re all related as brothers and sisters. It gave me a lot of peace.
I want to get my college degree; it will just have to happen down the road because I can only take summer courses or online classes. By skipping college, I also missed out on the opportunity to be young and free. In the NBA you jump to being an adult quickly because there are professional responsibilities to uphold.
Although I didn’t have the easiest childhood, I was never going to go off on a different path. My mom used to yell at me when I was 8 years old because I would write “NBA” on the walls in crayon.
Interview by Marlow Stern.
Skips college and is selected ninth overall by the Phoenix Suns in the NBA draft.
Becomes first player drafted out of high school to be named Rookie of the Year.
Signs a five-year $100 million contract with the New York Knicks.
Visits Israel to gain a better understanding of his cultural heritage.
Releases fiction book for children, titled STAT: Standing Tall and Talented.