‘OUR FAMILY WAS ALWAYS INVOLVED IN THE COMMUNITY’
The biggest things that shaped me in my childhood were my parents, particularly who they were as people. A lot of the things that are important to me now were important to them and have remained important to us as a family.
My father was Iman, a prayer leader of the Muslim community. More than that, he was a community leader. In some shape or form, our family was always involved in the community, whether it was feeding the hungry or community cleanup. There was always something a couple of times a week that we were involved in. That was a huge part of my young childhood.
My mother was a teacher’s assistant. She was always helping kids who had less-active parents. That was the approach with my family. My dad was always coaching a team or giving back. We didn’t have a ton of money, but service was how they were wired and how they operated. And they made those things important to us. It really shaped me and connected with me. It made me want to be in touch with the community and be a productive person in those communities like an Iman. They also instilled a strong work ethic in me, which was a major reason why I had success as an athlete. That has stayed with me throughout school and my other endeavors.
Being so involved in the community, my mother would bring over athletes. My dad was an athlete; he played football in college. My parents were always signing us up. No one played football in my family. My dad didn’t want us in that. But we were always playing baseball, track, and basketball. We always did that as a family. We did a lot of one-on-one basketball. It was sort of natural to play basketball.
In high school, I got really lucky. I had a great high school coach named Doug Lipscomb. He was great for me. He spent a lot of time with me, helping me develop my skills. He was in his early thirties, so he could still play. He would play me one on one and kick my butt; I couldn’t beat him regularly until my senior year. He pushed me. He also encouraged me, almost demanded that I took my studies seriously. He would kick me out of the gym when I skipped my math tutoring sessions. Other than my parents, he’s the biggest reason for any success I’ve had. I am really grateful for him.
I grew up in Atlanta and went to high school in Marietta. After high school, I went to Cal. That was a big transition. I went there for a year when I was 18. It was good for me in the sense that there were so many unique people at Cal with different interests and groups. You’d see all the leaflets and pamphlets being handed out for social initiatives. It really followed the activist tradition that Cal had. Being a kid at that point, basketball was everything. Cal started to open my eyes to other things.
In addition to that, everything at that time was basketball, basketball, basketball. Everything I did were things that I had to do to play basketball, not necessarily engaging with the university. Once I left school, I would come back in the summer to take classes or just visit the school. I was much more relaxed and I didn’t have anywhere to be, like practice. So I came back and finished my degree. In that process, I really got to know the university, professors, and the people I went to school with. I went to different libraries and discovered which libraries I liked better. I loved to walk around campus, especially areas of the campus that I had never visited when I was there before. My experience at Cal was, in a lot of ways, really two different experiences. I wouldn’t change it. Cal is a wonderful place. I got a great education.
The NBA is a business. You learn early that you love basketball and basketball is what you do. Really, I had a coach tell me early in my career that it’s all this other stuff that you do that you really get paid for. In the NBA, you’re getting paid for the travel, the games when you play on a sprained ankle or a dislocated finger, when you’re coming down with the flu. Those are the games you get paid for, when you play four games in five nights, the appearances that you have to do or the criticism that you have to take. Those are the things you get paid for, not necessarily playing basketball. For me, as a kid, it was really fun to compete against guys I grew up thinking the world of.
A GOLD MEDAL IS A GREAT CONVERSATION STARTER
Being a U.S. Olympian was an awesome experience. I got to see the other athletes from all over the world. I would go to the other events. I was part of the opening ceremony. Being in another country like Australia, it was a really unique event. Honestly, even going back to business school, the Olympics were more of a conversation piece than the NBA. I have a gold medal and that’s something people think is really cool. I’ve been really fortunate. I have memories and pictures. Maybe it is something that I take for granted when people mention it to me or I see their reaction.
The thing about a playing career is that it can be really frustrating at the end. I got to the point where I couldn’t do the things that I was used to doing. My body wasn’t reacting the way I was used to it reacting. Mentally, I thought I could still do those things. It was the same me, but I just couldn’t do them anymore. At that time, especially where I was in my life, transitioning to coaching and being in the front office was the right move because I still wanted to be able to compete. Physically, I couldn’t do it anymore, but I felt like my experiences and instincts were valuable. I had a viewpoint and could offer something really helpful.