The NBA has one of the most diverse stable of players of any professional sports league. It is a big reason why basketball has become such a global sport as the backgrounds of many of the best players reflect those of people from across the world. American players, international players, guys straight out of high school, guys with college degrees and everything in between encompasses just some of the different backgrounds that NBA players emanate from.
Players also come from many different socio-economic backgrounds which is not foreign to any company or business. There’s a good chance that the co-worker sitting next to you at your place of work grew up far differently than you did. With the NBA, and just like in society, there is the middle class as well as those who were economically-disadvantaged as opposed to those “born with silver spoons in their mouths.”
We will explore the NBA players that came from the two extremes: those who had it easy growing up and those who had a rough upbringing. The two groups may have had different means to get to the NBA but the end result is all the same: they are NBA players. That also means that their kids won’t have to worry about a rough upbringing provided that these players are smart with their money. Here are 10 NBA players who come from rough backgrounds and 10 who had an easy life.
20 Rough: Serge Ibaka
Ibaka’s placement on this list doesn’t have much to do with the economic situation he grew up in but rather the social and political scene that he was a part of. Both of his parents were pro basketball players in the Republic of Congo which is where Ibaka was born. But Ibaka’s mother then passed away at a young age around the same time his father was imprisoned during the Second Congo War. Ibaka left the Congo at 16 unbeknownst that he had fathered a child. He then moved to France before going to Spain where he was noticed by NBA personnel. He received the MVP award at the Reebok Eurocamp in 2008 and was then drafted by the OKC Thunder as an 18-year-old weeks later. After nearly 10 years, Ibaka was finally reunited with his daughter who moved in with him in Oklahoma City while he was playing for the Thunder.
19 Easy: Joakim Noah
Only one active NBA player attended the United States’ most expensive school and that one player is Joakim Simon Noah. By now, most fans are somewhat familiar with Noah’s background as he was born to former tennis player and French Open winner, Yannick Noah, as well as Cecilia Rodhe who was Miss Sweden. Noah was born in New York City but has Cameroon, French, and Swedish heritage thanks to his parents. When Noah was three years old he moved to Paris and then returned to NYC 10 years later. He attended three high schools in the NYC area but the most notable is Lawrenceville School which he attended as a senior. That school is located near Princeton in New Jersey and was named by Business Insider as the most expensive private high school for three straight years earlier this decade. The tuition for the 2017-18 school year clocks in at over $52,000 which is how much Noah will make in the first quarter of his first game this upcoming year.
18 Rough: Dwyane Wade
Wade was born in 1982 in the notoriously tough South Side of Chicago. When he was four months old his parents separated which sent his mother into a tailspin. She started dealing and doing drugs including cocaine and heroin. Wade said his mom would often get high in front of he and his siblings and that there were often needles laying around the house. When Wade was six, cops busted down his house with guns drawn and his mother would eventually go to jail for crack cocaine possession with intent to sell. While most kids would spend time after school playing sports, Wade was visiting his mom in prison and talking to her through a telephone.
Wade’s older sister eventually steered the family in the right direction and Wade turned to sports to avoid the temptations that his mother fell victim to. Even while Wade was becoming a basketball star at Marquette, his mother was still behind bars and she didn’t get clean until Wade joined the NBA in 2003. Wade’s kids will have nothing like the childhood that he experienced as he’s made over $176 million in his career which is 16th most in NBA history.
17 Easy: Tony Parker
Parker is one of two foreign-born players to make the “easy life” list as even though his nationality is French, Parker was born in Belgium. His father is American and was a pro basketball player overseas while his mother is a Dutch model. Parker also has gold in his blood as his great-uncle was an Olympic gold medalist in rowing at the 1968 Summer Games. Parker grew up in France but during summers he would visit Chicago which is where his father is from. It was there where he took a liking to Michael Jordan and decided to pursue basketball instead of soccer. One could argue that Parker didn’t need his parents to have a prosperous childhood as he became a pro basketball player, and rich, when he was just 16 years old. However, even after a nearly 20-year pro career, Parker is a little “less rich” after recurring alimony payments to his ex-wife, Eva Longoria.
16 Rough: Steven Adams
The New Zealander was the youngest of 18 children so he always had to fight his siblings for anything and everything. To give you an idea of those Adams Family fights, the average size of Adams’ brothers is 6’9” and the average size of his sisters is 6’0”. Adams’ dad passed away when he was just 13 and that’s when he started to withdraw and started skipping school. He was getting into fights and had no direction in life until one of his brothers stepped up and put him in a local basketball academy. Adams would attend two high schools in New Zealand before moving to Massachusetts for his senior year. It was there where he attracted the attention of Pittsburgh coach, Jamie Adams, who had played with and against two of Adams’ brothers in New Zealand in the 1980s. Dixon helped provide the continued guidance that Adams needed to be successful and he’s parlayed that into a successful NBA career.
15 Easy: Mike Conley
Mike Conley Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies is a pretty accomplished athlete but he can’t hold the jock of his father, Mike Sr. Senior wasn’t a basketball player but rather a track and field athlete who won a gold and silver medal in the Olympics. After he retired, Senior became the executive director of USA Track & Field which is headquartered in Indianapolis. That is where Junior grew up and also where he would meet his best friend and future teammate, Greg Oden, at Lawrence North High School. Mike Senior would also become an NBA agent and represents both his son and Oden. Today, Senior is the CEO of not one, but two companies and is also on the Board of Directors of World Sport Chicago which promotes the city of Chicago as a host for a future Olympics. As if the Conley family wasn’t already wealthy enough, Mike Conley Jr.’s uncle, Steve, played in the NFL for three seasons after making the All-SEC first-team at Arkansas.
14 Rough: Carmelo Anthony
Anthony was born in Brooklyn but moved to a rough part of Baltimore when he was 8 years old. It was there where Anthony was a witness to several drug deals and even some murders. His father had passed away when Anthony was 2 years old which hurt the family financially as Anthony’s mother had to raise four kids on her own. Even though Anthony was a star on the basketball court, his grades slipped off the court which prompted his mother to ship him off to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia so Anthony could focus better.
Even though Anthony stayed clean and didn’t fall victim to the drug world that was going on around him, he did appear in a questionable underground DVD that was filmed in Baltimore. Anthony appeared in a DVD titled “Stop Snitchin’” alongside a confessed drug dealer and it shows people talking about what happens when people cooperate with police. Anthony didn’t take place in the discussion but his appearance was a terrible PR stunt for the then-Denver Nugget.
13 Easy: Kobe Bryant
If “Kobe Bean Bryant” doesn’t sound like the name of someone with wealthy parents, then I don’t know what does. Kobe’s dad, Jellybean Bryant, played in the NBA for 8 years and Kobe’s uncle (his mom’s brother) also had a short stint in the NBA. Jellybean then headed to Italy after his NBA days were over and that is where Kobe lived from 6 years old to 13 years old. The Bryants then returned to the Philadelphia area which is where Kobe attended high school. The Bryants live in Lower Merion Township in Pennsylvania which is one of the richest players in the United States. In 2016 the township had the fifth highest per-capita income in the country of any city with a population above 50,000.
Even with the wealth of Kobe’s parents, that didn’t stop his mother from trying to auction some of her son’s memorabilia in order to pocket a little extra cash in 2013. Kobe eventually settled with the auction house and appears to be on good terms with his mother.
12 Rough: Dennis Rodman
You could dress a football team with Rodmans and still have one left over. Dennis Rodman says that he is the oldest of the 47 children his dad fathered. FORTY-SEVEN!!! Rodman’s father wouldn’t be a part of his life and he wouldn’t meet him until Rodman was 50 years old. With his dad out of the picture, that forced his mother to work up to four jobs at a time to support the family. Rodman never really felt like a part of his actual family so he ended up moving in with his best friend in the middle of Oklahoma. That doesn’t seem odd until you realize that the then-20-year-old Rodman’s best friend was a 12-year-old white kid. That kid’s family was initially against Rodman even hanging out with their son and they admittedly had their own prejudices. But Rodman pulled their shy son out of his shell and, thus, the family embraced Rodman as their own. The structure that Rodman needed was finally there and he would attend Southeastern Oklahoma State of the NAIA before becoming the greatest rebounder in NBA history.
11 Easy: Bill Laimbeer
If you saw the Bad Boys 30 For 30 show then you likely remember Laimbeer talking about his upbringing. At one point he says, “I was probably the only player in the NBA that was making less money than my dad.” Laimbeer’s father was the president of a conglomerate company and a young Bill Laimbeer lived a life of luxury in Chicago. His future teammate, Isiah Thomas, grew up just a few miles from Laimbeer in Chicago but struggled financially. When Laimbeer was a teenager he moved to Palos Verdes Estates in California and that name just sounds like a rich place. Indeed it was as Forbes says that the zip code that covers Palos Verdes Estates is the 47th most expensive housing area in the United States. With the way Laimbeer played and acted in the NBA, this shows you that even the toughest (and dirtiest) players in the NBA can come from the best of situations.
10 Rough: Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson was born to a 15-year-old single mother which means AI had many NBA teammates who were older than his mom. Iverson was born in the Newport (Bad) News area of Virginia which is best known for being where Michael Vick housed his dogfighting ring. AI was a gifted basketball and football player but his world came crashing down when as a 17-year-old he was involved in a race riot in a bowling alley. The only people arrested were Iverson and his three friends and he was convicted of maiming by mob which drew a 15-year prison sentence. After spending four months in prison, the Virginia governor and the Virginia Court of Appeals overturned the conviction citing a lack of evidence. After completing his last year of high school, Iverson would go on to Georgetown for two years before becoming one of the most iconic NBA players of all-time.
9 Easy: Nik Stauskas
Imagine if you were 11 years old and your parents came up to you and your brother and gave you the option of having a basketball court, a putting green, or a swimming pool in your backyard. That’s the “dilemma” Stauskas was faced with in fifth grade and he and his brother went with a basketball court even though they weren’t necessarily in a basketball hotbed in Ontario, Canada. Stauskas would then play basketball at high school, or I should say, high schools as he attended three of them – one in Canada, one in Connecticut, and one in Massachusetts. The last of those schools was St. Mark’s which is a boarding school and is more known for the NHL players its produced rather than the NBA players. That school was recently ranked as the 24th most expensive in the United States but it’s clear the Stauksas parents had no trouble affording it.
8 Poor: Larry Bird
French Lick, Indiana is known as the hometown of Larry Bird and for being one of the poorest cities in the country. Nearly 20% of the population lives below the poverty line and Bird said that growing up poor still motivates him to this day. Bird’s mother worked two jobs to support the family and when he was in high school his parents divorced. Bird’s father, a Korean War veteran, would commit suicide a year later. Bird used basketball as an escape, both literally and figuratively, as it kept his mind off his family situation and it eventually allowed him to attend college at Indiana University. After going to IU for one month, he then dropped out as the small-town kid wasn’t used to the big city. He eventually joined Indiana State University which kickstarted his basketball career and led him to the NBA and the Boston Celtics.
7 Easy: Stephen Curry
Of the 74 players in NBA history who have played in more games than Dell Curry, only three also had sons play in the NBA. But with all due respect to Patrick Ewing Jr., Gary Payton II, and David Stockton; none of those players are nearly as good as Seth Curry, much less two-time MVP Steph Curry. Father Dell played 16 years in the NBA and racked up over $20 million in career earnings. Thus, Steph was born into a wealthy family when he was born in Dell’s second NBA season and Seth was born into an even wealthier family right before Dell’s fifth NBA season. The Curry Kids spent most of their childhood in Charlotte before moving to Toronto for three years when Dell joined the Raptors. They then returned to Charlotte and attended a private high school. On a side note, Steph’s wife, Ayesha, also grew up in a wealthy family as she used to be an actress before transitioning to hosting her own cooking show.
6 Rough: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Greek Freak was born to Nigerian parents in Athens, Greece. But his parents were so poor that they never filed any papers regarding Giannis or three of his four siblings. No papers from Greece. No papers from Nigeria. The Antetokounmpo kids were essentially without a country and even though Giannis was a burgeoning basketball star, he couldn’t play for a national team without identification. For two years Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo went through all of the procedures of applying for Greek papers to no avail. It wasn’t until Giannis started to make a name for himself, globally, as a basketball player that things actually started to happen. The Greek Basketball Federation had to move heaven and earth in order to get him Greek citizenship and a passport.
All the while, Giannis’ family struggled to put food on the table and one of the reasons he was/is so thin is because he often had to skip meals. Giannis was finally granted Greek citizenship one month before being selected in the 2013 NBA Draft. The Bucks’ investment in him paid off and in 2016 Giannis put his past financial woes behind him as he signed a $100 million contract at the age of 21.
5 Easy: Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell is a rookie with the Utah Jazz who played two years at Louisville. His father, Donovan Sr., was a former minor league baseball player for 7 years, then a minor league coach for 12 years, and is now an executive with the New York Mets. Mitchell Sr. is currently the Director of Player Relations and Community Engagement so Mets fans can blame him for Matt Harvey being “Matt Harvey.” The minor league player and coach salary must not be too bad as the Mitchells were able to send Donovan to one of the most expensive private schools in the county. For his sophomore year of high school, Mitchell attended Canterbury School in Connecticut whose 2017-18 tuition clocked in at over $44,000. The school isn’t necessarily known for its athletics as no other NBA players have ever attended the school but John F. Kennedy and Paris Hilton have! To get more competition on the hardwood, Mitchell then transferred as a junior to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire whose tuition comes in at just $34,000.
4 Rough: Jimmy Butler
Remember the movie, The Blind Side, that was about the life of Michael Oher? Well, Jimmy Butler is the basketball version of Oher. His father abandoned the family when Butler was an infant and his mother kicked him out of the house at the age of 13. The last words she said to him were, “I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go.” Butler would then bounce from house to house of various friends until he was a senior in high school. That was when he met Jordan Leslie and the two struck up a friendship and Butler would eventually move in with Leslie’s family which already consisted of 7 kids. The Leslies initially said Butler could only stay for one or two nights at a time but each time when Butler would arrive, a different kid would say, “Tonight’s my night to have Jimmy stay!”
Eventually he would move in permanently with the family and they provided the infrastructure that allowed Butler to go to a JUCO and then get a scholarship from Marquette. Jordan Leslie didn’t do too bad for himself as he played football at both UTEP and BYU and is currently signed with the Cleveland Browns as a wide receiver.
3 Easy: Grant Hill
You could probably fill all 10 spots of the “easy life” section on this list with former Duke Blue Devils but Grant Hill truly stands out. His father is four-time Pro Bowl running back, Calvin Hill, who was also the first black quarterback to ever play at Yale University. He also sits on the board for several organizations and received his honorary doctorate from Yale. Hill’s mother, Janet Hill, was a roommate of Hillary Clinton when they attended Wellesley College in the 1960s. The Clinton-Hill connection stayed strong for over 30 years as when Grant Hill was drafted in 1994, he received a congratulatory phone call from then-president Bill Clinton. Hill attended one of the top high schools in the nation in Virginia and then went onto Duke University. As Christian Laettner said in the 30 for 30 doc, I Hate Christian Laettner, Hill was one of the few Duke players on those early 90s teams that came from an wealthy background.
2 Rough: Jalen Rose
There are 8 people on this entire list who are the sons of professional athletes. Seven of those athletes grew up with an easy life and the eighth is Jalen Rose. Rose’s father is Jimmy Walker who was both the first pick of the 1967 NBA Draft and the last pick of the 1967 NFL Draft (How’s that for trivia?). Even though Walker was a two-time All-Star and played 9 years in the NBA, he wasn’t a part of Rose’s life and left the family before Rose was even born. Rose was raised by a single mother and the family struggled financially. He often cites how he grew up on syrup sandwiches and even when he reached the University of Michigan and the Fab Five, he still found himself in uncompromising situations.
He was in a crack house during a drug raid while in college and Rose was ticketed for loitering during the drug raid. Rose, however, would put all of that behind him when he became a star in the NBA and has donated his time and money to help out those less fortunate. He started a charter high school in his native Detroit in 2011 and The Detroit News named him the Michiganian of the Year in 2013 because of his philanthropy to the state. Rose did eventually have several phone conversations with his father before he died of cancer in 2007 but the two never met in person.
1 Easy: David Lee
Over 12 NBA seasons, David Lee has made over $94 million in career earnings but he still isn’t the ultimate bread-winner in his own family. Lee’s grandfather, Desmond Lee, formed a business with a college buddy that started from a $2,500 investment. The company began manufacturing a hanger for slacks and wire shelving and before David Lee was 10 years old; the company totaled $100 million in revenue. The next year Desmond Lee and his partner sold the company to Rubbermaid for $73.5 million. That was back in 1993 and, with inflation, that total now comes out to over $124 million. The Lee Family was set for generations after that and David grew up in an affluent community in St. Louis.
Still, that didn’t stop Lee from going for the highest paycheck when he became a free agent in 2010 as he left the Knicks to sign for $80 million with the Warriors who were coming off a 26-56 season.
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