If you were to guess the percentage of NBA players that grew up in poverty, a broken home, or running with the bad crowd, how high would your prediction be? 50%? 75%
A common misconception about NBA players is that they all come from nothing. It is probably because of the media glorifying the tale of a rags to riches superstar but it is simply not that true. In fact, the majority of athletes in the NBA come from a middle-class, two-parent home, something that is considered the norm for declaring someone as growing up with a normal childhood in today’s society.
So when you hear about a star NBA player that spent most of his childhood struggling to survive, or even eat every day, know that it is not something that most of the league can relate to. The percentage of NBA athletes that have had to deal with growing up in poverty is not as high as you originally thought and the list of players who did grow up poor is something worth talking about and telling their stories.
That is what we did today. We wanted to feature these athletes and tell their stories because they need to be heard. These are the athletes that came from practically nothing and are now signing endorsement contracts worth $40 million. Here are the 15 NBA stars that went from the Hood to Hollywood.
15. Stephen Jackson
It takes a lot more than simply shooting a basketball to make it in the NBA. A man needs to have tools that are hard to teach. He has to have drive, passion, and, most of all, he has to have the fortitude to never give up on his dream. Stephen Jackson is one of many athletes who know what it takes to survive in life and make it to the NBA.
When he was a kid, he grew up in the projects in Port Arthur, Texas. In his words, “50,000 people, eight sets of projects, two high schools. Everybody’s doing the same thing.” He openly admits to the life he had has a teenage boy in the projects and does not shy away from talking about how he used to deal drugs and hustle to earn a buck because that is just what you do in that situation. His father spent time in jail and his mother had to go out searching for Stephen some times when he did not return home.
14. Allen Iverson
Long before the Hall of Fame, one of the NBA’s greatest scoring point guards ever was dealing with the struggles of growing up in a bad situation.
Allen Iverson’s mother Ann was 15-years old when she gave birth to him in June of 1975. Because she was so young and his father had all but abandoned him and his mother, they had to rely on his maternal grandmother to help them out. Sadly, however, she died not long after he was born from complications from surgery.
That was when Michael Freeman entered his life and moved in with him and his mother, helping to teach Allen the game of basketball. But Michael ended up spending time in prison for dealing drugs leaving Iverson and his family to grow up in a poverty-stricken are of Hampton, Virginia. There were times when his mother couldn’t afford to pay the bills and it left them without certain things we all take for granted. As he grew up, he continued to struggle and lost several friends, all of whom were murdered.
The life he had as a child led him to become tougher and harder as a human being which has come across as a trait that others just do not understand. He has problems with figures of authority for a reason and the toughness of his childhood is the main attributing factor.
13. D.J. Mbenga
The term “Hood” is more than just the neighborhood these athletes grew up in, it resembles how some of these NBA players struggled through some of the most unimaginable tragedies as a child and beat it to get to where they are today.
For D.J. Mbenga, the idea that he would be offered a contract to play in the NBA was a dream he never expected. Growing up in Zaire, things were not all cupcakes and rainbows. Life in Zaire was harder than anyone can imagine and when a new regime took over the Democratic Republic of the Congo, people died. Mbenga’s family died, all of them except for him and his mother, who escaped to Belgium, where they were granted asylum.
Over the years, he would establish himself as one of the most sought after big men in Europe. His 7’0 foot frame and incredibly long wingspan measuring 7’6″ made him a big time free agent in the NBA before signing a 2-year deal with Dallas worth $3.4 million.
12. Nick Young
From USC to the Los Angeles Lakers and an engagement to Rap-Pop star Iggy Azalea, it’s easy to say that Nick Young has come a long way since his tough childhood where he lost a brother to a senseless act of gang violence. His brother was mistaken for a rival gang member, back in 1991, as he left the classroom of his community college and was shot dead by a member of the infamous Bloods street gang. Nick Young was the youngest in his family and was actually just five years old when it happened. The murder caused another one of his brothers to have a mental breakdown which eventually sent him to a mental institution.
So growing up, Nick went to school with kids who were members of the Bloods and it caused him to flunk out of two different high schools. He did not want to be around the people who were responsible for his brother’s death.
He turned into the one son that could help his family with his incredible basketball talents and we are not simply talking about making money. We literally mean he has turned into his family’s savior because of his basketball abilities. He plays each and every game thinking that his family needs him to do good or they will be sad. It is a different type of responsibility that is not often appreciated by the Laker fans who have no clue that Young has dealt with so much tragedy as a child.
11. Mirza Teletovic
Because we live in the United States and war is something that happens on the other side of the ocean, we are not able to grasp the reality of living in a country that is at war. We do not understand that waking up every morning is a gift. It is a gift to survive the previous night. Mirza Teletovic understands that feeling. He grew up in Bosnia, during the Bosnian War of the ’90s.
When Yugoslavia split into a slew of new countries, it caused a violent war that lasted from 1992 until 1995. The death toll reached nearly 200,000 and was a combination of soldiers and civilians. For Mirza, he would lose family members and friends every day. It was so bad that it became part of his life. He expected others to die, including himself. However, he survived and started to play sports to escape a tragic life.
His talents in basketball began evident fairly quickly and he concentrated on improving his game, which would eventually result in a three-year, $31.5 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks last summer.
10. Carmelo Anthony
As of 2017, Carmelo Anthony’s net worth is an estimated $80 million. Besides his current four-year deal worth $124 million, he also earns between $8-10 million each year through various endorsements. He started the luxury lifestyle magazine Haute Life, loves fashion, and considers himself a New York City real estate peruser.
But he was not always destined for greatness. In fact, when he was two years old, his father died of cancer, leaving him and his mother to struggle for a few years before moving to the inner-city of Baltimore. From there, as his childhood friend says, “from drugs, to killings, to anything you can name that goes on in the roughest parts of town, we’ve seen and witnessed hands on. Those are the things that teach you toughness and keep you mentally focused on your goals.”
9. Amar’e Stoudemire
Not many people realize that in every city, there is always going to be an area ruled by gangs, drugs, and death. Those area get nicknames that range from the ghetto, hood, or simply, hell. But what most people do not understand is that, even an hour away from Disney World, the happiest place on Earth, there is one of those areas, in Lake Wales, Florida. And that is where Amar’e Stoudemire grew up.
He lived in a place where kids would grow up knowing nothing except that they can earn an easy living dealing dope, and many fall into that trap. Amar’e decided to make the right choice and not pursue that lifestyle, even after his father died when he was 12 years young. After his death, Amar’e’s family fell apart and his mother and older brother started spending time in and out of prison.
8. Serge Ibaka
Much like D.J. Mbenga, Serge Ibaka also grew up in the Republic of the Congo and was right smack dab in the middle of a war that was tearing apart a country including Serge Ibaka’s family. The war was killing families all throughout the country, leaving kids without parents, mothers without children, and men without families as they were asked to fight, leaving family behind.
He would lose his mother when he was only eight years old to natural causes and then struggle as his family moved to Ouesso, to escape the fighting, only to struggle with horrible conditions like having no water or electricity.
In 2002, Serge Ibaka’s father was capture and imprisoned simply for being on the wrong side of the tracks. He was a citizen of the Republic of Congo but worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He spent a year in jail and Serge Ibaka lived with his grandmother. His family eventually escaped and he turned himself into one of the most coveted athletes in the NBA today, signing a $49 million contract back in 2012.
7. LeBron James
NBA fans can turn on a player faster than in any other sport in America. So when LeBron James left Cleveland and went to Miami, the Cavalier fans immediately began to express their displeasure by burning his jersey in effigy, among other things that showcased just how much he means to the city and the state of Ohio.
LeBron James grew up in Akron, Ohio. His father was gone and his mother, who was only 16 years old when she had him, struggled to raise him alone. Gloria James battled demons of her own after her mother passed away when LeBron was still an infant. Knowing she would have to do it alone, she started taking whatever job she could find to help pay the bills and put food on the table for him. They found themselves constantly moving between apartments, never settling down.
But she did it to protect him from the streets of Akron, dominated by drugs, gangs, and violence. She met a man that had his own troubles with the law and even spent time in jail, Eddie Jackson. Even with all of the law trouble, Eddie took on the role of being his father and helped raise him the best he could.
6. Derrick Rose
As you will soon find out, growing up in the rough city of Englewood, in Chicago’s South side. Derrick Rose spent time in a small home just near a park that had a basketball court. He fell in love with the sport as a kid and never let it go.
He grew up next door to a house where a man was shot and killed during a police shootout. In fact, the neighborhood is widely considered among the most dangerous in all of America. (We pulled the Chicago Tribune’s crime data report and in December of 2016, there were 61 violent crimes, 102 property crimes, and 63 other crimes in the Englewood community.)
D-Rose hated living there because he knew how bad it was and that something horrible can happen to him at any minute. Lucky for him, however, he was one of four brothers, all of whom were older than him. They all made sure to protect him and help him turn into the man he has become today. They knew he was the the last chance for the family and his success would break the cycle that they all have become used to.
Of course, you all know about Derrick Rose’s NBA career and the many bad luck injuries he has suffered during it. If only he could stay healthy and become that superstar again. Everyone loves Russell Westbrook but he was nothing before D-Rose showed up and started doing the same stuff but with more reckless abandonment.
5. Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade is silent but deadly. He is one of the best guards in NBA history and has a few rings to show for it. But he was never the type that would talk a lot or even show off his money. He had class and is modest in his life. Things were a little different growing up in Chicago. Not long after his birth, his parents got divorce and his mother won custody of him and his sister.
But they struggled to survive and eventually had to go on welfare just to get food. All around him was tragedy too. Not only was he growing up in an environment that taught you to join a gang to survive, his mother got hooked on heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. She was more worried about not going to jail and was spending time in and out of prison. It was not until he was nine years old that his father took him and his sister away from that life and set them on the right path.
He has never given up on his family, especially his mother, and she has changed her life completely, being clean for at least seven years. Not only did he reach his dreams of being a star in the NBA, he was able to inspire his mother to change her life too.
4. Caron Butler
Overcoming adversity is meaningless without knowing the context of the adversity. For some people, maybe it was growing up with a single parent and struggling to survive. But for others, it could be fighting to escape a life of drugs and violence that almost would certainly end with prison or death.
Caron Butler knows all about overcoming a life of drug-dealing having been a dealer by the time he was 11 years old. That’s not a misprint, he was only 11 years old when he began slinging dope on the streets of Racine, Wisconsin. In his autobiography, he talks about how he was even shooting guns at nine and earning $10,000 as a 13 year old kid. He would go on to be arrested 15 times before he turned 15 years old and his time in those detention centers was where he learned to love basketball.
3. Ben McLemore
Everyone should understand a player’s life story before booing him. They should read about the places he has been and the things he has had to do in order to get to the NBA before throwing stones at him. It is OK to boo someone but understand their story first. Ben McLemore, for example, is perfect for that sentiment. Instead of criticizing his poor performances, acknowledge his perseverance to get to the NBA.
Ben grew up in Mineral Point, Missouri and he lived in a 600 square foot apartment that was shared with as many as 10 other family members , night after night. They would come and go, and they all loved him, they just battled other issues like not having money for food. He grew up focusing on finding ways to eat instead of worrying about sports. He would go almost two days without food, at times. He later watched his brother go to prison to serve a 15-year sentence, leaving him to struggle even more than before.
But somewhere along the way, he learned basketball and perfected his game while struggling to eat. He would be starving at times but he still went out and got some playing time in. He knew he had to do it to help payback his family one day and it ended up paying off in the end.
2. Kris Dunn
Back in 2015, Sports Illustrated ran a story on Kris Dunn, who was nothing more than this amazing college athlete at Providence who averaged 16.4 points and 6.2 assists per game during his senior season. The story told how tough his life was growing up and how his mother spent time in jail for days at a time, leaving him and his older brother, John, all alone to cook, clean, and go to school, all by themselves. Did we mention his brother was only 13 at the time and Kris was 9. John would get him ready for school and take care of him everyday.
One time, his mother disappeared for good and because of fear of being sent to foster homes, the brothers told no one about it. They spent five months without anyone there to raise them. So they dropped out of school and began hustling around the neighborhood to earn a few bucks. Kris would play other kids one-on-one for $20 a game while his brother fixed dice to win at craps. Kris even fought teenage drug dealers at night, stealing their cash.
Their father didn’t abandon them, he just simply did not know where their mother took them. He spent years trying to find them and had no idea it was this bad. He eventually reached them and was able to bring them in and help raise them.
If you are coaching an NBA team, and you need a point guard, Kris Dunn is the guy you want because he has taken all of that pain and suffering and uses it as motivation on the court. He treats each game as though it will be his last. He truly has one of the most amazing stories of anyone in the NBA.
1. Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler is lucky. He is lucky because he has overcome some of the most unfair and unimaginable odds that anyone has gone through, let alone a child. Long before he was throwing down sick dunks and leading the Chicago Bulls to the Eastern Conference playoffs, he was just a kid whose father had abandoned him as an infant and whose mother ended up kicking him out of his house when he was just 13-years old. Jimmy Butler said that the last thing she told him was, “I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go.”
Imagine being an innocent teenage boy with no father and a mother who makes you feel so isolated and alone that you wind up standing on a sidewalk in Tomball, Texas without any money or even a place to live. He wound up staying with friends but bounced around from home to home, playing basketball to escape the pain and suffering that was boiling up inside of him.
His life changed when he met Jordan Leslie and instantly became best friends with him. His family eventually took Jimmy in and, in a true Blindside moment, made him a part of their family. His talents turned into a successful basketball career that he had to fight for his whole life.
In 2015, he signed a five-year contract worth $95 million.
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