On Thursday, former All-Star Steve Francis opened up in an article for The Players' Tribune where he speaks on his difficult path to the NBA. This is not totally new territory, his list of less than glamorous moments are well documented after all, but it's always interesting to read it from the players' perspective. Plus the opening line is "I remember the exact moment when I realized NBA legends weren’t SHIT." That should be as good a sell as any.
In the write-up, Francis talks about his upbringing in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C. It was there that Francis said he was selling drugs just a few years prior to his rise to basketball stardom. As he put it:
Four years before I was on that plane with Hakeem [Olajuwon] telling me we’re going shopping for cashmere suits together — four years before I was about to go play against Gary Payton — I was on the corner of Maple Ave in Takoma Park, Maryland, selling drugs outside the Chinese joint.
My mother had passed away. My father was in a federal penitentiary. We had 18 people living in one apartment. I had dropped out of high school. No scholarships. No GED. No nothing.
This is ’95! I’m watching Allen Iverson killing it for Georgetown just up the road from me, and I’m standing on the corner all day building my little drug empire, just trying not to get robbed, and then at night I’m playing pickup ball in the basement of a firehouse.
Shortly after that intro, Francis talks about his father being locked up in prison for bank robbery, his entry level position into drug dealership, and how his life fell apart after his mother died when he was 18. Of that period of his life he said:
When I was 18, my mother died of cancer, and it was a wrap for me. I was done. Any hope I had … forget it. I quit playing basketball completely. Quit my AAU team. Quit playing at the park. I dropped out of school, and my drug dealing went to a whole other level. In my mind, I was gonna build my little empire, until I got shot or I got jammed up, and that was it.
I mean, I’m not on any college’s radar. My mother’s gone. So what’s the point of anything?
The only thing that saved me was something my AAU coach, Tony Langley, said to me. He was a retired cop, and he had that retired-cop wisdom. He used to say, “I’m telling you how it’s gonna go, Steve. Ten years from now, you’re gonna see the same guys, on these same corners, doing the same shit. And they’re gonna be wearing the newest Filas, or the newest Jordans, looking fresh. But you’re gonna look at them, and they’re gonna be another year older, and then another year older, still doing the same shit, still getting robbed, every single day. You can do something different.”
He also said that the toughest thing he has had to deal with was reading about how he did crack (which he denies) on the internet. In his words:
I had some dark days, no question. And I know people were asking, “What the hell happened to Steve Francis?” But the hardest part was reading some bullshit on the Internet saying that I was on crack. When I thought about my grandmother reading that, or my kids reading that … that broke my heart. Listen, I sold crack when I was growing up. I’ll own up to that. But never in my life did I ever do crack.
What happened to Steve Francis? I was drinking heavily, is what happened. And that can be just as bad. In the span of a few years I lost basketball, I lost my whole identity, and I lost my stepfather, who committed suicide.
It's not all about drugs and alcohol. Far from it, actually. There's a lot of good basketball-related things in there too, including a lesson he got from Hakeem Olajuwon, how much he loves Houston, and how Yao Ming was his favorite teammate ever. The Players' Tribune is undoubtedly at its best when giving you inside perspective from athletes who never quite reached super-stardom (and thus were never over covered). Go read it over at their website if you ever get time.