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You wouldn’t know it to look at me. I tower over most people at six-nine, a lean and mean 240 pounds. The size comes in handy in my line of work: I play forward for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
On the court I’ve got my game face on. I’m focused on doing whatever it takes for our team to win—shooting a jumper, slashing to the basket, mixing it up with other big men. But I don’t get too loud or emotional, not even when I take charge of a game.
Off the court, though, it’s a different story. I’m still not loud, but I don’t mind letting my feelings show. Especially my feelings about my greatest coach and biggest inspiration—my mother, Wanda Pratt.
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No matter how far my career takes me from our hometown, Seat Pleasant, Maryland, I’ll always be my momma’s boy.
I told you, you wouldn’t guess it looking at me. But it’s true. Mom has been there for me from Day One, when I first picked up a basketball and fell in love with the game, and she’s still there cheering for me from her seat (that’s if she stays in it!) across from the Thunder bench.
The lessons she taught me have made me a better player and, more important, a better person.
1. You Get What You Give.
Mom put my older brother, Tony, and me in sports early to keep us off the streets. We pretty much lived at the rec center. I loved basketball and when I was all of 11 years old, told Mom I wanted to play in the NBA.
She could have laughed. After all, there are fewer NBA players than there are Fortune 500 CEOs. But she didn’t. She wanted Tony and me to know it was worth following the dreams God gave us. She also wanted us to understand that it takes hard work and sacrifice to achieve them.
She showed us that each day. Her dream was to give us every chance to succeed in life. For a single mom that was tough. She needed a good, steady job to support us, but she wanted to be home when we got back from school.
So she worked the overnight shift at the post office, loading 70-pound mailbags onto trucks. She’d leave for work while Tony and I were getting ready for bed. Sometimes I’d see exhaustion in her eyes when she kissed me goodnight. Not that she ever complained.
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The biggest thing Mom gave up for us was her time. She didn’t have a social life like other women in their twenties and thirties. She was working when her friends went out. The rest of her time she spent with us—at home, at church, at our practices and games.
Once I asked Mom why she didn’t date or at least go out with her girlfriends. She loved to dance. She’d put on music at home and show off her moves. “God gave me you and your brother,” Mom said. “You guys are my life.”
That made me think. If Mom was giving up everything for us, then I’d better work as hard as I could to make her sacrifice worth it. From then on, I practiced as much as I could.
Long after my teammates left the rec center, I stayed and did drills till my muscles ached. Then it was home, for dinner and homework.
On weekends Mom would get me out of bed late at night. “Time for sit-ups and push-ups.” I’d whine, “Ma, I did my workout already.”