PORTLAND, Ore. — On the same day he was named head coach of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., ex-Blazer Damon Stoudamire published a soul-searching letter to his 12-year-old self on The Players' Tribune.
You’re going to actually be on the team that plays five minutes from your Grandma’s house. You’re actually going to be on the floor. Not up in the cheapest of the cheap seats. Not up so high that the players look like ants. Not in the seats they give away at the rec center.
You’re going to be on the floor, running point, wearing a size medium black-and-red jersey with Stoudamire on the back.
Go ahead, go tell Grandpa.
Stoudamire describes growing up in Northeast Portland, adoring his grandmother. As a kid, he played imaginary 5-on-5 games, honing his basketball skills before attending Wilson High. He rode TriMet 90 minutes each way in pants he ironed crisp every morning "to go to a better high school."
He recalls the day legendary Arizona coach Lute Olson came to his home.
He’s going to say, 'You know what, Damon? I already got a point guard. And he’s terrific. But I think you can be terrific, too. I’m going to make you into a man.'
And Olson did. Stoudamire's recollections of the coach teaching table manners is priceless.
A childhood hero, Isiah Thomas, drafted him No. 7 to the expansion Raptors, where he was NBA rookie of the year. Stoudamire also describes some of the most admired players he went up against -- Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, John Stockton. He dishes on the depth and richness of Gary Payton's trash talking.
Woven throughout the essay is his encounter with sports commentator John Canzano, not named in the essay, who challenged Stoudamire to a urinalysis after a humbling arrest at an airport for marijuana wrapped in foil. Stoudamire announced then he was done with pot after the arrest. He passed the volunteer drug test.
The letter to himself also weaves together his childhood and the highs and lows of playing for the Trail Blazers from 1996 to 2005.
Listen to me, Dame. The only people you owe are the people who raised you. Really raised you. It’s one thing to read that, and it’s another to experience it. People will let you down. That’s life.
There’s going to be times when you feel lost. There’s going to be times when you just want to escape. People will start calling the team the Jail Blazers, and you’re going to be lumped in with it."
He closes the essay telling his 12-year-old self what to say to his grandma about his goals. Were they met?
Tell her that today, when you’re writing this letter, you’re going to get your first NCAA head coaching job. You’re going to get the opportunity to lead kids, and show them what Lute showed you. You’ll get to look them in the eye and tell them the truth.
Tell them that life isn’t a movie. Tell them that they’re going mess up. Tell them that being a grown man isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something you work for every day.