Saturday, December 4, 2010

ESPN, the magazine: Best Advice Ever Received

My editor, Carmen Renee Thompson at ESPN, the magazine, had me and a dozen other reporters conduct over 300 interviews with a diverse group of athletes about the best advice they ever received from someone. Only about 15 made the cut for the tight space in the magazine. Here are a few compelling ones that didn't make it:

Boxer Bernard Hopkins:

"Society has been tricked and told that credit is better than cash. I was always told by mom and my grandmother the opposite. They had mortgages. My first 85,000K house in Philadelphia I had a 30-year mortgage. I paid it off in 5 years. The bank wasn’t happy. Then I got another one in Delaware. Paid that off in six years. I saw my mom scuffle for years and years and years, for a house she paid for 30 times over.

The most people told me about finances was to be a risk taker. I did the opposite. I never wanted to play in the stock market. I couldn’t get a lot of big returns.

I took the old school thinking, remembering when we didn’t have. I took care of my sisters, got them all houses they could afford. I didn’t want them to have mortgages. I am blessed to be in the position to give tough love. I bring my nephews to my crib. At the end of the day I want my nieces and nephews to see what 17 acres look like. I want them to see where the Vice President lives in Delaware. I want them to see what old money looks like. Any of these players throwing punches or dribbling a ball, think they got it. Let’s talk 20 years from now. Old money takes time to become old. I will be the first one in my family to start a trend. It starts with me to start that trend, so my kids can have something set aside as a trust. We don’t think that it doesn’t end, we don’t think about the heirs, about a dynasty trust, we think about the right now, let me get the rolls Royce, the Bentley, I'll get all the bling and it stops with us. That’s why we don’t have that dynasty. If you do, your name will never be forgotten.

My mother was the disciplinarian, she was always the one that kicked our butt. We had to get the biggest switch off the tree. She told us to stand up for what you believe in and never let anyone take anything from you. Those were the rules in any inner city in the US where black people lived. Detroit, Chicago, that was probably said to 90 percent of black young people in the hood. Keep your lunch money in your pocket. There was a lot of that going on in Philadelphia. My mother always told me to go back out there and fight. I always fought bigger guys. I always fought guys that were a couple of years older than me. Not by choice, they might have tried to take something from me. I remembered that and it carried me through today, always fight for what you believe in and never give up. I strayed from that. And when I strayed from not letting people take advantage of me I became a part of that industry on the street. I started not following my dreams.

But I got two educations—one in life and one in prison. A guy who has never been in a bad neighborhood will get swallowed up if he goes to that neighborhood. A guy from a bad neighborhood who never crosses out of the neighborhood will get swallowed up by corporate America. I have both. One was very painful. If you're not educated corporate America will swallow you up and spit you out and won't even kiss you before they screw you. In the other world you know what will happen--it's in your face. That’s why I'm a problem to some and a breath of fresh air to most, cause when you have that type of individual that can deal with both sides--I can put the suit on and still be me and not try to be other people and still get mad respect and still get that same respect on the other side. I can be comfortable in any setting. Whether I fail or I succeed I can look in the mirror and say it was my call.

See highlights from Hopkins:

Legendary Hoya coach John Thompson:

Click here for highlight of 1985 Georgetown Hoyas vs. Villanova game

My mother told me, "You can do anything you think you can, it's all in the way you view it, young man. It's all in the start you make. You must feel you're going to do it." Anytime I got depressed or discouraged about the team it came back to me. It wasn't just what she said, it was the fact that she said it. I believed everything she said. I had a lot of difficulty in school when I was young--trouble learning, I repeated sixth grade and her words helped me come through it. I would hear her voice in my mind eye's whenever I would come off a loss. I remember when I first started out at Georgetown. I inherited a program that was 3-22 and I had been a high school coach. Everybody was telling me I shouldn't have come to college. You tend to look at yourself and question your decision. But my recall would come back and I would think about what my mother told me. The other person who gave me the best advice was Bill Russell. He told me, "If you don't accept the praise, you don't have to accept the criticism." In other words, "Don't believe the good shit people say and you won't have to believe the bad stuff people say about you. Don't believe the hype and you won't have to believe the criticism." You can get caught up in your own hype, but if you believe that, you have to believe the criticism too. But his advice wasn't more important than my mother's. I was a mama's boy. When mama went left, I went left. When mama went right, I went right. [Laughs].

Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins:

Click here for Wilkins Top Ten Dunks

When I was 12, a guy basically showed me and taught me how to play basketball in the streets of Baltimore, MD. He said if I listened and learned I would be great one day and he said, "You will owe me and you will owe me big, but not in the sense you think. The only thing I want from you is for you to give to someone else what I'm giving to you." In other words, give them the same advice that he'd given to me. The advice was from Skip Wise, a playground legend and former NBA player for the Baltimore Claws and briefly with the San Antonio Spurs. I wonder if Skip Wise even remembers that. That's the best advice I was ever given.

He was considered one of the greatest of all time, but drug addiction and an eventual prison sentence derailed his career.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard:

Click here to see the left-hander hitter's triple deck grand slam

Stay on an even keel, don't get too high or too low--Jim Thome told me that. And the other one is you're only as good as your next at bat and that was my old high summer ball coach, Deron Spink. When Jim Thome told me that I was just trying to break into the league, this game can be up and down, you have the good and the bad. You can be up and at the drop of a dime you can forget how to hit. He was just saying make sure you stay on an even plane. You'll have that day where you go 5 for 5 and hit for the cycle the next day you may go 0 for 4 with four strike outs. That's just the law of averages in this game. He's a Midwest guy and I'm a Midwest guy, we were both the same in our beliefs. He's a humble guy as well.

My man D. Spink was just saying try to stay in the moment. Don't dwell on your previous AB whether you made an out or what not, but just stay in the present. You're only as good as your last at bat.

My dad and my older brother kind of prepared me for the fame, they prepared me before I got there. My older brother was in sports, so he told me things to look out for. I was always careful and watching myself and try not to put myself in compromising situations. My brother told me about being careful as far as girls are concerned. Being smart. Watching your environment when you're in clubs or whatever.

Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard:

See highlights from Leonard vs. Hagler

The best advice that I ever received was from my father. He said to me one day "I’d rather be a man who has nothing but has it all, rather than a man who has it all, but has nothing. At the time, I did not understand his obscure words of wisdom. However, as I got older, I cherished his words. I began to understand what he truly meant. It is not the man with all of the materialistic amenities that has a fulfilling life, rather the man with the simplistic things that finds the most joy in life. I have found my most cherished moments to be when the only things surrounding me are my family and friends. It is only then that my heart is filled with joy and happiness that builds the memories that last a lifetime.

As I look back on my boxing career, I realized that my most cherished memories came from looking out into the audience and seeing the love and admiration on the faces of my family and not the endorsements that came with winning the title, which I can barely remember.

Boxer Kelly Pavlik:

See Pavlik's greatest hits:

Advice from Bernard Hopkins: It is something that's always said, but when it comes from a fighter you just fought, it means something. After I fought Hopkins, he said, "Every great fighter loses, some lose once, some lose twice, but you have to bounce back." He told me that after the fight in the corner. When it comes from a fighter that will be a Hall of a Famer it really hits you when its someone who has been in this situation.

From Ray Boom Boom Mancini: "If you had the opportunity make the most of it." Its a common saying. All those years coming up as a pro I was fighting on big cards, undercards, De La Hoya, big promotional companies. It was still a long process, so a lot of times you get frustrated--you know it's been five years and I haven't had a title shot and I am signed with the biggest promotional company. But then you think, well I'm signed with Top Rank, they're not just gonna sign me to not do anything, they sign the best fighters. I am getting a chance to fight in Vegas on the biggest cards you could possibly think of you gotta make the most of it because that window could close at any time.

I got good advice from Jim Brown--"Once you get to the top, its a hard road to get to the top, but it's even harder to stay at the top." A lot of is not just physically by being an athlete. Anything you do you're in the public eye--people are there to support you 190% and a lot of people seem to support you but really they want to see you down. One thing with this layoff over the summer and most of '09 you have a lot of the fan support. It helped me. It let me know I am not the only one going through that.

Miami Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis:

See Vontae Davis's rookie year:

My grandmother has also been a big inspiration in my life. There is nothing I do that I don't talk to her about. She has always told me to believe in myself and trust in God. If I do that, I can't go wrong. She has always been supportive of the decisions I make as long as they are the right ones. She would tell me, "No matter what your friends are doing, you continue to be their friends. Just because they do something wrong, doesn't mean you have to do it either. One day they may grow out of this phase in their life and you will need them or you should set a positive example for them. You never know how your life will affect someone else's."

Dallas Maverick's Caron Butler:

See Caron's Buzzer Beater when he was with the Wizards:

I think the best advice I ever got from a professional athlete was from Pat Riley, telling me to keep my disposition as a player, my aggressiveness on both ends of the floor the same, and to never shy away from who you are. I think that was great because me being a rookie coming into the game, I was really shy of being who I was in a man's league. I was trying to feel my way around and find out what's my niche and he was like, “Just be you. Don’t shy away from your identity.” That was the best advice. That’s why I am successful today. When I originally came to the Heat and was trying to fit in, I wasn't fitting in. I wasn't being the guy they had drafted--being aggressive on both ends of the court--just having an edge. Once he told me that, I played with that edge for the rest of my career.

My most inspirational advice has to come from my mother and my grandmother. That's where I got the three D's from, determination, dedication, and discipline. That's what I base my foundation on. They taught me about never giving up, about sacrificing and always giving back to my community. Those are values I live by.

A lot of people helped me in my teens when I was getting in trouble. I had strong support. There was a guy named Jamil Aguirre that ran a recreational center, he served as a mentor to me. He was always in my ear preaching positive messages and just trying to guide me to do positive things in life and never deter back to the wrong path. He used to tell me just to stay humble because your gifts could easily be taken away from you. I always look at it like that, that's why I like giving back and serving my community because I look at where I came from. I remember where I came from and thinking, "If I made it out, I would do this..." So many guys that made it out never came back--not that they were obligated, but it was just the right thing to do.

For more quotes, see the July 28, 2010 issue of ESPN, the magazine with Ron Artest on the cover

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