Stay Strong and Keep Your Head Up
Just wanted to let you know that, despite those out there who snicker at your frailties and misfortunes, there are many in your corner who want you to thrive in what should be your biggest comeback ever. As you're well aware, we're talking about the game of life, bro, because basketball and your accomplishments in the game are beyond inconsequential right now.
We know that substance abuse is an equal opportunity destroyer, and that doctors, lawyers, professors and anyone else, including current or former elite athletes, are not immune from its devastating effects. Those of us who've been affected in some way, shape or form, whether through friends, family or personal experience, know the insidious nature of the disease you're afflicted with and the battle that you're up against.
Stay strong, my man.
I take a personal affront to people that see you, and others with similar personal demons, as merely tabloid and reality TV fodder. Going into rehab after falling into a coma and nearly dying is no laughing matter. Wise folks will tell you that the destination cannot fully be appreciated without the experience of the journey. And the personal path that you've navigated to get to this day, this point in time is quite a story in and of itself.
Your pops was not around, a victim of a heroin addiction within the larger drug epidemic that devastated the South Side neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens in New York City in the 1980’s.
Always tall for your age, you became mesmerized by the point guard-play of Magic Johnson during the height of the Lakers’ Showtime extravaganza and found an outlet in looking to him as a stylistic role model. You hit the playgrounds and began stockpiling the weapons in your arsenal, spending countless hours perfecting the silky ball-handling skills, devastating crossover moves and smooth, mid-range pull-up jump shots.
When you were merely twelve years old, your mom, Cathy Mercer, a corrections officer at Rikers Island, died of colon cancer. That, along with your dad's struggles, had to have such a profound effect on you during those formative years. But the gifts that you worked so hard to attain gave you a path and a vision.
I remember the excitement in the words and phrases used to describe you that floated out the NYC hoops community when you debuted as a 6-foot-2 high school freshman, running the point for Christ the King, coming in as a substitute off the bench. And then there was the ridiculous growth spurt over the summer, when you became a household name on the national hoops circuit, solidifying your status as a future pro as a 6-foot-9 sophomore, when you pumped in 36 points in the CHSAA championship game.
How about those AAU teams, some of which included Elton Brand and Ron Artest, that are still talked about with a sense of awe on the summer circuit, along with how your teammates loved playing with you because, being a disciple of Magic, your preference was to share ball, not dominate it.
And then the dark side of the game visited, and you weren't fully prepared. Who could be, given your upbringing, when the wolves descended wearing sheep's clothing, trying to ride your trajectory toward their own personal agendas.
With cash-flush street runners fronting for agents, a few sleazy college recruiters promising the same dreams that a pimp is now mesmerizing a voluptuous bus station runaway with, and with the loud whispers, from folks who had their own agendas, that you could cash in your own personal lottery ticket by jumping straight to the NBA, your head swam like most other teenagers’ would have.
There was some academic disregard and a prep school detour, but that didn't get in the way of you eventually being named Parade Magazine’s National Player of the Year and a prestigious McDonald’s All-American. Your skills were that superfluous.
You bounced out to Las Vegas, seduced by The Strip, accepting UNLV’s scholarship offer, over other schools like Kentucky, UCONN, Michigan, Kansas and UCLA. But before appearing in a Runnin’ Rebels uniform, they red-flagged your SAT score and the school withdrew its scholarship offer.
People started calling you “Little Lloyd”, referring to the former New York City legend who became the poster child for opportunity squandered and wasted potential when he washed out at UNLV before ever appearing in a college game, the troubled Lloyd Daniels aka Swee’ Pea.
Remember that? Little did we know then that the similarities would later reveal themselves in more ways than one, both on and off the court.
Lloyd was so spectacularly gifted, a 6-foot-7 talent with Hall of Fame potential who nearly drowned in an abyss of self-destruction.
I clearly remember your one-and-done season at the University of Rhode Island, where seeing you operate so effortlessly and supremely within the game's various chambers on both sides of the ball was like watching the equivalent of Albert Einstein in an eighth grade geometry class.
Damn! Your steez was so incredibly silky and funky.
Remember your first NBA game, against Seattle, when you announced your arrival into the big time like Benny Blanco From Da Bronx with 30 points and 12 boards in your debut with the Clippers? Maaaan, listen! Basketball purists and the NYC playgrounds celebrated that day.
You bumped your head a number of times off the court, jeopardizing your gifts and future potential to get lost in the comforts of weed, but Pat Riley tossed you a lifeline in Miami. Do you remember the 17 points and 10 rebounds you averaged as the most feared weapon on a team that included Eddie Jones, your childhood homie from Queens, Rafer “Skip To My Lou” Alston, Caron Butler and that unpolished rookie out of Marquette University named Dwyane Wade?
Those were some fun teams to watch. And so many people who'd followed you since those high school days in Queens felt such joy during that Laker run, seeing you persist through the pitfalls of young adulthood, which was laid bare for the world to ridicule, the death of your beloved child due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2006, the deaths and murders of beloved family members and the idiotic rhetoric of those who called you a failure.
As an essential element in the Lakers’ back-to-back title runs in 2009 and 2010, your superior skills and overall brilliance were unfairly overshadowed by Phil Jackson, Kobe, Pau Gasol and the artist formerly known as Ron Artest’s therapist.
But people who knew what they were seeing saw your mesmerizing competence and excellence in so many facets of our beautiful game, how quickly and easily you transformed, within the flow of each situation, into a threatening shape-shifter as a rebounder, ball-handler, passer, and scorer, either with your back to the basket or squaring up, how your mind and body melded to adapt and perform so many functions on the court.
I don’t think many people truly understand how rare it is for a cat to battle Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan on the blocks one minute, and then facilitate the Lakers triangle offense and run the fast break the next.
So many people got seduced by your wondrous talent, they called you a disappointment because you didn't become a Larry Bird or Magic Johnson. That's pure nonsense. When it’s all said and done, history will absolve you as one of the best, most versatile team champions to ever play.
You've seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows, nearly losing your life to drug addiction. But, as in your basketball life, you have another chance to get it right, to transform once again into a better man, a better father, a better person with so much to add in terms of helping others.
As you know, this ain't no game though. It's real in the field right now, and always will be from this day forward.
You have a lot of people in your corner that want the best of what this next phase of life has to offer. On the court, you were always able to adapt. In life, that ability has proven elusive. But you've got the gift of another day, another chance, which is all that anyone can ask for.
We're pulling for you to make the most of it. You've got many that want to see you win the ultimate championship, in this game called life.
Check ball, baby! The ball is in your court.