by Adam Figman

SLAM: What part of Pittsburgh are you from?

DeJuan Blair: The Hill District. It was tough, hard-nosed. You just had to grind out everyday, work hard and do what you had to do to survive. I think that’s what made me the tough guy that I am now.

SLAM: Who showed you the ropes on the court?

DB: My mother. My mother actually was a real good basketball player and a real good softball player, and my father was a real good basketball player, so I learned from them. As a little kid I didn’t really have an NBA team, coming up in Pittsburgh, so I would watch Michael Jordan. Me and my father would watch him, and he was the greatest. He came back with that 45 and everybody thought he was done, and he came back and still did his thing and won three more. You win three, take off, then come back and win another three. How amazing is that? It was just a big thing for me, seeing him do that in the NBA. It just gave me hope that one day I can be there.

SLAM: Was there a specific place that was important to your development?

DB: Kennard Field. That’s when I was playing against all the older men, and that’s where I would get a lot of my toughness from. They were grown men and I was a teenager, so my father and mother let me play up there. I started in the teenage groups—15- and 17-and-under—and then I moved up to the grown men league, and I played three years and got three MVPs of the championship games. It was a really big help for me, getting my toughness and grit. I think Kennard Field did it all.

SLAM: Did the older guys respect you?

DB: My first couple games it wasn’t no respect. They knew who I was, but they didn’t think I was ready. I played one game, my very first game, and then my dad was like, You ain’t playing up there no more. I was like, I can play with them. I went up there the next game and had a crazy game, and from that day forward I didn’t wanna play with the younger fellas—I only wanted to play with the old fellas. I had to gain respect, but I think I did that. It was something that you had to go through like a rookie.

SLAM: Do any of your high school performances stand out to you?

DB: All three of my city league championships and my state championship, it was all special because I won them with my little brother and all my best friends. We were all from the same neighborhood, and the neighborhood was behind us the whole time. I had torn my ACL, then came back and won the championship, then tore it again and came back and won a championship. Went to the state championship, lost that by one point, then came back the next year and won the state championship. It was like a storybook. Doing it with my brothers was the icing on it.

SLAM: At what point did you decide reaching the NBA was your goal?

DB: I really wasn’t talking about it in high school. I mean I was, but it wasn’t something that I had to do. It was just something that popped up when I was in college. After my first game in college, playing Duke in the Garden, I think after I got 15 and 20, that opened up a lot for me to really get my mind set on what I wanna do in life and play in the NBA. I mean I always wanted to play in the NBA but I didn’t think I would until [after] the Duke game. I didn’t understand what Duke was until after the game; I really didn’t follow Duke and know their history and their program and everything like that until after we played them. At that point, that’s when I said, OK, I think I might have a shot at this. It just skyrocketed from there.

SLAM: Pittsburgh doesn’t have an NBA team. Do you think the city should have one?

DB: Yeah, of course. We definitely could have one. I don’t think they give us enough credit on the basketball tip. It’s straight football in the city.