From the Ground Up

“It’s not the skill of the man, it’s the will of the man.” —Jake Shuttlesworth

There is no such thing as an overnight success. That’s a dream. A fantasy. The Powerball and people’s hopes of winning was national news for the past two weeks because the public at-large has aspirations of quitting their jobs, and living life more abundantly.

The lottery is good in theory, but in reality the odds of actually winning are slim to none. If you want something, you have to be willing to work for it.

Over a decade ago I was an aspiring writer, trying to find my way in a career that I had no prior knowledge of, or formidable training in. I love sports, and becoming a journalist was the best way I could stay close to the games, and articulate what really goes on in and around the lives of athletes.

One of those athletes is Kyle Lowry, who I met in 2003. He was the starting point guard on a talent-laden Cardinal Dougherty high school team in Philadelphia. Jeremy Treatman of the Scholastic Play-by-Play tournament asked me if I could write a story on Cardinals for the tournament media guide. I happily accepted the job, and I set a date and time to meet, interview, and shoot the starting five.

I had heard stories about Lowry, from North Philly, who would run to the Art Museum, and up the “Rocky” steps with bricks in his book bag. I wasn’t sure how true it was, yet I was happy to be there and ready to work. Once I got to the gym, there everyone was, in full uniform, each with a basketball in hand. We had the place to ourselves and—me being a novice—I had to figure things out quickly. I introduced myself to everyone, Kyle Lowry, Bilal Benn, Shane Clark, DeSean White, and Tim Smith. Then I began setting up shots for the photos. My camera had a pop-up flash and every time I would prepare to click the shutter, the flash would pop-up, and Lowry would go from serious to silly with laughter. For some reason he found it funny, which actually helped everyone feel comfortable.

The players gave candid interviews, and I got my pictures developed a few days later. From that day forward, I’ve done my best to keep an eye on their basketball journey and lives. Kyle, Shane, and Bilal went to Villanova, and DeSean went to Providence. Clark initially went to Maryland and then transferred to Nova, Benn later transferred to Niagara, and White transferred twice before landing at Northwood, an NAIA school in Florida.

Early in 2006, I received a friendly call from Rob Pelinka. We spoke briefly about his clients Kobe Bryant and Andre Iguodala, but before we hung up he asked me my opinion on college basketball and who he should keep his eyes on. I mentioned Lowry without hesitation. I felt strongly that his style of play, and strong work ethic would make him a solid NBA player.

I had no idea that KLow would eventually become an NBA All-Star in 2015. If anyone deserves the accolades and success, though, it’s Kyle. He is a leader that carries a healthy chip on his shoulder. Currently he is averaging 20.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game, which should be enough to earn him another trip the All-Star game (in his team’s home city of Toronto this year).

Recently the Raptors played in Philadelphia, and I had a chance to catch up with him before and after the game. One very interesting thing I noticed was that when Kyle and DeMar DeRozan step on the court, they instinctively lean over and knock on the hardwood surface in some sort of pregame ritual. I didn’t ask them about it, because I want to catch a few more games to see if I can make sense of it. Outside of that mystery, I did my best to ask a few questions that would give everyone some insight on the super smart, insanely tough, point guard from the North side of Philly.

Anthony Gilbert is a SLAM contributor. Follow him on Twitter.