BASKETBALL… VALUING THE SPORT… ITS LESSONS AND CONSEQUENCES

March 13, 2022

Business

One man’s journey to define his fork in the road…

BY:  George L. Addison, Jr.

Sport has the power to change the world… It has the power to inspire.  It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.  It speaks to youth in a language they understand.  Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.  It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.

–NELSON MANDELA

1968 marked the 22nd season of the National Basketball Association.  It was an amazing year which featured the likes of Most Valuable Player (MVP) Wilt Chamberlin, Rookie of the Year Earl the Pearl Monroe.  An all-NBA 1st team featuring Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, Jerry Lucas, Wilt Chamberlin, David Bing; an all-NBA 2nd team led by John Havlicek, Willis Reed, Harold Greer, Jerry West, and Bill Russell.  All-rookie 1st team players that included Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Phil Jackson, John Rudd, and Richard Triptow to name a few.

Many of the players are now in the National Basketball Association Hall of Fame.  Over the years, their on the court and off the court exploits have inspired millions of kids around the world to aspire to greatness in sport, business, and numerous other industries.

One such kid was Derek White, born February 9, 1968, in Portsmouth, Virginia. He would grow up to the drumbeat of sports, specifically basketball. His quest to follow the path of other NBA elite players from Virginia such as Allen Iverson, Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Alonzo Mourning, Dell Curry, J.J. Redick, Grant Hill, Bob Dandridge, Keldon Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Bryant Stith, Roy Ebron, Mark West, Jerome Kersey, Linton Townes, Joe Smith, Paul Pressey, Johnny Newman, Cameron Thomas, George Lynch, J.R. Reid, Bimbo Coles, Troy Williams, Jalen Smith, Reggie Williams, Gerald Henderson and a continuous list of outstanding talent following that same drumbeat.

White started playing basketball around 11 years old. He said his uncle Kevin White introduced him to the sport. “He took an interest in me and exposed me to pickup games he and his friends played.  Then one day he said I’m going to take you to sign up to play organized ball and I’m going to be with you step by step, if that’s what you want to do.”  It was love at first sight. My Dad was in and out of my life.  But uncle Kevin and my mom, Delores, provided me with the family support and encouragement necessary to move forward.  I’ll never forget a promise my dad made to appear at my first game.  Uncle Kevin came to take me, and I said my dad is coming to take me.  He replied, “then he’ll have to meet us there”, but you’re not going to be late for your first game!  Uncle Kevin has been there always.  It taught me an important lesson.  Some people say they’re going to do something, others just actually do it!

White attended Cradock high school in Portsmouth, Virginia from 1985 to 1987.  He played varsity basketball during his sophomore, Junior, and senior year; it was at that time he competed against the great Alonzo Mourning.   Although he graduated a year earlier than Mourning, he remembered playing against him and the Indian River high school team at least twice a year, witnessing firsthand the evolution of a young Alonzo transforming into the predominant player the NBA would come to know as Zoe.

Julius Erving (Dr. J) flies through the air. Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia.

White led by example as a player and encouraged his teammates to do the same.  During his stint at Cradock high school, White held the single season and career assist titles as well as 2nd team All City and All District Team Honors. 

A humble leader with strong physical attributes, he patterned his playing style to that of NBA Hall of Famer Maurice Cheeks.  This was fitting since his favorite player and role model was Maurice’s teammate, Julius Erving (Dr. J).  White added, “Cheeks was a key player whose main role was to get the ball in the hands of high impact scorers like Dr. J.  I respected and emulated that.”

A young Derek White, Sr., dribbles to the goal. Photo Courtesy: D. White, Sr.

 After graduating high school, White went to New Hampshire Tech (1988-1991), White said, “My first two years at New Hampshire were going well. I had received numerous accolades about my play and the effort. But due to my grandmother’s failing health I needed to be closer to home.

Once home I managed to injure my knee again. I recovered and transferred to Christopher Newport College (1991-1993). But my initial success was not repeated there for various reasons… another life lesson I needed to accept and grow from.”

In 1995, he had an opportunity to play oversees in Australia and gave it a go until forced in 1996 to stop, once again due to knee problems.  Up to this point White had a trail of surgeries from high school, college, and the pro ranks.  A total of five knee surgeries; three on the right and two on the left.  A possible sixth surgery loomed in the future if he decided to try and continue pursuing his basketball career.  He had reached his fork in the road and any future decisions had to be faced with honesty and conviction. 

I asked White when he found himself in this situation and looked back at the path he had been on, from an early age to now, what were the thoughts and challenges that ran through his mind?  What made him decide to re-prioritize by sharing his experiences with others, young and old alike?

White replied, “In my life some of the mistakes I made I didn’t realize till much later. School choices, social choices, friends, you name it.  An underage drinking incident nearly ended my basketball career before it got started. I was in the ninth grade and one day after JV basketball practice, I hung out with the older players on the team. We were drinking and decided to go back to school to see the varsity game. Not being accustomed to drinking, I got terribly sick and the incident was recorded on video. The school coach, the principal and my mom saw the recording and were unhappy about the choice I had made and removed me from the team.

I wanted to hide and didn’t want to return to school. My mom said I had made my bed by making the wrong choice and therefore had to lay in it. It was only after I returned home from college during my freshman year that I discovered that the whole school had seen the video. Also, it was the first time I had viewed it and I was asked to speak and talk about it as well as the embarrassment of it all. But I overcame the humiliation.

So, I’m going through this effort now to reach and guide young people, not for myself, but for somebody else.  Whether it’s my kid or someone else’s kid. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve had to understand and accept; everything I went through good or bad. During the early part of my life when adversity showed up, they can benefit from that experience now.  I recall asking myself “why me, why me.” What am I suppose to do with this situation?

What am I suppose to learn from it so I can help somebody else?  It took me a minute.  I’m not going to lie; it was a while and I looked in the mirror and faced up to it.  I understood that one thing was a human thing to ask why me?  The other thing was a revelation thing to accept it and know why it’s me.”

White said, “the love of basketball kept me alive… It kept me out of the streets and away from the people who wouldn’t be good associates or friends. The dream of a professional career was viable if my body held up. But it didn’t turn out that way.  Honesty and self-appraisal required that I defer my dream.”

However, this was not the end of the story for Derek White, Sr., as life would have it his son 15-year-old Derek White, Jr., urged him to coach and teach him a few pointers.  So, he began teaching him along with his sisters Denae and Tiffani the do’s and don’ts of the game.  When it became obvious that Derek Jr., was ready for the next level, Derek Sr., asked his friend Lamont Strothers who formerly played for the NBA Portland Trailblazers (91-92) and Dallas Mavericks (92-93) to help develop his son’s talents.  Lamont in turn asked Derek Sr., to assist in coaching the AAU team.

This was his first time coaching and opportunities in various leagues and schools followed.  White said upon reflection he knew he was playing on borrowed time, so, coaching youth presented a chance for him to share his legacy with his kids and other youth.

Coach White with members of the KAPPA Cardinals. Photo Courtesy: D. White, Sr.

In closing, I asked him what lessons he sought to instill in the next generation, and whether he had any regrets?

Derek and wife Shawnie enjoying a moment at home. Photo Courtesy: S. White.

He said, “As an adult I don’t have any regrets. I learned about life and the true consequences of real-life decisions.  I want them to learn to give 100% effort which is a key principle in living life, learn to be disciplined and apply that toward academics, learn leadership.  Regardless of what you go through, good or bad, learn from it. Surround yourself with people that have your best interest in life. When you come to your fork in the road… make great decisions about life and your future.  Family, great friends and great decisions. Remember, that’s what’s important!”

White further added,”I am often told by my kids, parents and others that many of the kids I’m able to coach go on to productive lives via college, the military and other careers.  More importantly, they avoid the pitfalls that would lead to prison.  I remember kids growing up who played better than me who went down the wrong path of alcohol, drugs, and crime… In the end I wish that this next generation of youth have a happy career, making an honest living, making great decisions along the way!”

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