“We may not be able to experience the change that we’re trying to make, but the generations behind us will.”
That’s a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King that you used to tell me all the time.
However, there was a point in my life where I still tried to make changes in others’ lives but I struggled to make a positive change in my life.
For eight years, I lost myself. It started when I was 25. That’s when you died, an injury forced me to retire from the NBA and I moved out of the house where my children lived. All at once, I lost the three most important pieces of my life.
From sunup to sundown, I used to sit in a theater room at my house, play video games and watch movies. Usually, I am a very social person, but I wasn’t happy, I was hiding. Gaining weight and isolating myself, I was depressed and I didn’t even realize it.
But Mom, I want you to know it’s the lessons you taught me that helped me learn to manage my depression and live a healthier life.
]You were 16 when you had me. We lived in Jersey City, where there was a lot of crime. My dad, Charles, worked all the time and we didn’t have much money. But Mom, I always had you. And you were different. You taught me to be different.
When I was about nine years old, you, me and my sister, Melonie, went to the store and ran into this guy. His name was Mark. He told us he just got out of prison.
He said, “Do you have any spare change? Normally, I would not hesitate to knock a woman upside her head and take her money, but I am trying to be better. So, I am just asking.”
You bought him food and then you invited him to our home.
I was like, “Mom, what are you doing?”
I thought you were crazy, but I understood your faith.
Just in case, as you spoke to Mark, I waited on the stairs with a knife in my hand, ready to kill him if he tried to hurt you.
Twenty years later, I ran into him. He’s an evangelist like you. And he said the moment that you took the time to show him compassion and love helped change his life.
He is just one example of someone you helped. You did a lot in the community. The guys who sold drugs or stole from people respected you so much that they left me alone. Everyone knew you and affectionately called you Ms. Dee Dee as a nickname for Diane.
A lot of times, relationships are give and take. You showed me when you give from your heart, without expecting anything in return, you develop more impactful and genuine relationships.
Mom, those genuine relationships – not transactional ones – were critical for me.
During my depression, my now wife, Tiffani, who I have been with for 18 years, was there for me. She listened to me and wouldn’t give up on me. Mom, you never met Tiffani but you would love her. She has your spirit and that’s why I fell head over heels for her. When I needed it most, she gave me unconditional love like you did.
Eventually, I started coaching basketball. I gravitated to kids who were in single-parent families or kids who needed a father figure. After practice, sometimes, I would bring kids home for dinner. I wanted them to see my house and my life, so they can visualize what’s possible for their future.
Like you did with me, I emphasize with my players the importance of education. One child, Brandon, that I coached attended summer school. I took him to a tournament over the weekend. He was playing well and we made it to the final four of 64 teams, but I sent him back on the plane early, like I promised his mom, Ms. Margret, I would. We didn’t want him to miss a day of summer school. He was upset. Coaches were recruiting him at the tournament.
I told him, “If you don’t do your schoolwork, none of that matters.”
Ultimately, he got a scholarship to Seton Hall University.
Also, I got involved with a non-profit organization called Parents USA. We offer parents resources and legal services, allowing them to navigate the justice system better and set their families up for long-term success. We make sure parents know they are not alone.
One situation that resonated with me is this single mom who was on vacation when she left her son and nephew unchaperoned for a moment. She got arrested for child endangerment. We offered her free legal representation, and as a result, they quickly dropped the charges. If we didn’t help her, she would have had to pay a fine. She could have lost her kids and gotten a record, making it harder for her to get a job.
Mom, I am doing well now. My oldest son Anthony is all grown up and working as a technician. Anisa, my daughter, is in school. She wants to either be a veterinarian or an OBGYN, who works with young women who have Sickle Cell Anemia because she too has the disease. I also have a five-year-old son, Roman, who wants to be a basketball player just like me.
You would be just as proud of them as you were of me.
After you passed away, I became a real estate agent, trainer and business owner. I made sure all of my siblings graduated from college as you wanted.
While those eight years where I reached a low in my life were very tough, you told me it’s not the moments when we are on top that makes us better. It is the moments when we are struggling and searching for a direction that builds our character.
What those eight years of struggle taught me, Mom, is that you raised me to know how to make change not only for the future generations but also for myself. You did so by showing me the way to bring the best out of myself is by helping bring the best out of others.
While the loss of you will always hurt me, it’s you who helped me find my way back to happiness.