Sports are often the best and most proper way to escape from tough realities, with thousands of children getting their life literally saved by playing competitive sports, developing a lot of discipline and getting a chance to help their families after some really harsh years.
Over the course of history, we’ve seen hundreds of heartbreaking stories about young athletes that can’t get out of their toxic environment, while others manage to be disciplined and lucky enough to actually make it and have a better life for them and those around them.
And of course, the NBA isn’t the exception to that rule, as at least half the players that are stars nowadays actually grew up in very poor environments, and today we’ll let you know about 15 players that had a really tough time growing up before making it in the Association.
15. DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan had a really tough childhood growing up amid the Compton Crips, spending most of his life as a witness of violence, constant assaults, drug deals and you name it, finding a way out with his restless work ethic and determination to improve in basketball.
As a matter of fact, he’s still kind of linked with some of the Crips, shouting them out when he does an outstanding play, as they actually protected him and encouraged him during his youth to become the All-Star athlete he’s nowadays.
14. Kevin Durant
The reigning NBA Finals MVP also had it quite difficult on the early going, as his father was involved in a lot of drug problems in the streets of Washington and eventually abandoned him, his three brothers and his mother, the “real MVP”.
Durant had to be constantly moving from a lousy place to another, as his mother struggled to put food on the table and pay the bills, but she was always extremely supportive with Kevin and his desire to play basketball, stating that his height was a blessing and he shouldn’t let bullies make fun of him because of it.
13. LeBron James
Before being one of the league’s best player through history, the young LeBron James had a really tough time growing up in Akron, Ohio. With his father abandoning him and his mother being just 16 years old, nobody would ever expect this poor kid to become one of the world’s most influential and dominant athletes.
His mother really struggled to find a steady job and was constantly being involved in toxic relationships with drunks and junkies, LeBron was finally able to escape that horrid reality when one of his mom’s boyfriends gave him a basket ball and completely turned his life around.
12. Jimmy Butler
Before becoming the huge NBA star he is nowadays, Jimmy Butler had one of the most heartbreaking, yet exciting life stories, as the Marquette product was abandoned by his father shortly after he was born in Tomball, Texas back in 1989.
Nevertheless, young Jimmy managed to stay on course and focused on sports, mainly as a football player, as he was a passionate football fan just like every other Texas kid since the first day of history, but also being quite a talented baseball player before finally settling for the hoops when he finally grew several inches.
However, things weren’t going quite so well for a young Jimmy Butler, as his own mother kicked him out of his house at the tender age of 13, making him bounce from one couch to another and spending some nights in the gym to try and avoid the streets, being homeless as a mere teenager.
Then, just after the start of his junior year, another athlete from his high school challenged him to a three-point shootout and instantly hit it off with Jimmy, inviting him to stay at his place as much as he needed to to get back on his feet.
So, after that loving family took Jimmy under his wing, the guard/forward was able to take his game to another level with the tranquility of a home, as well as improving his school life and even his relationship with his peers.
Butler winds up attending Marquette University and even recently got his college degree while also being a standout athlete and a growing NBA star, proving that hard work and discipline really pay off.
11. Caron Butler
Caron Butler was pretty much doomed to a lowlife way of living, growing on in the projects as a drug dealer at just the tender age of 11 years old in Wisconsin in one of the most dangerous towns in the nation.
Gladly, basketball was a way out for the 2011 NBA Champion that blossomed into one of the most reliable and consistent role players in the league during his prime after being arrested over 14 times at the age of 15.
10. Dwyane Wade
Born in Chicago, Illinois, the 3 time NBA Champion had a really tough path to stardom, growing up without a father figure and with his mother being an alcoholic, having to look up for him and his older sister.
Eventually, Wade even had to move with his practically unknown father and 3 stepbrothers just to be able to walk out the door without being at risk of being gunned down in his former neighborhood, struggling with bad grades and not being able to play as much as he wanted in college due to his lousy qualifications before becoming one of the best shooting guards in the history of the game.
9. Kris Dunn
The recently acquired Chicago Bulls standout prospect point guard was one of the most exciting players to watch during his Providence stint, eventually becoming 5th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft, growing up without a father and with a criminal mother and without being able to grab a bite without having to play basketball for it or just merely steal it.
Eventually, his father found them after his mother took Kris and his older brother John away from him, rescuing both kids from that broken home and providing them with a roof and food on their plate.
8. Ben McLemore
Ben McLemore sure isn’t having the NBA career everybody expected out of him as a youngster with a very impressive Kansas NCAA stint, struggling to find consistent playing time and not proving his worth despite having a lot of chance to do so in the early going.
Still, he should be quite pleased considering how his life has turned around after really struggling during his childhood with several academic issues and harsh poverty, spending a lot of nights without anything to eat and having his older brother locked up on a maximum security facility.
7. Derrick Rose
Just like Wade, Derrick Rose had a very rough childhood growing up in the low neighborhoods of Chicago, spending his whole life without a father figure with his mother having the tough task of taking him away from the dangerous Englewood streets.
His three older brothers were also quite tough on him to make him a disciplined young fella before becoming the league’s youngest MVP several seasons ago and earning a huge paycheck at the end of every month.
6. Serge Ibaka
Before becoming the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and one of the most dominant rim protectors of the early 2010’s the young Serge Ibaka grew in Brazzaville, one of the worst and most dangerous cities of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Growing up amid gunshots, smuggling, drug dealers, civil war and who knows what else, the African power forward was keen to get his family the hell out of there, working really hard on school and playing basketball to make his way into Spain and eventually, the NBA.
5. Amar’e Stoudemire
Most youngsters don’t remember how dominant Stoudemire was during his years at Phoenix, but he was actually one of the most entertaining and strong players to watch not so long ago before injuries took their toll on him.
Born in Florida, the young Amare had to grow up really fast, as he was yet another son of a criminal, with his mother spending most time in jail for dozens of different reasons. Spending most of the time alone on the streets and even being forced to sleep without a roof above him, STAT was kind of rescued by a local police man that got him into basketball at the age of 14 after spending most of his childhood obsessed with football.
4. Carmelo Anthony
Before becoming Team USA’S historic leading scorer and one of the most prolific small forwards in the history of the game, Carmelo Anthony had to live with 8 people in a 2 room bedroom in the Brooklyn projects, dreaming of becoming Bernard King and wear the Knicks jersey.
Sadly, his dream of becoming a Knick hasn’t been as grateful as he expected it to be, but considering he’s getting a lot of cash instead of having to deal with the Brooklyn and Baltimore rough streets, he should be more than pleased with how his life turned around thanks to this beautiful game.
3. Allen Iverson
With his mom being just 15 years old when he gave birth to him, his father on a life sentence and his step father being a crack dealer, Iverson had one of the roughest childhoods you could expect, spending a lot of time in friends’ houses due to lack of food or guidance before being practically adopted by one of his trainers on his way to becoming one of the most talented football and basketball players in the nation.
Still, some false accusations about him taking part in a brawl in a bowling alley forced Iverson to spend some time in jail before becoming the 1st overall pick and one of the most dominant and talented players this game has ever seen.
2. Stephen Jackson
Stephen Jackson was one of the most strong, fierce and dominant NBA players during his prime, growing up as yet another son of a single mother in the streets of Texas before adopting a thug lifestyle and attitude that stayed with him until this day.
In fact, reports state that Gregg Popovich actually told him to give up marijuana before signing with the San Antonio Spurs, as the violent and hard tempered guard / forward was quite volatile against his rivals and he struggled with suspensions through his entire career.
1. DJ Mbenga
Also born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DJ Mbenga also had a really rough path to the NBA, spending 17 years there until his father’s term with the local government got to an end and the new administration was keen to imprison or kill pretty much everybody who had anything to do with their predecessors
So, when the civil war broke down DJ was actually incarcerated for 9 months with a death sentence upon him despite not having committed a single crime until his older brother bribed a security guard to help him escape to Belgium, something out of a Hollywood movie for sure.