By Kenny Anderson, a former 14-year NBA veteran whose column below was featured on SportsBlog.com, a content partner of the NBPA that focuses on first-person stories with pro athletes
I knew it was a matter of time before I got the phone call. That call came from my stepbrother on Sunday. My father, Otis William Brown (“Pops” as I called him), passed away at the age of 73 after battling prostate cancer and other medical complications for the last couple years. He was in and out of the hospital these past few months, and when I last visited him, Pops told me he’d stopped taking his medication because of how the side effects made him feel. I knew the end was coming.
On Wednesday, as I drove from my home in South Florida to a speaking engagement at the Bethune-Cookman University Male Empowerment Summit in Daytona, I had an opportunity to think. Wow, it’s really hitting me that both of my parents are now gone. I could have cancelled the appearance due to this family emergency, especially because I am heading to New York on Thursday. But talking to young men about my story is like therapy for me. And Pops is a big part of that story.
He had a rough life—drugs, alcohol—and my mom told him to stay away from me. I didn’t know it at the time, but Pops watched me grow up from afar. He sat in the stands at my games, and I didn’t even know it. He eventually got sober, and my parents even ended up reuniting and getting married. They had some great years together before my mom passed away. But he put his body through a lot before he turned his life around, and I think it all caught up to him at the end.
I met my father for the first time on Thanksgiving in 2000 when I was 30 years old. My mom reconnected all of us and encouraged me to respect and get to know the Brown family, who are great people. I chose to forgive my father. And now that I have my own kids, I understand that sometimes the things that don’t work out are beyond your control. We have to forgive and move on. When you are a kid, you don’t know all of the reasons why certain things happen, and why parents are sometimes forced to do what they have to do.
In these last 15 years, Pops and I became good friends. We were homeboys. He told me about life and his own experiences. He was well respected in Harlem, where he lived most of his life. He had a big heart and helped a lot of kids. He was also a great dresser (I think I got that from him). I learned as an adult that Pops was a great man; it just didn’t work out for my parents to raise me together at the time.
I’m definitely sad, but I’m feeling almost guilty and bothered that I don’t feel a certain way. I even spoke to my therapist about it. I guess it’s because Pops didn’t raise me. I have some great memories with him as an adult, but a father should be there when you are a child. At a time when I needed a father, he was not there. Thankfully, I had mentors who raised me. Even though I forgave him many years later, I think that’s why my emotions are kind of all over the place.
But the thing is, I am blessed. I know people who never met their father. Even though he didn’t raise me when I was a youngster, I got 15 years of a solid relationship with my father—15 years to get to know him and be in each other’s lives. And I’m so grateful he was able to get to know his grandchildren (my kids), and they really loved him.
This week, I’ll be sharing a positive message and share how I overcame struggle. Even with what’s going on in my family life, it means so much to me to reach out to these young men who think that they don’t have a shot at a productive life. I’m here to tell them that you can’t make excuses, like saying that you came from a single-parent or drug-infested home. You have to set your goals and dedicate yourself to those goals. As a 14-year NBA vet who graduated high school and went to Georgia Tech for two years, I try to give these guys hope.
I try to use my life lessons and experiences when I speak to young people. And I’ll be talking about my father this week. I have to. He’s the reason that I am constantly working on bettering myself and making sure that I’m the best father I can be to my children. I’m a work in progress, but I’m trying to get the best out of Kenny Anderson. I don’t know what that is right now, but I’m working toward it.
I’m heading to New York on Thursday morning and Pops’ funeral is on Friday in Harlem. I’ll be spending time with my family through the weekend (I have two stepbrothers and two stepsisters; they are the four children he raised, and they have been watching over him since he was sick). I anticipate this being a very emotional week because he was a real fixture in the family. As he got older and started understanding and taking responsibility for his mistakes, he really worked on himself.
I’ll remember my father as a great, classy man. I’m blessed to have had Pops—he was one cool dude.
Check out SportsBlog.com for more stories.