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Steve Francis, dealer at 18, NBA player at 22

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The incredible story of Steve Francis told by … himself. The former NBA star has confided about his childhood, to say the least tumultuous.

Steve Francis is a sacred character. It was when he drove at full speed in NBA rackets, gleaning in passing three selections for the All-Star Game when he still wearing the colors of Houston Rockets. Bling-bling. Raw words. Valves. An icon in Texas whose career eventually derailed after moving to Orlando – Tracy McGrady doing the opposite – in 2004. But to understand the guy, you have to know his story so special. Steve Francis has taken his finest pen to tell it himself on the Players Tribune. The story is hard. Touching. Upsetting. Excerpts.

“Steve Francis: Four years before I flew with Hakeem Olajuwon, four years before challenging Gary Payton, I was selling drugs at a street corner in Takoma Park, Maryland. My mother was dead. My father in prison. We lived at eighteen in one apartment. I had left high school. No studies. Nothing. I built my drug empire all day trying not to be robbed. I played basketball at night. I’m not trying to glorify the drug trade.

But you have to understand where I come from. I grew up in D.C. in the 80s at the time of the crack epidemic. The crack has devastated our entire community. It was like a plague. I saw it. I lived it. And I sold it. My father was famous in D.C. My older brothers too. But my mother insisted that they never put me in there. I had my first job at ten years old. I was doing the phone boy. It was easy. I just had to wait near the phone booth, looking innocent. And when the phone rang, I had to pick up. They were always people looking for drugs or prostitutes. I showed them where to find the dealers and did that the whole day.

I stayed on this corner, doing what I had to do to survive. I have been pointed a million times. I got beaten a million times. But, honestly, the shootings, that’s not what scared me the most. It was … natural. The most frightening thing was drugs. Syringes. The cameos were everywhere. Nurses, teachers, factors. Mayor Marion Barry. Zombies everywhere. I stopped playing basketball completely when my mother died of cancer. I was eighteen. My involvement in the drug trade is soaring.

I had an opportunity to bar myself. It was the faculty of San Jacinto, Texas. My grandmother convinced me that was what my mother wanted for me. It was a culture shock. 30,000 whites and me. But I had stability. Abed. A place in a workforce. Then I went to the University of Maryland at 21 years old. Just think about that: at 18, I was selling drugs and getting robbed. At 22, I was drafted and I shake hands with David Stern.”

The story is worth the detour. Steve Francis recounts his childhood but also his NBA debut, Gary Payton’s trash talking, the arrival of Yao Ming … all in his characteristic style. Vintage but true. Like Steve Francis.

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