How badly do you want it?
What lengths are you willing to go to, to get what you desire?
What are you willing to sacrifice?
When someone asks me how I became a professional basketball player, and if I have any advice to help them reach their own goals, these are the questions that I pose. They come from a lesson that I learned very young – if you want something bad enough, whether it is something big or something seemingly small, you will do whatever it takes to earn it. Thinking back on my childhood, I can only laugh at some of the things I did to prove this to be true.
I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. My parents always made sure that there was enough food on the table and clothes on my back, but there was very little for the ‘extras’ in life. I remember walking up and down the aisles of Toys ‘R’ Us as a kid and mentally planning what I would grab if I won a shopping spree and had one minute to fill a shopping cart with whatever I wanted. That was my ultimate fantasy as a kid. What a pipe dream!
There were two things that my younger brother Jeremy and I would go to great lengths to procure: baseball cards and Garbage Pail Kids. If you are between the ages of 33 and 40, you know what I’m talking about. But if you don’t, do yourself a favor and Google them. Trust me, they were a huge deal in the 80’s, and Jeremy and I would pretty much do anything to get our hands on them.
As I mentioned, money was tight at Casa Battier. Hitting Ed and Sandee up for a weekly allowance, or a small loan to fuel our card fix, was simply not an option. So Jeremy and I were left with one option: figure it out.
Fortunately, we lived in the great state of Meeeeechigan (Go Blue) at this time. You see, Michigan is the only state in our union to offer a 10¢ refund for any aluminum can or glass bottle that you return to the store. It’s annoying on the front end, because you have to pay an extra 60¢ deposit on any 6-pack you buy. But for the enterprising, this was an unbelievable opportunity to create liquidity where there previously was none – like my situation at Casa Battier.
Jeremy and I realized early on that most people simply never gathered their cans and bottles or took them back to the store. Maybe they were lazy, maybe they didn’t have the time, or maybe the 10¢ didn’t matter to them. This was the late 1980s, when recycling was only starting to become a common practice – way before the Whole Foods movement became en vogue. Where we lived, we found most people just threw their bottles and cans away, and this recycling program offered incentive for the driven and diligent.
Enter the dumpster-diving Battier brothers – real life Garbage Pail Kids!
I’m pretty sure that my brother and I climbed in every dumpster and garbage can in Birmingham, Michigan that summer, looking for empty soda and beer cans. I was 10, Jeremy was 7 and we were fearless. Was it stinky? Yes. Was it gross? Absolutely. And did we tell our mom and dad? Hell, no! We were highly skilled at our trade – you would be amazed at the success we had finding cans, throwing them in a trash bag and returning them to the store. Those dimes added up quickly, and we made some serious cash as far as kids were concerned! In our eyes, this was the best way to get our grimy paws on as many packs of Topps, Fleer and Garbage Pail Kids as we could.
We simply did what we felt we had to do.
I pride myself on being a problem solver. I like to joke with my wife that there are two types of people in this world: problem identifiers and problem solvers. And isn’t she fortunate to be married to a crack problem solver?! Call it a fixer, call it whatever you want. But finding a way to solve any problem I am faced with has always been a part of my fabric.
Instead of worrying about the ramifications of the narrative (I’m a stinky dumpster diver), I only worried about solving the dilemma (how do I pay for my cards?). I cared not what people said to me when they found out how I spent my summer vacation. I just desperately wanted a Jose Canseco rookie card. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but the mulleted Canseco was a top shelf rookie card at one now-shocking point…)
Do what you have to do, get the cards. Get a Canseco.
This habit of doing what needed to be done carried me from the blacktops of suburban Detroit all the way to my days with the World Champion Miami Heat. I was never the most athletic guy on my teams, and no one would have described me as the most ‘naturally talented’ guy on any roster.*
Yet despite not having the ‘talent’ or raw athleticism of my teammates and competitors, I always found myself on the court in the 4th quarter, in crunch time. My coaches knew that I would always put myself and my team in a position to win by doing whatever the situation required. Diving for loose balls, sacrificing my body, being a pest on defense, and simply being present and focused mentally were all things that kept me on the floor at crunch time. Whatever my team needed, I tried to not only supply, but supply at a high level.
Was it always pretty? No. My scarred knees tell the story of my physical sacrifice for the team. Was I the subject of public scorn and laughter when Kobe or Carmelo would hit jumpers in my face time after time? Absolutely. But none of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was putting myself on the line and getting the job done.
If I didn’t mind trash surfing and the implications of that growing up, why would I care if anyone called me a chump on an NBA court as an adult?
I guess you could qualify this mindset as grit and determination. No one taught me grit, it was a flower that blossomed out of the school of hard knocks, out of every dumpster I climbed into. But again – if you want something badly enough, you will go to great lengths to make it happen. Simple enough, right? For Jeremy and I, we didn’t have any other options. My ten-year-old self wanted, NEEDED those cards. In many regards, our choice was easy, even if a bit smelly.
This is a lesson that, if nothing else, I need my son and daughter to understand, because I believe it is one of the most significant contributors to my personal success.
Sadly, I lost my brother last year. But I will never lose the memories of how we learned these crucial life lessons in our early days together. It is impossible for me to see my own son’s baseball cards on the table at home without thinking back to the days when Jeremy and I knew the daily routes of the trash collectors in our neighborhood. I wouldn’t trade those adventures with him for anything, as gross as they may have been. The spirit of grit, determination and entrepreneurship will always live on between us.
One man’s trash was truly a treasure for a couple of enterprising young brothers just doing what we had to do.
*For what it’s worth, ‘naturally talented’ is a phrase that makes me laugh. There is no such thing. ALL skills are learned and earned.