When retired NBA player Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway decided to help out and old friend, he never knew that it would lead to one of the most rewarding years of his life. That year is detailed in his new book “On These Courts: A Miracle Season that Changed a City, a Once-Future Star, and a Team Forever.” The Memphis, Tennessee native was raised by his grandmother in the city’s rough Binghampton neighborhood. When one of his oldest friends, Desmond Merriweather, the coach at Lester Middle School in Binghamton, was stricken with colon cancer, he asked Hardaway to take over his team.
Hardaway said yes, beginning the start of an incredible journey for him and the group of players who went on to win an improbable championship. After 15 years in the league, injuries retired him four years ago. He was trying to figure out his life after pro basketball when the opportunity arose.
“Lester Middle was an elementary school and high school that I went to years ago. They closed it down and reopened it as a middle school and I went back a couple years ago. One of my good friends was diagnosed with colon cancer and he was the coach. They gave him about 24 hours to live. He survived the cancer and started coaching again at Lester, and when he went back to coaching, he was still doing chemo and wasn’t strong enough to continue the head coaching job and he asked me to come over and help. The very first practice I went to, I kind of fell in love with the team and just stayed there from that point on.”
Hardaway didn’t just improve the basketball team standings, he also helped motivate the young men to do better in school and become more motivated overall.
“This is my old neighborhood which makes it even sweeter. I went back to my old school, where my mother went to school, where my whole family went to school. I’m coaching the kids of the people I grew up with and really trying to inspire and motivate them to do what they want to do in life.”
Hardaway credits the Boys and Girl’s Clubs and coaches there from keeping him from the drugs and gangs that menaced his neighborhood. Obviously, it paid off with his NBA career. Though his success with Lester might make him more attractive to college and even pro coaching opportunities, Hardaway says he enjoys working with elementary school kids.
“I really want to stay in the grass roots,” Hardaway says. “I really want to stay with middle school and elementary age kids because that’s where it all starts. I’m going to try to instill thiings in them when they’re younger. They are easier to teach when they are younger as well, because older guys they kind of think they know it all. I’d rather stay with the kids.”
Also On Black America Web:
This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (6/18-6/24)
25 photos Launch gallery
1. Me & the homie @jaleelwhite #RujohnFoundation Happy to be in Jamaica! Good times
1 of 25
2 of 25
3 of 25
4 of 25
5. Good Morning. Early day in Detroit! Making press rounds for @thebossnetwork's Ladies That Lead Tour. Thank you @traycemadre and @colourbynumbr for my glam.
5 of 25
6. POWER the best show on TV @djenvy, Queens we so big out here. #EFFENVODKA #FRIGO
6 of 25
7. They said u lost a step, wasn't explosive as once was, the best days was in the real view, questioned your drive, your leadership, your commitment, you don't have killer instinct, going back home is the worst mistake in your career, he got the coach fired, players traded, won't work between him and Kyrie, Him and Kev won't work, love your teammates to much, there's no way he can deliver a championship in his hometown, etc etc etc.... But guess what THATS NONE OF MY BUSINESS #StriveForGreatness #ThisOneIsForTheLand #PutSomeRespeckOnMyName Hahahaha!!! Yes sir
7 of 25
8. Oooooh weeee this man right here is responsible for at least three of our four babies!! #JOE ❤❤❤🎤 #rnb #king #voicelikebutter #ForPeetesSake
8 of 25
9. Hanging with my @abcnetwork family! @abcunclebuck tonite y'all check us out ! @anthonyanderson @traceeellisross
9 of 25
10. My broski ( @sayeedshahidi ) and I are on Top 5 Live on @go90 at 5 (which is super duper close)! Make sure to tune in :) #UncleBuck #Blackish
10 of 25
11. Lights out💤 #GoodNight
11 of 25
12. Late nights mornings
12 of 25
13. Ran into the lovely talented @siedahgarrett on this brutiful favvuz deh!
13 of 25
14. #halal #love #thedargans #kattwilliamsSHOW #mashallah when that Jennah piece HIT!! @sweetjennahcollection glasses by @baddieglamaccessories LIZ 😍 @dynamiteko top @dazzledmv and jeans @thevision414 and shoes: @louboutinworld
14 of 25
15. Big Hair and Optical Illusions #OceanDrive #MiamiLiving #coverparty
15 of 25
16. MAMA and THE SAVAGES ... ⚓️ #supportyourlocalgirlgang
16 of 25
17. From the bottom of my ❤️, thank you new followers & old! & hello fellow night owls! #grateful #racheltrue #naturalhair #curlyhair #curlygirl #healthyhair
17 of 25
18. I feel so grateful because I met these amazing young minds, visiting from Houston TX, during their college tour stop today at #usc.These students are ALL extraordinary and embody academic excellence so I'm humbled to have shared a few moments with them to applaud and celebrate their bright futures ahead! Thank you @EmergeFellows for inviting me to speak and blessing me with your love and attention this afternoon!
18 of 25
19. Happy Fathers Day Pops. U taught me how to be a man. Lessons of love, hard work & gratefulness. Sorry the fishing didn't stick. LOL. I Love U!
19 of 25
20. Sky Zone and Ice Cream! Best Fathers Day Ever!! Photo credit @mariahcarey
20 of 25
21. Look what finally came in the mail 😎 #mtvmovieawards2016 💥+🌽! #straightouttacompton
21 of 25
22. Claudia Jordan: ....
22 of 25
23. 'Member that time I almost knocked a bajillion dollar camera off the car? Really? Yeah, me neither! #Greenleaf Episode 2 comin atcha!
23 of 25
24. Full of love. #birthday #Cabo
24 of 25
25. Oh hey! Look who just joined Snapchat
25 of 25