Ten NBA Players Who Grew Up Poor

Key Takeaway: Basketball has been a vital outlet for many kids, leading some from poverty to successful NBA careers. The stories of players like Ben Wallace, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Jimmy Butler show how the simple game paved the way for their success despite challenging beginnings.

It is no secret that basketball has been an outlet for millions of kids across the country that the simple act of attempting to put an orange basketball into a basket has been an outlet and for the best one percent,  even a career choice and a way out of getting into the inner city.

Why? The game is simple and all you need is a ball and pavement. In some cases, players even used less than that. When basketball was invented James Naismith just used a peach basket.

Top 10 NBA Players Who Grew Up Poor

Today we are going to talk about 10 players who didn’t have the easiest start in life but eventually managed to obtain millions by making it to the league, so here we go.

Ben Wallace

Ben Wallace, who grew up in White Hall, Alabama made his money before making it to the NBA in one of two ways: 1. Cutting hair; 2. Working on the plantation.

In a matter of fact, the hair-cutting business is the exact business Wallace used to earn money to go to a basketball camp where he had to make $50.

Wallace spent about half of his career with the Detroit Pistons at nine seasons and also spent some years playing for Washington, Chicago, Orlando, and Cleveland.

As for his accolades, Wallace is a four-time all-star, two-time rebounding champ, led the league in blocks in 2001-2002, played in the NBA championship in 2004, and won the NBA defensive player of the year four times.


Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon, whose nickname was the dream had four brothers and a sister and was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and was the third oldest of eight children. Having grown up in Nigeria, Olajuwon’s first sport was actually soccer where he played goalie. Because he played goalie he was able to transfer his footwork from soccer to low-post basketball.

As for Olajuwon’s playing days after high school, he played in Houston for both college and the bulk of his NBA career (he played for Toronto in his last year before retiring in the 2001-2002 season.

In the NBA Olajuwon was a 12-time all-star, led the league in blocks three times, won two NBA championships, won defensive player of the year twice, won two NBA finals, and was the 1993-1994 NBA MVP.


Jimmy Butler

Imagine something for a moment or not. Should forewarn you this is ugly. Imagine being 13 years old and literally being called ugly by your mother and getting kicked to the curb. This was quite literally the story for Jimmy Butler.

Fortunately, for Butler that was not the end of his story as he spent some time going from house to house and at friends’ and families’ houses until he eventually got adopted by the same Mom as Broncos wide receiver Leslie Jordan. After graduating from high school Butler went to Marquette and then of course eventually made the NBA.

As for Butler’s accolades he has been to six all-star games, was the 2014-2015 most-improved player, and led the league in steals during the 2020-2021 season.


Leon Powe

Leon Powe, who grew up in Oakland, California was one decision away from being a burglar and would have been part of a group of people who lived in his neighborhood (not clear if it was necessarily a gang). However, he managed to get away at the right time and this was during his teenage years.

The two main reasons why Powe grew up poor are because his father left him at two years old combined with the fact that his house got caught in a major fire at seven years old, leaving them living in homeless shelters, cars, and motels for several years.

While that eventually got resolved and he managed to get his way into high school and graduate that doesn’t mean he didn’t face more adversity as he lost his mom in 11th grade. However, Powe did eventually end up on the Boston Celtics and one of the teams he was on was the club that won the NBA championship during the 2007-2008 season.

Note: All information for Leon Powe came from this article.


Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore Maryland had fates similar to that of Leon Powe except for one detail. Instead of Anthony’s father getting up and leaving his family he passed away at his home in Baltimore, Maryland from cancer when he was two years old, however, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have an impact on his life by any stretch of the imagination.

Anthony went to Towson Catholic High School and then spent one year at Syracuse where he was a part of a team that won the national championship during the 2002-2003 season and was far from the only one that eventually became one of the best players of his NBA in the draft class.

There are also a few other players you might have heard of called Lebron James, Chris Bosch, and Dwayne Wade, and did not disappoint with his accolades. Anthony had 10 all-star games, was the 2012-2013 scoring champ, and made the 2003-2004 all-rookie team.


Giannis Antetokouknmpo

Giannis Antetokouknmpo, aka the greek freak, is definitely a physical specimen. But that doesn’t always mean he had it easy by any stretch of the imagination. One of the basic issues that both himself and his parents had was the basic ability to find a job since his parents migrated from Lagos, Nigeria, and birthright citizenship isn’t automatic in Greece, which is where Antetokouknmpo grew up.

However,  a man by the name of Spiros Velliniatis was able to change his life at 13 years old. He told Antetokouknmpo and his brothers to start playing basketball. What was he doing when Velliniatis find him? Playing tag with his brothers when he noticed his blinding speed.

The 7′ 242 pound forward is a six-time NBA all-star, won two MVPs, 2020-2021 all-star MVP, 2021 NBA champion, 2013-2014 all-rookie team, 2016-2017 most improved player, 2019-2020 defensive player of the year and 2021 NBA finals MVP.

Note: All information comes from this article.


Derrick Rose

While Derrick Rose grew up with a lot of struggles with growing up in a dangerous neighborhood, one of which he grew in, in Englewood, Illinois.  He also had to grow up with another skill – mental toughness. Why? When watching his favorite cartoon, the power rangers he often had to eat powdered sugar.

When Rose finally got his shot at the NBA he managed to start at his hometown Chicago Bulls and has also played for the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Rose made the all-star team three times, was on the 2008-2009 all-rookie team, was 2008-2009 rookie of the year, and was the 2010-2011 NBA MVP.


Zach Randolph

While Zach Randolph clearly got a rough start and was without a male influence in his life he has used that energy to help his teammates stay out of trouble but that doesn’t mean he wants to stay true to his roots. Randolph played basketball at Marion High School in Indiana.

Randolph made the all-star team twice and won the most improved player in 2010-2011.


Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson, who grew up in Hampton, Virginia couldn’t seem to keep out of trouble and lived in atrocious living conditions which included having to regularly live with sewage inside his home.

Iverson didn’t have much support at home as his mom was 15 when he was born. Like many kids, Iverson used basketball as an escape and was good enough to be the number one pick in the 1996 NBA draft.

Iverson had a storied career with a storied franchise. With the Philadelphia 76ers, he was an 11-time all-star, led the league in steals three times, was on the 1996-1997 all-rookie team, won all-star game MVP twice, led the league in scoring four times, 1996-1997 rookie of the year and won MVP in 2000-2001.


Larry Bird

While everyone who is a Larry Bird fan knows that one of his nicknames is the hick from French Lick but I would be willing to be that you didn’t know he also had a second nickname – Mr. Clean.

Not because he was ever in a Mr. Clean commercial or he ever had a bald head but because he couldn’t stand to be dirty. Outside of playing basketball, Bird also spent some time as a garbage man.

Bird became a Boston sports icon and was known the most for his trash talking and is credited with helping bring the NBA back to life with his partner in crime of Magic Johnson who played for the rival Lakers.

He was a 12-time all-star, was the 1979-1980 rookie of the year, 1981-1982 all-star game MVP, two-time finals MVP, and three-time regular season MVP.


Final Words

So after reading the stories of all these players what does that prove you may wonder? That if you have mental toughness, use adversity as an opportunity to make yourself something special and develop the skills for whatever it is you want to do with your life.

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