No profession seems to embody a more “Mama, I made it” moment than signing your first professional basketball contract. But for mere mortals, it’s just to be expected: a lavish, charmed life designated by supermen over 6’4.” But the glory road is flooded with blood, sweat, and tears. And while some celebrate the course with popped bottles and a string of R&B starlets, others are forging a unique path around God and family.
Meet Dallas Lauderdale, a professional athlete who’s relentless in his recovery mission to make it back to the NBA stage. The Ohio State alum has journeyed across the pond in a Euroleague in Poland, and the now-NBA free agent has his eyes deadlocked on NBA training camp this summer. How is he recovering through injury? A purpose greater than himself with Direction Up, a basketball camp for young athletes, and through his faith. He joins the ranks of athletes like Golden State Warriors wunderkind, Steph Curry, Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers, and Rashad Jennings of the NY Giants, who all emphasize that their game reflects their faith.
Learn more about Dallas’ humbling road as a professional athlete, and how he keeps motivated to pursue his ultimate dream: a spot in the NBA.
Global Grind: You’ve been at three different stages of a basketball player’s career: the NCAA, overseas in Poland, and NBA training camps. Can you share a lesson at every stage of your career?
Dallas Lauderdale: In college, that’s when I learned that I wasn’t the biggest, I wasn’t the fastest, I wasn’t the strongest. So, in college I had to learn how to elevate my game from the mental aspect of things, to be able to gain the edge over my opponent. Then when I went to Poland, I was straight out of college, that was a wake-up call. What I learned in Poland may have been not as much basketball-related, but I learned not to take things for granted. Simple things like having ice in your water, I took that for granted in the States, but that doesn’t happen overseas. Because I will say, overseas my first year, that might have been a little easier from a basketball standpoint, than college was for me. Because overseas I was bigger than some of those guys and I was faster, and I was more athletic. And then in the NBA, that’s when it really turned into a business for me. In Poland, there’s a chance you may get sent home, but usually they don’t cut Americans unless you’re just stinking it up. Usually if you’re there, you’re there for a reason. But in the NBA, it’s one of the toughest jobs to get. Even just a training camp invite is difficult.
GG: That sounds so humbling. There’s just this perception that NBA stars are living these amazing lives, it doesn’t even look like you’re having to worry about cuts.
DL: It’s crazy because a lot of people do think that this lifestyle of being a professional athlete is all it’s cracked up to be. But in reality, if you don’t sign a multi-year deal, you are only employed for one year. And so, we get a job. Say we sign the contract in June or July. Ok, we’re set for the next seven, eight months. The season’s over. So then you’re scrambling, trying to get another job, and you’re waiting, and trying to see where the best opportunity is, and that’s a yearly thing! You don’t really have that confidence and that comfort zone of knowing that you have a job. So there are people who, regardless of injury or not, who just don’t get jobs because there are none on the market at that time.
GG: This season we’ve seen athletes who are unapologetically Christian, like Steph Curry and Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers. What is it like having that dynamic in the locker room?
DL: You know the cool thing about being an athlete whether you like it or not: we have a platform. Steph Curry’s platform is different than my platform. But when we play the game, and when we are playing in front of crowds of people and people are watching us, and young kids are looking up to us, we have a platform and we are leaders. A superstar doesn’t have to have a thousand tattoos, doesn’t have to have earrings, doesn’t have to be attention seeking and arrogant, and mean and disrespectful. A superstar can be humble. A superstar can give a tribute to where their talents come from. Everybody has gifts, and so I appreciate Steph for pointing to the Gift Giver. You don’t have to disrespect women. You don’t have to disrespect people in general. You don’t have to get tatted up, you don’t have to get crazy. I’m not saying anything is wrong with all of that, but you don’t have to.
GG: I feel like it’s that way in the media world, on a much smaller scale. I don’t drink, I hang with my dog. How did you deal with teasing?
DL: Every place I’ve been, whether it’s college or Poland or the D League, I know that God has placed me there for a reason; for me, that’s more than basketball. So there have been situations in the locker room where I’ve been the one who’s not going out, who’s not drinking, who’s not smoking, and at the same time, I’m also the one who smooths out arguments or picks up for someone who’s getting picked on. I remember one time we had an intern that was straight up getting bullied. And I had to speak up, because it was absolutely incorrect what my teammates was doing. They thought it was in good fun, but no one knows what this young man was going through. I had to stand up and say something because it was straight up wrong. I understand that there are times where we would get teased or get judged, but at the same time, those men in that locker room, they respect me. I took a stand, and I’m not compromising for anyone or anything to do anything different.
GG: It’s cool that people your age are living in a positive light. And when working with children, you always walk away learning something new about yourself.
DL: The coolest thing about working with kids is that they’re just so innocent. They remind you of what you used to be, and what you should be in the relationship with God. And so, Direction Up is a great thing and there are times when kids come up to me and just want to shoot around me and have fun, and they just ask the craziest questions. They have absolutely no fear. There was one time where I knew it was real when a kid, he was working out in his backyard, and his parents heard him yell to his friend, I’m going to be Dallas Lauderdale today. So in every decision that I make, I understand that it’s bigger than Dallas Lauderdale, it’s bigger than my family. I’m affecting the lives of younger kids who are looking up to me and inspiring to do what I do, what I’ve done, who I am.
GG: Kids are sponges, especially when they latch onto a hero. What’s a mantra you would use during the toughest time rehabilitating, or a song that pushed you through in general?
DL: Through this whole injury process, I questioned if I was ever going to play again. Deep down, I honestly didn’t know. At the same time, there are still people who do believe in me. The people who question motivate me to prove them wrong. And the people who do believe in me motivate me to keep going. At this point, taking two years off, it’ll be tough. But at the same time, there is no limit through the power of God. That has sort of been my motivating thought process. I try to keep my body in shape. I still have the passion for the game. I enjoy the camaraderie, being with the fellas. Until I lose passion in the game, I have to keep pushing.
GG: Where are you in your recovery?
DL: I’d say the plan is to come back this summer and get into some summer leagues and some summer camps. My foot is the big dictator, at this point I’m letting it completely steer this ship. It’s the leader and I’m just the passenger at this point.
GG: What’s your ultimate goal in your career?
DL: NBA. NBA. That’s the dream. One thing that my father told me, “I’m nobody’s hero. I just never let go of my dreams.” From that moment, that conversation sticks in my mind. No matter how impossible it looks, don’t let go of your dreams. I don’t want anyone to settle for anything less than God’s best. Once I do get to the NBA, everything I’ve been through is going to be worth it. I don’t know what the heck I’m going to do. I’m probably going to shed some tears. I know it’s going to be worth it.
PHOTO CREDIT: Dallas Lauderdale