These NBA Stars Started Their Lives With Nothing

Athletes | 4/24/20

For every star athlete blessed with a childhood full of opportunity, there are many others who started their journeys with next to nothing. Did you know that Larry Bird was nicknamed “the Hick from French Lick?” Building their careers from humble beginnings, these athletes not only found success but also found ways to honor their roots. These are the best NBA stars who began their careers from the most humble beginnings.

Jimmy Butler Was Kicked Out Of His Childhood Home

jimmy butler miami heat
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

One of the biggest stars in the NBA today, Jimmy Butler found himself on the streets as a teenager. When he was 13 years old, his mother told him, “I don’t like the look of you” and kicked him out of the house.

Butler bounced around friends’ homes until he met Jordan Leslie. Leslie invited him to stay with his family for a few days, which turned into a few years. In 2019, Butler signed a $140 million contract with the Miami Heat.

Larry Bird Was One Of Six Kids

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Focus on Sport via Getty Images
Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Born near French Lick, Indiana, Larry Bird was the fourth of six children in his family. His father was a hard worker who held jobs in construction and factories to make ends meet, but found himself unemployed more often than not.

Larry would become a star in the NBA as a Boston Celtic, where he earned the nickname “the Hick from French Lick.” Today, Bird is back in Indiana as an executive with the Indiana Pacers.

Allen Iverson Couldn’t Stay Out Of Trouble

alleni verson nba
Kirby Lee/Getty Images
Kirby Lee/Getty Images

To say Allen Iverson had a troubled childhood is putting it lightly. Before becoming a Hall of Fame NBA superstar, Iverson couldn’t stay out of trouble with the law. At the same time, his mother couldn’t hold down a job to pay the bills.

Iverson’s antics almost got the best of him when he got into a fight at a bowling alley and was sentenced to four months in prison. Thankfully, his sentence was pardoned and he was able to go back to school and play basketball.

Zach Randolph Was Picked On By His Peers

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Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Zach Randolph grew up poor in the blue-collar community of Marion, Indiana. As his mother struggled to provide for the family, he was forced to wear the same clothes days on end. His classmates and peers used this as ammunition to make fun of the young man.

Now an NBA star, Randolph was able to get the last. As a member of multiple teams, Randolph has earned nearly $150 million in his career.

Derrick Rose’s Family Kept Him On The Right Path

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Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Derrick Rose grew up in a crime-ridden area of Chicago called Englewood. His talent was obvious to his family from a young age, and they worked hard to keep him away from the world just outside his window.

Rose would go on to be drafted by the Chicago Bulls, where he would earn a league MVP award. A knee injury disrupted his career but hasn’t stopped him from being a productive player worth an estimated $34 million.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Shared Shoes With His Brother

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Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

In 1991, Giannis Antetokounmpo and his family moved from Nigeria to Athens, Greece. His parents worked as street peddlers and on orange farms to help keep the bills paid. During training, he and his brother would often be forced to share shoes because the family couldn’t afford to buy each son their own pair.

Since being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks and moving to the United States, Giannis’ life has changed. He has named the league MVP in 2019 and signed a $100 million contract. After the 2021 season, he will be able to re-sign with Milwaukee for $253 million.

Scott Pippen Bought His Childhood Home

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Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

If you ask Scottie Pippen, he would tell you he didn’t grow up poor. He will admit that money was tight, especially after his father had a stroke and could no longer work. Since becoming an NBA icon, Pippen has built a net worth of roughly $50 million.

With his wealth, Pippen bought his childhood home where his mother still lives today. He also bought the land surrounding the house to make it larger and more comfortable for the most important woman in his life.

Ben Wallace Cut Hair To Earn Money

ben wallace nba
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Ben Wallace is the youngest of eight brothers and the tenth of eleven children in his family. With so many mouths to feed, his mother saved money by making all of her children’s clothes. And when the kids needed money, they were forced to work for it.

One year, Wallace wanted to go to a basketball camp that would cost $50. To pay for it, he cut people’s hair for $3 apiece. After earning $91 million as an NBA star, it’s safe to say Wallace will never have to cut hair for money again!

Kevin Durant Loves His Mother

kevin durant and his mother
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

Kevin Durant always saw his mother as his hero. As a child growing up, he watched her work from dusk until dawn to keep food on the table. This work ethic informed his own and helped him achieve his NBA dreams.

When Durant won his first championship with the Golden State Warriors, the first person he found to hug was his mother. Most recently, Durant signed a $164 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets.

Carmelo Anthony Chose Basketball Over Crime

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Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Carmelo Anthony was raised in a neighborhood in Maryland where substance abuse ran rampant. His mother knew he loved basketball, and in order to keep him safe, she would forbid him from playing if ever got into trouble.

When he entered the NBA, Anthony was seen as a franchise saving player for the New York Knicks. He has since gone on to play for several teams as a featured player and has earned millions of dollars in the process.

LeBron James Was Embarrassed As A Kid

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Jason Miller/Getty Images
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Moving with his mother from small apartment to small apartment growing up, LeBron James was too embarrassed to make friends. While you would never think of him as a loner today, that’s exactly what he was, and he found solace in sports.

When one of his coaches learned about James’ living situation, he invited the future star into his home. Today, LeBron James has an estimated net worth of nearly $300 million and has invested heavily back into his hometown of Akron.

Mirza Teletovic Grew Up During A War

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Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Born in Yugoslavia, Mirza Teletovic was seven years old when the Bosnian War began. Chaos surrounded him, and he turned to basketball to find stability, even playing without shoes when he had to.

At 15 years old, Teletovic turned pro in Bosnia. In a few short years, he would grab the attention of NBA teams, and signed with the Brooklyn Nets in 2012. In 2015, he moved on to the Phoenix Suns for one year before signing a three year, $30 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Leon Powe Lived In Motels And Cars

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Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

When Leon Powe was two years old, his father walked out on the family. His mother would work at flea markets to try and make money, but couldn’t afford to rent an apartment. Because of this, Powe’s childhood was spent sleeping in shelters, motels, and even cars.

In his final three years in the NBA, Power earned $2.5 million. When he retired he moved to the Celtics front office and has dreams of becoming a manager one day.

Ben McLemore Went To School For Free Food

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Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Ben McLemore’s childhood home was a 600-square-foot space shared with 10 relatives. His mother worked nights to pay the bills while his oldest brother took odd jobs to help where he could. To keep from starving, McLemore made sure to go to school every day for free meals.

In 2013, McLemore was drafted by the Sacramento Kings, where he played until 2017. In 2019 he signed with the Houston Rockets.

Serge Ibaka Was One Of 18 Children

serge ibaka nba
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Born and raised in the Republic of Congo, Serge Ibaka has 17 brothers and sisters. When war broke out, his family was forced to flee and Ibaka was sent to live with his grandmother in a home without running water or power.

In 2009 Ibaka joined the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he played for seven seasons. In 2017 he was traded to the Toronto Raptors and signed a $65 million extension with his new team.

Matt Barnes Was Surrounded By Violence

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Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

One of the NBA’s longest-tenured players was Matt Barnes. Drafted in 2002 by the Memphis Grizzlies, he retired in 2017 after winning a championship with the Golden State Warriors.

Barnes grew up near Sacramento, California, in a crime-ridden neighborhood. He often found himself forced to both physically and verbally defend his brother and sister. This tough-nosed upbringing followed him to the court, where he built a reputation as one of the league’s best agitators.

Marcus Smart Escaped A Life Of Crime

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Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

A star off the bench for the Boston Celtics today, Marcus Smart’s life wasn’t always so good. Growing up in Lancaster, Texas, Smart was surrounded by gang activity. One of his brothers even became a dealer.

Focusing on sports proved to be the right path for Marcus, who was drafted by Boston in 2014. He has since developed into one of the league’s best sixth men. If the team can further develop his skill set, he could even force his way into the starting lineup.

Caron Butler Discovered His Passion In Prison

caron butler nba
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

By the time Caron Butler was 15 years old, he had been arrested 15 times. With so many strikes on his record, the young man was sent to a juvenile detention center. It was here that Butler changed his focus to basketball and changed his life as a result.

Butler played for 14 seasons in the NBA, retiring in 2018 after being waived by the Sacramento Kings. At his peak, he averaged 20 points per game and was a featured player for the Washington Wizards.

Dwyane Wade’s Life Changed When He Moved In With His Father

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Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dwyane Wade grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where crime and violence were everyday occurrences. His mother had an addiction problem and couldn’t hold down a job. Needing a change of pace, Wade left his mom and moved in with his dad.

In the NBA, Wade won multiple championships and was the face of the Miami Heat for over a decade, earning over $100 million in the process.

Steven Adams’ Brother Introduced Him To Basketball

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Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The youngest of 18 children, Steven Adams didn’t have a lot as a child, and what he did have he generally had to fight his siblings for. Being the runt of the litter, Adams became withdrawn and started skipping school.

It wasn’t until one of his brothers sent him off to a basketball academy that Adams found his path in life. During his senior year of high school, Adams moved from New Zealand to Massachusetts to turn his dreams into a reality.