Wherever it is Heat rookie Bam Adebayo ends up calling home here in South Florida over the next couple weeks, you can count on at least one framed photo coming with him from his dorm room at the University of Kentucky.
It’s the one of the green single-wide trailer home he lived in with his mother, Marilyn Blount, a meat farm cashier who raised him on her own, deep in the backwoods of Little Washington, North Carolina.
“That picture will go everywhere with me,” Adebayo, 19, said Friday afternoon at his introductory news conference at AmericanAirlines Arena as team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra sat shoulder to shoulder with him and beamed with delight.
“It’s always been something that I hang on to, and it’s always going to be a part of me now. So, just looking at that every day, it shows what I came from and how I made it out. It was rough for me. Everybody had bigger and better things than I did. But it was all good because I didn’t get discouraged. I kept fighting, and I kept working hard, and it paid off for me.”
A surprising selection by the Heat with the 14th pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft, Adebayo, a 6-10, 243-pound athletically gifted big man, will soon begin a new life where money is no longer a concern.
Slotted to make $2.5 million his rookie season in Miami, Adebayo will begin playing for the Heat on Wednesday when the team hosts a three-day rookie camp before the start of Summer League play in Orlando on July 1.
Adebayo, who averaged 13 points, eight rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game in his one season at Kentucky, is expected to eventually become a rotational player for the Heat as either a backup to center Hassan Whiteside or as a power forward who provides energy and effort.
But before basketball becomes the primary focus of conversation, know the Heat love Adebayo as much for his background and the way he fits into the franchise’s hard-working culture as they do his yet untapped potential (Riley likens him to former six-time All-Star Shawn Kemp). It’s a lot of what Riley talked about shortly after the draft ended early Friday morning, and it is what Spoelstra echoed later Friday afternoon.
“So much of this league is about finding the kind of basketball player that fits your culture, fits your style of play, fits your work ethic and Bam checks so many boxes,” Spoelstra said. “And he has a great story that we really connected with. We believe in these kind of stories, guys that have to show perseverance and great individual character. That matters. That matters in this league.”
Born in Newark, New Jersey,. and raised in what he described to Sports Illustrated as a rough neighborhood, Adebayo and his mother didn’t move to her native North Carolina until he was 7. His father, John Adebayo, reportedly didn’t play an active role in his upbringing. Bam and his mother lived with his aunt until she was finally able to buy the green trailer with the cashier’s job and the two began their new life.
His mother would make the short quarter-mile walk to the meat farm every day whether it was sweltering, raining or snowing outside and worked long hours. Yet, she always found the time to keep the trailer tidy and her son’s belly and heart full.
“My motivation is the lady in the front in the green,” Adebayo said Friday as his mother smiled. “It’s always been my Mom.
“It was hard for me [growing up] because my mom worked so much. I barely saw her and I was in school. She would come home from work, she would cook and go to sleep. So I’d come from practice and she would already be asleep. So it was like, ‘OK, good night.’ She woke me up every morning, even in high school she still woke me up. I guess it was a sense of her being a mother that she had to do it.”
Adebayo, who didn’t begin playing organized basketball until he was 13, said he never felt like he missed out on anything as a child. Once he needed a car in high school, his mother saved up and bought him one.
“She was always good to me,” he said. “I never wanted for nothing. She made sure I had everything I needed. Just having that just humbles you. I had a 1999 Ford Explorer, and it was the color of some type of brown. But she got me a car. I was happy with that. When you’re pulling up to school sometimes, you look next to you and there’s some dude with like a BMW. I was just grateful that I had a car. I was always humble. I never took anything for granted.”
Asked Friday, hours after flying in from the draft in New York, about the first gift he would get his mother, Adebayo replied, “a trip to the Cheesecake Factory.”
Even though most NBA mock drafts had Adebayo going late in the first round or early in the second round (even as late as last month’s NBA Draft Combine), Kentucky coach John Calipari always believed Adebayo was a lottery talent.
And Calipari says the Heat have a gifted player with so many other skills he has yet to put on full display, including a 17-foot jump shot that could ultimately prove to be the key to Adebayo flourishing into a draft-day steal.
Adebayo said the lessons he learned through Calipari’s coaching at Kentucky have him more than prepared to deliver for the Heat as a rookie. He said he’s ready to bang with the big boys.
“Physicality, it comes with competitive nature,” Adebayo said. “So if you’re not going to get in there and bang, I don’t consider you a competitor. I’ll do whatever the [Heat] ask. If they tell me to get in there and bang, I’m fine with that because I compete, and I’m never going to back down from anybody else. The 19 year-old thing, I’m growing into my body, you know I’ve still got two years left to grow. So I think I’m still growing, still getting bigger and still getting more athletic.”