This Former NBA Player Has a Message for Kids: ‘Things Are Going to Suck Sometimes’

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Courtesy Nanggaahlaangstangs

THE QUOTE IN HIS high school yearbook goes like this: “If I’m remembered for being a good basketball player and nothing else, I have done nothing with basketball.” Nanggaahlaangstangs, a member of the Haida and Tlingit tribes in Alaska, wrote that message as a senior nearly a decade and a half ago. The six-foot-nine, 245-pound pro prospect, who once went by the anglicized name Damen Bell-Holter, went on to star at Oral Roberts University and play with the Boston Celtics.

But he always kept his message in mind. At 19, he started his first basketball camp for other Indigenous players. Within a couple years, he’d run dozens more on reservations around the country—and then many more by the time he left hoops in 2017. He now runs those camps full-time. “My first mindset was ‘I want more Native basketball players playing at the highest levels,’ ” he says about developing young players’ athletic skills. Now he knows it’s not that simple: “There’s a lot of things we have to navigate through first.” Thankfully, he’s learned plenty of lessons along the way.

Teamwork Wins the Day

“Being a great teammate— what does that mean?” Nanggaahlaangstangs asks. It’s rarely about being the highest scorer. You can accomplish more by “cheering and empowering others” to get stronger.“What does it mean to show up on time? What does it mean to pay attention to all these small little things that young athletes can kind of tie over into real life?”

Stay 100 Percent Transparent

“I was not good at academics and had a ton of trauma back home—domestic violence, alcoholism,” he says. As an Afro-Indigenous athlete, he also faced anti-Blackness and racism within his community. “I tell [players] about all the difficulties and that things are going to suck at times.” That way they’re better prepared to cope.

Listen. Shhhh! No, Really.

“We’re not taking the time to listen and get a better understanding of [all the people] who are carrying hurt,” he says. “If I can create space for men who will show up as better fathers, then we’re going to be creating a better generation.”

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