The parking lot was empty.
Fans hadn't yet left their homes.
Players and media were just making their way into the building—but a familiar noise could be heard.
A basketball was swishing through a net. Over and over again.
The culprit was Trevor Ariza, already dressed in his warm-ups, alone on the court, hoisting jump-shot after jump-shot. The sweat-drenched swing-man was intensely focused on the rack of balls by his side and the basket that stood twenty feet away.
This was a regular occurrence back in 2006—when Ariza was a member of the Orlando Magic.
At that point his jump shot was inconsistent and needed tweaking, which is exactly what he aimed to do during those afternoon workout sessions.
To anyone who has witnessed his outstanding work ethic and drive, it’s clear that he isn’t satisfied with mediocrity. He isn't happy just being in the league and isn't content with being a career role player. Trevor Ariza is constantly working to improve his game because he wants more than that.
“Everybody wants to play. Everybody wants to be a starter, be an All-Star, be whatever, be the best that they can be. That's what I'm trying to do."
But where did this motivation and focus come from?
Over time, part of it developed as more and more doubters questioned aspects of his game. His jump-shot, his ball-handling, and his skinny frame were just several things keeping Ariza from being the total package, according to critics.
But the main source for Ariza’s drive and dedication came from a tragic incident 13 years ago. His father, Ken McClary, played college basketball at Florida before beginning a successful career overseas. During one of the family’s trips to Venezuela in 1996 to watch their father play, Ariza’s two younger brothers Tajh, age six, and Kenny, age nine, were in the hotel with a babysitter. The children began wrestling and horsing around near a window and somehow, Tajh fell to his death 30 stories below.
Trevor, only 11 at the time, would be haunted by Tajh’s death for a very long time.
"It was real hard," he says. "My little brother was my best friend. We slept in the same bed together every night. We did everything together. For my mom—for anyone to lose a child—it was very hard. And Kenny actually saw him fall. He had nightmares for a long time.”
Flying home from Venezuela was just as hard for Ariza, "knowing [his] little brother was in a box on that plane."
During these dark times, Ariza was forced to mature. He turned to basketball and lived for a year with John Fischer, founder of the Hoop Masters Camp.
"That tragedy spurred him and really made him headstrong, and he [had] something he really want[ed] to prove to himself," says former NBA star and family friend Reggie Theus. "There was a period of time when he could've gone either way. He could've gone on the dark side. But he's got a very strong mom who's been there for him the whole time. They pulled each other through."
Quickly, Trevor fell in love with basketball. It was a stress reliever, a peaceful place, and something that came very easy for him. He was blessed with an astounding vertical leap, long arms, and the game in his genes. This was a formula for success and Ariza quickly showed promise.