Michael Beasley Says He's a Changed Man, but Can He Prove It?

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2017

WHITE PLAINS, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Michael Beasley #8 of the New York Knicks is photographed at New York Knicks Media Day on September 25, 2017 in Greenburgh, New York. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Do people change? Michael Beasley thinks so. And, as it so happens, he has an example to offer as proof.  

"Bro," Beasley says, which is how he begins nearly all his stories. It's midnight, and he's sitting with his wife on the living room couch of his Atlanta home, watching his kids run around and scanning online for flights because he needs to head back to his hometown of Washington, D.C., the next morning. He finds one that works and reaches for his wallet, only to realize he left it in his car. He picks up his keys, walks his 6'9" body outside, looks out into his driveway and realizes something is, well, off.

The car, his black 2016 Dodge Ram, it's…gone?

Hmm, Beasley thinks, that's strange. He strolls back inside the house.

"By any chance, did you move my car?" he asks his wife.

"No," she says. "I parked it right where you parked it. You sure you looked for it?"

Beasley laughs at this response as he recounts this story to B/R the next morning over the phone. "Like, it would be in the cracks of the couch or something?" He calls the cops to report the car stolen, cancels all his credit cards, then uses one of his wife's cards to book his flight.

What does any of this have to do with people changing?

"Bro, up until this point I always told myself, 'Man, if somebody ever stole my wallet, stole my car...man, I'm going to be the most gangster guy in the world,'" he says.

(Warning: Tweet contains NSFW language.)

"It's like, Bro, the whole thing reminded me of that Ashton Kutcher movie Dude, Where's My Car? I just don't see a point of being angry at it. You know, it happened; it's gone. I can sit here and be mad, but at the end of the day, it's kind of funny. I just found the humor in it all."

*  *  *

In early August, Beasley, now 28 and nine years removed from being drafted No. 2 overall by the Miami Heat, received a call from Scott Perry, the then-recently hired general manager of the New York Knicks. Beasley, at the time, was a free agent, coming off a solid season (9.4 points in just 16.7 minutes per game and 53.2 percent shooting) for the Milwaukee Bucks and two years removed from a monster year in the Chinese Basketball Association, where he was named league MVP.

The CBA desperately wanted him back. The Shandong Golden Stars had recently offered him a three-year, $15 million deal, per Coral Lu of ESPN China, more money than he'd seen in years and an amount dwarfing the offers he was fielding from NBA teams.

But Beasley was looking for something more than dollars, something no Chinese team could provide. He started speaking with Perry—who called at the urging of Kurt Rambis, who coached Beasley with the Minnesota Timberwolves and now serves as the Knicks' associate head coach—and later with Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek. He heard them both use words like "opportunity," and, more importantly, he noticed what was missing from the team's pitch.

"They didn't mention my past at all," Beasley, who signed a one-year, $2.1 million deal with New York on Aug. 8, says. "They didn't speak to me about money, about playing time, anything like that. All they said was that they wanted to give me an opportunity, and that's all I want."

WHITE PLAINS, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Michael Beasley #8 of the New York Knicks is photographed at New York Knicks Media Day on September 25, 2017 in Greenburgh, New York. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

"Everywhere I go, with teammates, on the phone with other teams, media, [my past] is all anybody wants to talk about," Beasley adds. "You’re asking me when I'm going to grow up and mature, it's like, 'Bro, when are you going to mature?' It's been like five or six years since I've been involved with anything off the court."

Four years, actually. Beasley was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession while driving in Scottsdale, Arizona, in August 2013, just seven months removed from being cited for driving 71 mph in a 45 mph zone with a suspended license and loaded gun. This, after being ticketed two years earlier in Minnesota for possession of marijuana, which happened three years after an incident at the NBA's rookie symposium, where he, two other rookies and two women were in a room that resort security said smelled of marijuana—the rough equivalent of a junior salesman violating office rules during his first company retreat. Not the best way to endear yourself to your current and future employers.

Most seriously, there was a sexual assault and kidnapping accusation from a woman in January 2013. Police investigated the complaint, according to the Arizona Republic, but charges were never filed. The woman filed a civil suit two years later, but the presiding judge dismissed it in 2016 after the two sides, according to court records, reached an out-of-court settlement.

Meanwhile, on the court, Beasley failed to live up to what was expected of him after averaging 26.2 points per game during his lone year at Kansas State University. He could always score, but his defensive struggles coupled with his legal issues prevented him from finding a steady home and earning the full trust of his bosses.

There were also instances where friends and family took advantage of him.

"You know how many people in his corner started pressuring him for money?" asks Frank Martin, who coached Beasley at Kansas State and remains close with him. "He was a kid. He didn’t know how to handle all that."

Nolan Smith, the former Duke basketball star, whose stepfather, Curtis Malone, brought a 13-year-old Beasley into his home at the behest of Beasley's mother, Fatima Smith, says the situation was even more dire.

"Throughout his career, especially early on, he's had different things happen to him. He's had people take from him and do things behind his back," Nolan says. "He had an assistant who stole from him. He's very giving, very trusting, and people take advantage of his kindness."

Another example: In 2011, three years into his professional career, Beasley filed a civil suit against Malone and Joel Bell, Beasley's former agent. His complaint was part of a countersuit against Bell, who alleged Beasley had breached his contract with him after terminating his agreement between the two. Beasley, however, alleged that Bell had bankrolled Malone's AAU basketball team, which Beasley played on, in exchange for Malone pushing Beasley to sign with Bell upon entering the NBA. A judge, siding with Beasley, threw out Bell’s original suit, and Beasley's lawyer later withdrew his.

So, yeah, Beasley’s childhood wasn't simple (he also attended six different high schools—one of them, Oak Hill Academy, kicked him out for spray-painting the principal’s car, which he did to win a bet he made with classmate Ty Lawson), and his entrance into adulthood certainly wasn't easy, which brings up the essential question at the heart of Michael Beasley's life:

How many chances at success does an individual deserve?

*  *  *

In September 2016, then-Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond decided his team needed a little more punch off the bench. He made some calls and discovered that Beasley, then a member of the Houston Rockets, was available.

Like the rest of the NBA, Hammond was aware of Beasley's reputation. But he also recognized that still, to this day, there are only a handful of players who can match Beasley's prolific touch.

"We did background and spoke to some different people, and they all said he was a changed man," Hammond, now the general manager for the Orlando Magic, says. "And he was excellent for us; there were no issues. His ability to do things on the floor, it's a level that probably a large percentage of guys can't do.

"I think with Michael—and he would say this too—the thing he needs to do is to just be more consistent."

Aaron Gash/Associated Press

Yet, the way Beasley sees it, putting up numbers has never been an issue. For him, the questions have always come off the floor.

"If you look over the past nine years, I never played more than 24-25 minutes a game. Being a No. 2 pick, especially in my first 3-4 years, that should raise a question mark," Beasley says. "Not to toot my own horn, but not a lot of guys come into the NBA after the kind of year I had at Kansas State. For whatever reason, I just never got a fair shake."

It's worth pointing out, however, that Beasley did play 29.8 minutes per game in 2009-10, his second NBA season. Miami then traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves over the summer to help clear cap room for the arrival of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In his first season in Minnesota, Beasley played 32.3 minutes per game and averaged a career-high 19.2 points.

Which is all to say: The charge that he never received a fair shot isn't exactly true.

Beasley, though, has a different view of why he never grew into the player so many expected him to become.

"[It's] mostly perception. As far as talent-wise, I match up with Kevin [Durant], LeBron, I match up with the best guys in the world," Beasley says. "I'm not being cocky; it's just always how I felt. But I got into trouble as soon as I got into the NBA, and it left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths."

*  *  *

Beasley says he can remember the day he truly decided it was time for a change: April 8, 2015. He was wrapping up his second season of his third stint with the Heat, enjoying an off day in Miami, and FaceTiming with his oldest child, daughter Mikaiya, who was four at the time, and the cell service was bouncing in and out.

"Daddy," Beasley remembers Mikaiya saying, "it says bad connection."

Suddenly, he says, fear washed over him. He had this image of his daughter, all grown up and punching the letters of her father's name into a keyboard. What would she see? What would she learn about her father and his past?

"I realized," Beasley says today, "that if she could read, what's going to stop her from Googling me and reading about me?"

Of course, he'd been down this path before. You can find quotes from Beasley proclaiming himself a changed man from each of his post-Miami stops, going all the way back to 2009 following a brief stay in rehab.

"Later for the immaturity. Later for me blaming it on my age," Beasley said back then when asked about his rehab experience. "I've come to realize I'm a professional, no matter if I'm 38, no matter if I'm 19 or 20. I'm a professional."

"Yeah, but I feel like I was used as an example more than the actual reason you supposed to go to rehab," he responds today when reminded of this. He's asked to elaborate and says: "If I follow up on that, it will be too messy," but later on in the conversation, he offers an additional thought.

"I was 19, 20 years old, and all the sudden, rehab was forced upon me. That's the age when we are the most rebellious as humans."

There were points after rehab where things seemed to get dark. Nolan Smith recalls a six-month span around 2011, back when Beasley was in Minnesota. Beasley, the jovial prankster who used to rub boogers on friends, had gone quiet. He stopped responding to Smith's texts. Other confidants from back home were having trouble reaching him too. Smith started hearing stories about Beasley cutting people off and then letting the wrong people in. He read the stories of Beasley driving with a loaded gun.

"He was just doing things that weren't him," Smith says.

Then, one day in 2014, while Beasley was playing for the Chinese Basketball Association’s Shanghai Sharks, Smith sent his friend another message.

"What's up Beas," it read. "Hope you're good. Thinking about you and praying for you."

He'd been sending Beasley these sorts of messages periodically, typically receiving no response. Yet something about this note resonated with his friend. Moments later, Smith's iPhone began vibrating.

"I miss you," Beasley told Smith over FaceTime. The two friends spent the next hour talking, with Beasley pulling back the curtain to his soul. He explained how hard it was to be viewed as a failure and a fool, that all he wanted was for people to understand that he's not a bad person, that he felt as if he'd been exiled to the other end of the world and it was tearing him apart.

"I can be a friend from a million miles away. I can play basketball in China. The only thing I can't do is be a father," Beasley says. "I missed my kids' first basketball game. I missed birthdays. I can talk to you from a million miles away, but I was missing the dad part of life."

With Beasley emotional, this seems like the perfect moment to try pinning him down on some examples of his evolution. He laughs at the question.

"How have I grown up? I don't know, Bro, it's life," he says. "I take care of my kids every day, I drop them off at school and pick them up whenever my wife is too tired. I keep my kids fed. I wash my own ass."

A funny line, yes, but surely he has a more serious example that summarizes the journey he says he's been on over the past few years.

Beasley, though, wants to keep the conversation focused on basketball.

"No disrespect to anyone I play with," he says, "but I'll be playing behind guys who I don't think can do anything with me as far as talent-wise, and 20-year-old me would have been like, 'Bro, F that guy. I'm better than him, he's taking 20 shots and only getting 18 points. Give me the same shots, and I'll get more.'

"But that was the old me. The new me, I'll be like, "Hey, bro, maybe look to try to get five or 10 easy ones instead.' I'd try to help. I'm all about my love for the game."

                                         

Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks and NBA for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Yaron on Twitter, @YaronWeitzman, and listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here.

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