Legendary status is hard to come by in a digital age. In a world where everything is caught on smartphone cameras and uploaded to the internet for the world to watch and rewatch, viral video and social media sharing have replaced word of mouth. We can now see in HD quality what used to be blurry photographs and second- and thirdhand accounts. With few mythical figures, particularly in the overexposed arena of sports, one true legend made his way north to Canada this past year to play professional basketball.
His name is Franklin Session.
Unless you know the Los Angeles basketball scene or are a hoops junkie, his name won't ring a bell. The 6'2" Session doesn't take himself too seriously and laughs when he tells stories. He also goes by another name—Frank Nitty—and is a two-time Drew League MVP.
DeMar DeRozan's eyes light up when he is asked about Session. The Toronto Raptors guard is also from L.A. and describes him as "a legend in the city." Session has been steadily playing in the Drew League, where local kids, professional stars and streetball legends compete in L.A. each summer. Against that competition, he built his reputation as one of the most talented Davids going against the Goliaths.
So why did it take the 29-year-old so long to get his shot at pro ball?
Session wasn't a product of the sneaker circuit. As a youngster, he wasn't in the gym countless hours shooting by himself. Athletically gifted, he played basketball at Jordan High School in Long Beach, but he spent more time on his skateboard than with a ball. Before his junior year, he didn't take hooping that seriously. But his coach, Van Myers, encouraged him to stick with it and see where the game could take him.
After a year at Irvine Valley College, he transferred to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, an hour outside L.A. His head coach, Andy Ground, recognized his potential and continued to encourage him. In Session's one year at Saddleback in 2009, he helped lead the team to the California community college title game and was named Orange Empire Conference MVP. He also made the All-California Community College first team.
Session earned a scholarship to Weber State for the 2009-10 season and seemed to be on the fast track to a pro career.
"Basketball just kept happening for me," Session said about his early basketball life. "It wasn't even something that I was trying to do. I just kept following it and ... I've had coaches that believed in me. It's amazing how far you can go when they believe in you."
He teamed up at Weber State with future Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and averaged 10.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists to go with 55 steals and 28 blocks in 31 games. That team advanced to the Big Sky Conference tournament championship game, and Session was named the conference's Newcomer of the Year. It seemed like he was poised for bigger and better things. But that didn't happen.
"I was just young and dumb then, and I wasn't ready for that opportunity, to be honest," Session said about why he decided to leave Weber State after one season. "I was pampered sometimes, ruining my mindset. There were times at Weber I might not have it in practice and the coaches would call me out on it. I was young and didn't know how to take it. I was just immature. ... That's why I didn't end up staying that second year."
Session transferred to Cal State-Los Angeles and had a productive senior season, averaging 16.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.5 steals in 35.3 minutes per game. He led the team in scoring, assists and steals, was second in rebounding and was named to the California Collegiate Athletic Association first team. Basketball was happening for him again.
He got a tryout with the L.A. D-Fenders of the NBA Development League (now the South Bay Lakers of the G League) and made the 2011-12 roster that included NBA players Gerald Green and Jamaal Tinsley. But in an early-season scrimmage, he broke his hand and was sidelined for two months. His final stat line: two games, two minutes, one foul.
When he was injured, Session says: "That's when basketball slowed down for me. When I broke my hand, I realized now I have to put food on the table and get a 9-to-5 [job]."
With a wife and two children to provide for and life off the basketball court beginning to pull at him, Session made the adult decision to walk away from the pro game. Just like that, his career seemed to end before it began.
Session found work in his grown-up life, becoming a manager at a cellphone store. But his love of the game drew him back to the gym. He played the best of the city in pickup games and then found himself in the Drew League. After working his day job, he would routinely take it to guys who played the game for a living. Session admitted he never thought about playing professionally even though the many pros at the Drew said he could.
The Game, the rapper who's a good friend, finally persuaded him to give the pro game a try.
"Last year was crazy," Session said. "I had Metta World Peace tell me give it a shot. I had Jamal Crawford tell me. I had James Harden tell me. I've had a few NBA players tell me just go play.
"The thing that pushed me over the edge was that my best friend is Game the rapper, and he's been telling me for at least five years now that you can make some money playing basketball. He's the guy that pushed me the most. ... I wouldn't be as aggressive [in pursuing] basketball if it wasn't for him."
This past fall, with the support of his family, Session decided to make another run at a pro career. He attended a tryout with the South Bay Lakers but was among the last cuts. After weighing his options, he took an offer to play in the National Basketball League of Canada with the Island Storm, based in Prince Edward Island. He played in 43 games, averaging a league-high 40 minutes to go with top-10 averages in points (19.6), rebounds (9.8), assists (5.7) and steals (1.7), and was named Newcomer of the Year.
Not bad for a guy who had to be convinced by a rapper that he was pro material.
Now a couple of months removed from his last game with the Storm, Session is still humbled by the experience. Remembering how quickly the opportunity came and went earlier in his life, he is acutely aware of how lucky he is this time around. He's taking full advantage, and this summer, for the first time, he is working on his game.
"I'm working on technique, footwork, coming off ball screens, pull-up jumpers, just stuff I've never done," Session said. "I've only worked out in open gyms and adult leagues. That's literally all I've ever done. This is my first summer where I'm a professional basketball player. I won't have a job, so I'll be able to really work out. ... I'm really excited to see how much better I can get by September."
Session isn't overly concerned with where he'll play next season. He expects he'll be playing somewhere, and that's enough for him. He's earned this time to spend with his family after being away for a few months plying his new trade. Between his summer workouts, he has games in the Drew League, the league that brought the world Frank Nitty and gave Franklin back his dream.
How's that for a modern-day legend?