Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Adam Morrison: NBA Bust Is Living The Good Life


Life as an NBA Draft Bust
It’s better than you might think. Ask Adam Morrison.

SPOKANE, Wash. — So there's no apocalypse bunker. Let's start there. But also, you can see why someone might say there is.

JAMES SNOOK / SPECIAL TO BLEACHER REPORT
The room in question is in the basement of Adam Morrison's spacious home, which lies on a secluded hill about 10 miles north of downtown Spokane. There's a large gate in front of the house and a basketball hoop in the driveway. "For my daughters," Morrison says. His hair is tied up in a tight ponytail, and the peach-fuzz mustache that graced the covers of so many magazines has been shaved off. On the refrigerator in his kitchen are various pictures of his two daughters along with three “save the date” cards and a takeout pizza menu. A white rectangular sign with reminders to "Live with love," "Give generously" and "Count blessings" hangs on a wall behind him. Out back is a wooden porch with chipping brown paint and a gorgeous view of the green countryside and Mount Spokane.

Here everything looks tranquil and standard. Just a normal suburban home for a normal suburban guy. Downstairs, though, well, downstairs is a different story.

"It's a lot of ammo," Morrison says. "To someone not used to seeing guns, it's going to look like I'm a crazy person."

— Kyle Wiltjer 

He's scared of coming off as one and isn't ready to show the room to some journalist from New York. In March, recently graduated Gonzaga star Kyle Wiltjer told Barstool Sports' Pardon My Take podcast that Morrison is "fully equipped if there was an apocalypse. He's got food stationed away. …He's got guns. A bunker. Everything."

The quotes went viral. The story jelled perfectly with the image so many have of Morrison, the floppy-haired, alt-rocker-looking, politically inclined former Gonzaga star whose NBA career didn't go nearly as well as many assumed and predicted it would.

"Suddenly all this stuff comes out portraying me like another David Koresh," Morrison says. "And once that stuff is out there, it sticks."

Morrison first heard about Wiltjer's comments one afternoon while golfing. A friend sent him a link to a New York Daily News article that declared in its headline, "Adam Morrison has an 'apocalypse bunker' equipped with guns and food."

Incensed, he immediately phoned a lawyer, and he met with two the next day. He agonized over how to handle the story. Should he leave it alone or attack it? He coaches one of his daughters' basketball teams and didn't want parents to worry about their kids being in his presence.

"I get it, people view me a certain way," he adds. "But I'm not a psychopath or anything like that."

He passed on filing a defamation lawsuit and says everything eventually got resolved. He says that he bears no ill will toward Wiltjer, a workout partner in the past. "I like Kyle," he says. "I was just confused."

Why had Wiltjer chosen to respond to a question about comparisons between him and Morrison by making Morrison look like a gun-obsessed crackpot? (Bleacher Report tried to reach Wiltjer to answer this question, without response.) Why, years after stepping away from the spotlight, had Morrison suddenly transformed back into an individual worth covering in the news? And most disconcerting to Morrison: Why would so many people, and so many media outlets, readily report Wiltjer's claims without at least attempting to verify with Morrison first?

"I wasn't getting arrested, hurting anyone or anything like that," Morrison says. "I haven't played in the league since 2010. Why does anyone even care about what I'm doing?"

Morrison's appearance and interests, neither of which he's cared to alter or hide over the years, no doubt played a role in the story's virality. His dark black hair is usually seen long and unkempt. There aren't many pictures or videos of him smiling. He had a Che Guevara poster hanging on the wall of his college dorm and loves blasting Rage Against the Machine.

Adam Morrison in 2007 (Cancan Chu / Getty Images).
Never mind that Wiltjer acknowledged in the same podcast interview he had never actually seen Morrison's supposed bunker; he'd only heard about it. All that mattered is the story sounded true. It fit with all the neat and simple labels we love, in this case that someone who we consider a "bust" must then be tortured and depressed.

And perhaps that's the case with some flameouts. We've all heard the stories and seen the films.

But Morrison's life doesn't belong in that box.


***

Morrison's life path has always been accelerated. He was a professional athlete before most of his friends had graduated college, a father at the age of 24, a millionaire by his mid-20s and retired by 28.



Some of that, of course, is happenstance. By no means did he plan on washing out of the NBA before 30. But starting a family at such a young age? Choosing fatherhood over a coaching career or playing overseas? Those were deliberate attempts to combat a disease that studies have shown shaves an average of 11 years off the lives of the men it attacks.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't aware of the life-expectancy data for men with diabetes," Morrison says. He has a habit of incessantly cleaning his sunglasses and cellphone screen when confronted with difficult subjects and is doing so as he speaks. "I've always tried to sort of fast-forward through things. I've always been someone who tries to hit certain milestones before most of my friends."

Ah, yes, the part of Morrison's story everyone is familiar with yet also seems to forget: Morrison was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13. Those who remember his celebrated college career will recall that during games he'd prick his finger on the bench in order to check his glucose levels, and if need be he'd administer an insulin injection on the spot.

The disease often sapped his energy and strength. In college, where teams play maybe two or three times a week, he had no issues pushing through. He was the co-National Player of the Year as a junior and the third overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft. But the NBA's 82-game schedule proved to be too much.


"It was just such an extra responsibility to have to always monitor that during games and practices," says Matt Carroll, a friend of Morrison's and former Charlotte Bobcats teammate. "Some days you could see he just didn't have it."

"To be honest, it was harder to manage in the NBA than I thought it would be," Morrison says. "And overseas"—where Morrison says it was often more difficult for him to procure his medication— "it got worse."

In October 2007, Morrison tore the ACL in his left knee. The injury kept him out for the entire year. Worse, it robbed him of what little bounce he once had. The player who led the nation with 28.1 points per game as a college junior and averaged a solid 11.8 points per game as an NBA rookie was no more.

"That injury just made it so hard for him on defense," Carroll says. "He barely had enough athleticism to begin with. That small amount the injury took away made all the difference. Teams just started targeting him nonstop."

The Bobcats decided they no longer wanted to build around Morrison and traded him to the Lakers in February 2009. He was a member of two championship teams, and though he appeared in just 39 games over that span, he loved his time in L.A. He soaked up every lesson Phil Jackson had to impart, studied each detail of Kobe Bryant's meticulous routine (he even garnered an invitation to Kobe's final NBA game) and grew close with teammates like Luke Walton, Robert Sacre—both of whom make sure Morrison's drawer is always full with the famously comfortable official NBA socks—and Ron Artest.

(He had a special affinity for the latter, and it's not hard to see why. "He's different," Morrison says. "But I like different. Different is OK.")

EVAN GOLE / NBA VIA GETTY IMAGES

Morrison was waived by the Lakers in 2010 and spent the following season playing in Serbia and then Istanbul. Adjusting was hard. He longed for American luxuries, like Wonder Bread, but as an avid History Channel viewer and politics nerd also appreciated being exposed to other cultures.

For Morrison, one memory in particular stands out. It was one of his first days in Belgrade, Serbia, and the local team-assigned handler was driving him downtown. They passed a crumbling building in the middle of the city. Morrison asked what it was.

"You guys did that," the handler responded. Morrison, like most Americans his age, was unaware that NATO bombs had decimated the city during the Kosovo War in the late 1990s.

"If I hadn't been there and experienced that, I would have never known or cared," Morrison says. "And you realize what some people live through, and you start feeling guilty about being upset over something like a broken Xbox."

He relished those experiences. But the gravitational pull emitting out of Spokane just kept getting stronger. His second daughter had just been born, and Morrison started thinking about everything he was missing back home.

If his life was, indeed, going to eventually be cut short, was being berated by a coach in a city thousands of miles from home how he wanted to spend his time?

Morrison returned to the U.S. in April 2012. He attempted one last NBA comeback, playing with the Nets and Clippers in the summer league. He played well, too, averaging 20 points and five rebounds in his five games. Normally such production from a former lottery pick would lead to all sorts of offers. Not for Morrison, though. The Blazers were the only team to call. They extended him a training camp invite but cut him before the start of the regular season.

Ron Artest and Adam Morrison in 2012 (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images).

"Once you get that 'bust' label, it's hard to shake it," Morrison says. "And rightfully so. Somebody spent a top-five pick on you, and you didn't deliver."

Just six years after being drafted No. 3 overall, Adam Morrison's NBA dream had come to an end.


***

This is where the narrative diverts from the path you assume it’s headed. There’s no sob story, no business deals gone bad. The opposite, actually. Morrison is living the life of a retired and extremely wealthy suburban dad.

He’s a regular at the Texas Hold 'em tables at the local casinos and plays more than 100 rounds of golf a year. He owns nine cars—his favorite being a blue 1969 Chevelle Super Sport 393 with a white stripe across the hood. He spends weekends swimming, boating and Jet Skiing at his house along Idaho's Lake Coeur d'Alene.

"I've saved my money and done well where I can now pick and choose how I spend my time," he says.

Basketball-Reference.com estimates Morrison's NBA earnings at just under $17 million. He also signed an endorsement deal with Adidas that ESPN's Darren Rovell reported to be worth seven figures and another one, Morrison says, with Johnson & Johnson. His uncle, one of the founding members of the Wyoming State Bank, taught him how to live comfortably without splurging (for example, Washington has no income tax) and how to properly invest so he'd never have to work another day in his life.

"I just try to make 6 to 8 percent a year," Morrison says. "That's all I need." He then lets out a small laugh. "It's a pretty good life."

Everything, though, revolves around the two daughters—ages four and seven—he has with his ex-girlfriend and the son that Mijken Nelson, his current girlfriend (Morrison's not religious and says he doesn't believe in marriage), will be giving birth to in August.

"When something doesn't work out the way you expect, it's very frustrating," Morrison says. "For me, it was just about deciding that it was time to refocus my life."

He hasn't completely written off basketball. At one point he thought he'd go into coaching. He joined Mark Few's staff at Gonzaga, where he also got the credits he needed to complete his degree. But he realized before long there were better ways for him to spend his time.

"I didn't want to leave my daughters," he says.


JAMES SNOOK / SPECIAL TO BLEACHER REPORT

Instead he began volunteering at Mead High School, his alma mater. "That's a million-dollar move but a 10-cent finish," he'll call out if a kid blows a clean look at the hoop. He learned the phrase from his dad, John, a former professional basketball player and college coach himself. Sometimes Morrison will talk about how important it is to be able to pivot and attack with both feet. He'll share how not being able to do so cost him in the NBA. He'll tell the players how Kobe used to prepare for games and pass along some of Phil Jackson's strategies to the team's coaches. Afterward, he'll duck into the office of Glenn Williams, his high school coach, so the two can discuss the current presidential race. He's always smiling and engaged.

"He's not a recluse," says former Gonzaga teammate Derek Raivio. "He's just someone who likes to keep a bit to himself."

***

Morrison is wearing basketball shorts and a camo-colored tank and driving a dirt-stained black Range Rover. The windshield wipers are busted and pointed skyward. Colin Cowherd's voice—Morrison refers to him simply as "The Herd"—is emanating from the radio.

Morrison lays out the day’s agenda. First, a trip to an 80-acre patch of land he owns that he’s turned into a shooting range. Then an afternoon with some buddies on the golf course.

At the first stop, he parks in the middle of a patch of grass the size of a football field, pops the trunk and unloads all his artillery out onto the ground. There's a handgun, a rifle and a machine gun. Three black duffle bags stuffed with hundreds of bullets, too. Dr. Dre's "Let Me Ride" comes on the Bluetooth speakers. Morrison cranks up the volume.


"I JUST TRY TO MAKE 6 TO 8 PERCENT A YEAR. THAT'S ALL I NEED. IT'S A PRETTY GOOD LIFE."
- ADAM MORRISON

He says to aim for the bowling pins. A friend who owns a bowling alley gave them to him. To their right is a once-black car door and a slab of metal. Everything is littered with tiny holes.

Four years ago, Morrison didn't own any of this. Then one night his house alarm went off while he was sitting at home with his two daughters. They all huddled together upstairs. It turned out to be a false alarm, but it took the police 35 minutes to arrive on scene. Morrison was spooked.

"You see how far out of the city I live," he says. "Cops can't get there that quickly."

His ex-girlfriend grew up in a shooting family. She got him a lesson, and he got a license and found that he enjoyed both the cathartic release that shooting provided and the way it satiated his competitive thirst.

Morrison describes himself as a libertarian. He believes law-abiding citizens should be allowed to fulfill their second amendment rights. He recites statistics and facts that he feels support his case but also makes sure to point out that he’s pro “certain aspects of gun control” and has never voluntarily signed for any sort of membership in the National Rifle Association.

"I see both sides," Morrison says often, whether talking about Israel, Kevin Durant or Donald Trump.

In the end, though, it all comes down to wanting to keep his family safe. He says he'd prefer to not own any guns at all, but as a father of two girls in an area where he says break-ins happen, he feels it would be irresponsible not to.

"There's a one-in-a-million chance you have to use them," he says of guns. "But if you do, isn't it better to at least know how?"

***

Morrison, perhaps the first person to ever show up to a private golf course donning a camouflage tank top, is greeted with handshakes and smiles from leathery old men as soon as he parks at the Wandermere Golf Course.

He purchases a large plastic cup of Blue Moon inside the clubhouse to bring along with him on the course—"just looking to catch a buzz," he says, frequently—and spends nearly 30 minutes setting up various side bets before loading his red and navy Gonzaga golf bag onto his cart.

Morrison is scheduled to meet up with three friends from around town who also have the means and time to play 18 holes on a Thursday afternoon. One's a bartender, another the club's golf pro. On Fridays, he plays with a group of firefighters he met while playing poker. “Those games,” he adds, “have larger stakes.”

JAMES SNOOK / SPECIAL TO BLEACHER REPORT

On the third hole, he unleashes a wicked drive. To his chagrin, his friends say nothing. "Great ball, Adam," he says out loud. He then answers himself with an emphatic, "Thanks, man." He follows that up with a birdie on the fourth hole. "Birdie bottle!" everyone screams. A friend dips into his bag, pulls out some Wild Turkey American Honey Whiskey, takes a swig and passes it around.

Still, Morrison wants to win. He always has. Everyone remembers the clip from 2006 of him sobbing with his 6'8" frame splayed out across the Oakland Arena floor after suffering a heartbreaking season-ending NCAA tournament loss to UCLA, but there are so many other examples that have taken place outside the public's eye.

Glenn Williams says Morrison always tried to circumvent the specific rules of a drill (such as the number of passes required before launching a shot) if he felt they were preventing him from winning. Williams' son, Bryan, a longtime friend of Morrison's, says a rage-filled Morrison once chased him around the house after suffering a Tecmo Super Bowl defeat. Raivio describes Morrison as "a really good debater." Former NBA player Derek Anderson, who spent two years with Morrison in Charlotte, recalls him having trouble dealing with all the losses that came with playing on a talent-deprived team.

"He lost more games that first year [when the Bobcats went 33-49] than he probably did his entire life before that," Anderson says. "And every time we dropped a game, he took it so personally. He'd come back after and do extra shooting. You could tell it wore on him."

Adam Morrison in 2007 (Rocky Widner / NBAE via Getty Images).

Maybe that's another reason he was never built for the NBA, and perhaps that's why it takes 12 holes for basketball, and specifically the enthralling Warriors-Thunder playoff series that was currently taking place, to be brought up, though Morrison insists there's not a bitter bone inside of him.

"I put all that s--t to bed a long time ago," he says with Eric Clapton's "Layla" blasting out of his phone's speaker. "You can't live your life focusing on stuff like that or you'll never be happy."

Eventually the round ends. Morrison retreats to the clubhouse and devours his third meal of the day, this time a breaded chicken sandwich with bacon and all sorts of sauces, along with a side of tater tots. "It helps with the blood sugar," he says, "but I also have the metabolism of a 15-year-old boy."

***

Back at the house, Morrison takes his ponytail out and unfurls his long legs onto the living room couch. He has about an hour to kill before he has to leave for his daughter's graduation and is looking for something to watch on TV. There are episodes of Seinfeld and Vice on the DVR. He chooses the latter.

One report details the world of the deep web. A proponent compares it to a hammer. "In the wrong hands, it's a weapon, but in the right ones, it's a tool." Morrison says he feels similarly about guns. Then, at the urging of his girlfriend, he agrees to take a walk down his spiral staircase, punch in his code and open up his nonexistent bunker's door.

The room is about 10 feet deep and maybe five feet wide. At the wall directly across from the doors rests a locked gun safe. The sides are lined with metal shelves stocked with boxes of ammo and various household items like juice boxes and paper plates. There are suitcases on the floor.

"See?" he says. "Nothing to see."

Maybe some would consider that a bunker.

Even if it's not, many will condemn Morrison for it. Guns are a sensitive topic, now more than ever.

Morrison, like many Americans, believes he needs guns to protect his family. He believes it would be irresponsible not to have them, as a father of two girls in a home 30 minutes from the Spokane police station.

He says that he would prefer not to have them and that the room is simply the most secure way to store them.

To him, it's all about family.

***

The military-grade Range Rover has been traded in for his girlfriend's white 2004 Chevy TrailBlazer. His younger daughter's preschool graduation has ended, and tonight Morrison gets the girls. They're nestled into the car's backseat and staring out at the myriad pine trees that border Spokane's road. The youngest wants her daddy to help open the goody bag her teacher gave her. The oldest, the athlete of the two—she has her father's long legs and jump shot—is reciting her weekend soccer and volleyball schedule so that Morrison and Mijken can watch her play.

"Do you guys need new sneakers for the summer?" Morrison asks. It's decided that tomorrow they'll visit Payless.

Slowly, the girls begin to nod off. For a moment there's silence—before Mijken, sitting in the front passenger seat, reaches out for Morrison's right arm.

"Can you feel that?" she asks as she places his hand on her stomach. "He's kicking."

Morrison works the steering wheel with his left hand while his right hand rests on the base of Mijken's white blouse.

"I feel it," he says. A smile stretches across his face. — Yaron Weitzman | Bleacher Report
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