Weekly Countdown: Family bond helped turn Granger into star
Danny Granger's bond with his father helped him steer clear of trouble growing up
The Pacers' All-Star went from a mid-major college player to a $60 million pro
More topics: Thoughts from Jerry Sloan, NCAA sleepers, Mikhail Prokhorov
5 Recollections from a self-made star
The disaster. There is always a bigger picture, and Danny Granger usually is forced to see it. He was a rookie forward for the Indiana Pacers in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the homes of his extended family in New Orleans. Within days he was waking up to a house full of family.
"They all came to Indiana," said Granger, the 26-year-old Pacers forward. "We had about 17 of them staying with me for about three months. The younger kids, we got them into schools, and the rest of my family was trying to find jobs. I had just bought a house, it was four or five bedrooms, we had two mattresses in each room and we still needed more space. But we had a lot of fun. When you have that much family around, it's a lot of fun."
Sometimes the fun was too much. On game days he had trouble completing his afternoon nap. "When you've got little cousins running around the house tearing stuff up, it's kind of hard," said Granger. "Oh yeah, I let them know. Like, 'Be quiet! I'm trying to sleep.'"
With one exception they're all back in New Orleans now, thanks in no small part to Granger, who helped them financially with their new or repaired homes. That one exception is his father, who continues to live in Indianapolis.
Every story has a beginning, a middle and end. Granger is one NBA star who doesn't view his career as the end, the culmination. He understands that he wouldn't be the reigning most improved player and an All-Star last season if not for his troubled beginnings, and especially the roots laid down by his father, Danny Granger Sr.
As difficult as this season has been for 6-8 Granger and his team -- the Pacers have the league's eighth-worst record at 26-46 and Granger's averages (23.7 points, a career-worst 42.9 percent shooting and 0.8 blocks) have dropped since last season -- he envisions better days to come.
"I've always been a late bloomer," he said. "Once I'm in my prime, I'm going to try to keep that going as long as possible. And then when I'm going out of my prime, there's still things I can continue to improve with some of my athleticism gone, because you've always got to tweak your game to play to a different style. With my work ethic and the way I'm always working on new things, I'll be OK."
His upbringing. Granger can recall so many times when he might have been done in for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"When I was 12 or 13, I was with one of my friends at the corner store," said Granger, who grew up in Metairie outside New Orleans. "I didn't know it at the time, but he was going on a drug deal. And I showed up with him. After awhile, I kind of knew what was going on but I was like, OK, whatever. So one of the older ladies in the neighborhood saw us, and she told my daddy. Oh, I caught hell for that one.
"I caught a bullet in my leg when I was about 12. There was a street in my neighborhood called Calhoun Street that my dad told me to never go on. We knew they had a crack house and people were always getting killed on the street. I'd been playing basketball with some friends and I was going down the street and a drive-by happened. They were shooting at somebody we were playing with. I dove in the bushes and caught a ricochet in the leg. I didn't tell my daddy until like 10 years later. The bullet went right down my leg [along the shin] and it's still bruised to this day, it never healed right.
"One of my cousins was shot when I was 9 or 10; he was older than me. Then I had a good friend that I grew up with, he got into it with a girl on the corner and stabbed her. He served a lot of time in prison. He went in when I was young, and [two years ago] he came up to my house in Indiana and he came to one of my games.
"Another one of my friends, who I had played basketball with in high school -- he was really good -- he ended up selling drugs and he was shot about 17 times. He survived by some miraculous way, but he's paralyzed in jail."
In recounting these stories, Granger seemed amazed he didn't follow their path.
"I am amazed," said Granger. "Because I can think of a lot of times when I could have been in trouble. I think of one of my good friends. I came back from college and I went to his house and he had all these bags of money in his closet. I was like, man, I knew what he was doing. The next day they raided his house. What would have happened if I'd been in his house when they raided it? I didn't even know what was going on when I walked in there. I didn't have anything to do with it. So I think of all the times when I was so close to going the wrong way."
That's why his father built a basketball court. Danny Granger Sr. was a mechanic who worked for himself repairing and reconditioning forklifts. His wife left the family when Danny was 12. They grew up in a trailer sandwiched in between a pair of additions his father assembled before finally removing the trailer altogether to build a new midsection of the house. He did everything that needed doing to raise his children against the elements. Danny would spend most of his free time playing on the basketball court at home, though that wasn't always the safest place either.
"We came home a couple times and the door was open and they had took the TV, took the VCR, tore the kitchen up," said Granger. "My daddy's tools would get stolen all the time. And it was funny; he would always find them, because he knew everybody in the neighborhood. He had a 200-to-300-piece set of tools that he used for his business, and a crackhead would sell them just to get a quick fix, like two for $10.
"Everybody knew him and respected him, he got along with everybody and he had a very respectful family. And so he would ask one of the young kids, whether the kid was a gang-banger or whatever, and they would be like, 'Mr. Granger, it was so-and-so.' And he would go find him and get the tools back.
"He's mellowed some now, but I remember one guy had broken into the house and threatened my little brother. My dad was about 270 pounds and 6-4 and so strong from turning the wrenches. He picked the guy up and he had him like this up high and he slammed him to the ground."
All three of the children have grown up to be successful. Danny's younger brother, Scott, is a musician and backup singer who has toured with Alicia Keys and Jordin Sparks. His older sister, Jamie, is an engineer in Arizona.
Earlier this season, Danny Granger Sr. recalled a conversation he'd had with Danny on the subject of childhood discipline. He said they went back and forth like this ...
The son: "When I have kids, I'm going to discipline them too. You know, Daddy, you really, really disciplined me, and when I was younger I didn't understand it sometimes."
The father: "I do remember that every time I disciplined you, you knew that you did something wrong.''
Son: "Yes, I did."
Father: "I didn't always discipline you harshly. Sometimes I punished you, and sometimes I had to discipline you severely. I tell you what, did I hurt you? Show me the battle scars."
Son, laughing: "No, it didn't hurt me like that."
Father: "But what it did do, it allowed you to make $64 million, didn't it?"
His career. Granger said he didn't begin to realize he had a future in basketball until he was a 19-year-old at Bradley University -- older than many rookies who have become instant stars in the NBA. "I was always better than anybody else but I wasn't a big-time recruit," he said. "I didn't get an offer from LSU or Tulane, and I was from Louisiana. A couple of Division II schools offered me, and real small Division I schools, like Bradley, and I had an opportunity to go to Yale.
"When I was 19 at Bradley, my sophomore year, that was when everybody was like, 'He's really good.' Then I transferred [to the University of New Mexico] and it took off from there."
He averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore at Bradley when he decided he needed to move to another program in order to keep improving. His father was against it.
"That really disappointed his dad," said Pacers president Larry Bird. "Danny had to step up and say, 'This is what I want to do. I want to go to New Mexico.' And I'm sure there was some turbulence there. They probably weren't getting along the best, because I went through that same thing, and it's not easy."
Said Granger: "I had to be a man and make my own decision because my daddy was totally against everything I was doing. He wanted me to stay and I wanted to go. I had one of my friends loan me $300 and I hopped on a plane and went down to New Orleans and showed up at the house. I said I'm transferring. We blew up at each other."
Granger invested himself fully in a basketball career after majoring in engineering at Bradley. "Engineering was so time-consuming, I would stay up late-night drawing plans, and with basketball, it was 10 times harder," he said. "I switched to something easier -- university studies, where you took a whole bunch of different classes to get your degree."
Granger entered the 2005 draft as a senior who averaged 19.1 points and 8.9 rebounds in two seasons at New Mexico. He left without his diploma -- he promises to return to school and earn it eventually -- but the point was that he invested himself fully in basketball. The Pacers acquired him with the No. 17 pick, and he succeeded in raising his scoring average annually through his opening four years in the league. In 2008, he signed a five-year extension with $60 million guaranteed.
"That was a time when he really asserted himself as a man," said Danny Granger Sr. of his son's transfer to New Mexico. "He said, 'Look, Daddy, I'm transferring and nobody's going to tell me what to do, I'm my own man and I'm going to do it this way.' And I learned something from that. Sometimes you're dealing with your kids and you think you know everything that's best for them. But they're experiencing things in their own lives, and they have the inside scoop on a lot of things that you think you have but that you don't really have."
His relationship with his father. The father: "When I watch his games, I focus on him and everything he does. I can read his body language, so I know pretty much where he is and which way his game is going to go."
The son: "He still lectures me like I'm 16, but what can you expect from a father? I just had a conversation with him the other day and I said, 'Dad, I am a grown man now.' 'Yeah I know, but you need to listen to me and, blah blah blah.' Then he'll tell me about stuff I need to do on the court -- and he's never even played organized basketball."
The father: "I played high school and I played semi-pro with 'A' and 'B' leagues around the city. I couldn't go to college because I got married at 17 and I had to take care of those kids. But I was a very good basketball player myself, and I see the game better than a lot of people because of the level that I played. And so I see certain things that I think I can help him with. And he'll be like, 'Um, Daddy, um, I got this, I got this.' He'll be like, 'Have you ever checked a 7-footer? Did you ever block a 7-footer's shot going to the goal?' And I'll be like, 'OK, Danny, all right, OK.' But then he listens to some stuff."
The son: "The game is so intricate once you get to the NBA. We're breaking down defenses, you've got different assignments, you're playing percentages, you're giving up a shot in the corner that you're not giving up on the wing -- it's all so technical. All he sees is, 'Why did you leave this man open to make a shot?' Or, 'Why did you drive when you had the one-on-one?' The answer is you got Dwight Howard on the weak side and you can't just go at the defense when it's already set. But he doesn't understand any of that. He'll say, 'Just jump into him!' And I'll say, 'He blocks a hundred shots!' But my dad doesn't understand that."
The father: "When he beat me in basketball the first time he was 17, maybe 18. It took him a while to beat me because I played the game, I really did. I really played the game. He'll tell you.
"I'll tell you one time I thought he broke my nose. He was in that last year in college and I went to the workouts a lot of times, and they decided to play some basketball. They needed another man and I decided to play with them. And Danny wanted to play against me -- he did not want to play with me. And he came down that lane and he almost broke my nose. Blood went everywhere. And the next morning it was all in the newspaper -- Son Against Father. It was all over the paper and I didn't even know the media were there. That was at New Mexico."
The big surprise. "Oh yeah, was I surprised," said Danny Granger Sr. "I was thoroughly surprised, I promise you. I had no idea. We rode on the plane together and nobody was saying anything. We got in the car that took us to the hotel, a nice exclusive place against the mountains, and nobody said anything. Then they had the minister come out, the chairs were set up and everything, and they exchanged vows. I didn't know they were getting married until they were walking down the aisle."
This happened at All-Star Weekend last year in Phoenix. This was how his son was married.
"We were going to be married in New Mexico or New Orleans, we weren't sure yet," said Granger. "Then I made All-Star and we just said let's do it in Phoenix. The problem was we had so many family members who wanted to come, so we just decided to make it a lot easier for everybody and surprise them, so whoever came to the All-Star Game could also come to the wedding."
Said Danny Sr.: "Since he was at All-Star and he had that tight schedule, I thought it was going to be something he had put together for the family. I was wearing a Nike jumper suit -- all white. I said, 'Man, Danny, you could have given me the heads up some kind of way.'
"He was like, 'Well, Dad, was it a surprise?' I said, 'Well, you really surprised me.' But it was all good and they were happy, so I'm happy for them. The girl that he married, she's a doll, she really is. She's a very, very good-hearted person, down to earth, funny nature, and I could see why he picked her."
Granger had a four-hour window in between appearances. Dionna Kann walked down the aisle to marry him, they cut the cake, the groom ate a slice and then someone said, "Danny, we've got to go." And he was out the door, resuming the unusual career he was meant to achieve all of those years ago in New Orleans when they were just trying to get by.
As Danny Granger Sr. stood eating cake in his white sweatsuit that afternoon in Phoenix as his son headed back to work, he thought about how the roles had changed, and he realized, not for the first time, that his son was now his friend.
"I don't hang around him as much as I would like to," said Danny Sr. "But he's so busy and he has so much responsibility, and now he has a wife. So I can't really be in that inner circle right now because he has so much that's on his plate. And I do miss that because I had fun raising my kids."
There is no trace of sadness to any of this talk. "You want to see your kids grow up and handle their life," he said, smiling. "You want to see that happen."
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