Born to a 15-year-old father and a 14-year-old mother, Grizzlies shooting guard Michael Dickerson didn't have an easy childhood: broken home; shunted between parents; gangs and drugs on the street corner; barely enough money to pay the bills. In Greenville, S.C., where he lived from age nine to 13 with his mother, Angela Johnson, Dickerson fell in with the wrong crowd. "I got into the trouble that kids get into," he says. "Shoplifting, fighting, vandalism. I don't have good memories of South Carolina."
Dickerson, a 6'5" slasher in his second season out of Arizona, worked his way out of these dire circumstances, but he didn't do it alone. In a rare twist to an all-too-familiar tale, Dickerson was rescued in a large part by his father, Willie, an amateur boxer who had moved from Greenville to Seattle to join the army when Michael was three. (Michael went with him but was sent back to Greenville six years later to be with his mother, a part-time nurse.) In 1988 Willie arranged with Angela to bring their 13-year-old son back to the Pacific Northwest, where Michael found less menacing surroundings. "Coming from that bad environment myself, I knew I had to get him to a better one," explains Willie. Says Michael, "If my dad hadn't got me out, I'd probably be where a lot of my friends are now—in jail or dead."
Instead Dickerson is one of the NBA's rising young stars, a player who can explode to the hole, shoot the three and knock down the midrange jumper. Sharing the backcourt with point guard and former college teammate Mike Bibby, Dickerson was averaging 173 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists at week's end. "He doesn't showboat," Mavericks guard Michael Finley says. "He just goes out every night and scores his points."
That's a far cry from the cocky Dickerson who as a blue-chip prospect at Federal Way High in suburban Seattle signed his homework Air 23. He was so quick and athletic that Ricky Pierce, then a SuperSonics swingman, asked to work out with him before the 1992-93 playoffs. At Arizona, where Dickerson helped Bibby and the Wildcats win the '97 NCAA title, Dickerson developed into a tireless worker on the practice court. The Rockets selected him with the 14th pick of the '98 draft, and in his rookie season he scored 10.9 points per game and was the league's fifth-best three-point shooter (43.3%).
Traded to Vancouver in August as part of the deal that sent Steve Francis to Houston, Dickerson at first felt betrayed by the Rockets. He quickly realized, however, that the move, like his father's bringing him back to Seattle, was for the best. "It gave me the opportunity to expand my game," Dickerson says. "In Houston all I did was stand around and shoot threes." Free to put the ball on the floor, Dickerson blossomed. Against the Nets on Jan. 27 he scored 29 points, hitting the game-winning basket at the buzzer. Two weeks later he pumped in a career-high 40 against the Clippers.
When it comes to family, Dickerson's game is similarly improved. He shares his rented house outside Vancouver with Angela and stays in contact with Willie, now a Boeing machinist who lives with his wife and their four kids in Federal Way. Michael also has a six-month-old daughter, Ava, who lives with her mom in Phoenix. He sees them both two or three times a month.
Living with your mother might not fit the profile of a 24-year-old NBA player, but the Bible-toting Dickerson doesn't mind. "I really don't go out much anymore," he says. "I don't like a lot of attention."