From the day of my first class at U.C. Berkeley to the day my college diploma was placed in my hand, twelve years had passed.
You read that right — it took me 12 years to get my college degree.
Now, don’t get me wrong…it’s not as if I was hitting the books every day for 12 years and failing all of my classes!
Instead, I was working on that diploma class-by-class alongside a professional career in the NBA and, later, as part of the coaching and corporate staff for the Sacramento Kings.
But like most other endeavors in my life, once I start something I just have to finish — no matter how long it takes.
I’ve always been this way. As a student at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia, I wasn’t necessarily the best student, but I was highly motivated. My love for being on teams and my drive to compete wasn’t just reserved for the basketball court — it extended to the classroom, too. I loved to be focused on something and to work toward a goal, and one of those goals was to go to college.
This drive stemmed from my parents, who both really believed in education.
After highschool, I achieved my goal, and headed out to California to attend U.C. Berkeley. Like most, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, so I went through course descriptions and picked classes to take without a true idea of a major. That was fine, though — I was happy to be there, to be learning, and to be playing basketball at the same time.
Life had other plans for me, however — plans that would push pause on my dream of obtaining my college degree.
After my freshman year, having less than 30 college credits to my name, I left school to enter the NBA draft.
Selected as the #3 pick overall, I went off to Vancouver to join the Grizzlies and began my 12-year career as a professional player.
My first few years in the NBA, I concentrated solely on getting better at basketball and growing as a team player and an athlete. It was a huge transition and it was where my focus needed to be.
But the inspiration to get my college degree was still burning in the back of my mind, so one summer I went back to Berkeley and took some classes. Doing so got my momentum rolling again, and from that point on and over the next 10 years, I continued to chip away at the classes I needed to graduate. No matter what city I was living in or what team I was playing for, I’d sign up for classes at the local community college or complete classes online.
As the process progressed and I completed more classes, I become more and more intentional about the courses I was taking, and honed in on a degree in sociology.
As luck would have it, I retired from the NBA playing for the Sacramento Kings, which is relatively close to Berkeley. After all of the years of taking one class here, and one class there, I realized that I only had 40 credits left to graduate. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel!
The Kings had offered me a job to continue with the organization, and while I wanted to say yes, I explained to them that I would need to finish my classes at Berkeley in addition to my job. They said okay, and a year and a half later I finally had my degree.
My college goal was complete! Finally, I could tell my mom I’d finished!
I was also excited to tell the kids mentored through the Future Foundation that despite the time it took and the challenges in my way, I had my college diploma. Now, instead of urging them to “do as I say,” I could encourage them to “do as I did.”
It may have taken 12 years, but getting my college degree was worth the extra effort as well as the wait.
What about you? Is there something in your life worth pursuing, no matter how long it takes?
It may be an educational goal, a business goal, a fitness goal, or another type of goal, but whatever it is, keep pushing. Don’t give up.
You may encounter lots of challenges and obstacles, life might send you in another direction for a while, or you might make progress then take a few steps back. But no matter what happens, if you have a dream of achieving something that’s truly important to you, you’ll find a way to make it happen, no matter how long it takes.
Keep finding purpose, contributing, learning and doing new things, and eventually you’ll make your dream come true.
In fact, it’s often the longest journeys that feel the most satisfying when you finally see them all the way through.
I know mine did, and I’m confident yours will, too.