For 33 years, LeVelle Moton wouldn’t touch the light blue bike that eventually turned rusty brown, a symbol of his pride and heartache.
To ride that bike would suggest that he’d accepted his father’s absence in his life. It was the last gift he’d given “Puffy” months after he’d abandoned the family.
Moton, the coach who led his alma mater North Carolina Central to its first NCAA tourney berth last season, was 5 when the bike reached his doorstep.
He kept it in a garage for decades until his wife finally convinced him to part with the tangible link between a fractured childhood and an improbable dream.
Moton discussed the significance of that bike and other events in his life in a book titled “The Worst Times Are The Best Times,” co-written with journalist Edward G. Robinson III and available at theworsttimesarethebesttimes.com.
An excerpt from the book:
On my fifth birthday, my father left a bike at my door. For weeks I had talked about getting a bike for my birthday. I believe my mother communicated this to my father. ...
Without knocking or checking in, my father left this beautiful bike with a bow attached and a note with my nickname, Puffy.
I wanted to hop on that bike and ride around the neighborhood. But I resented my father for once again playing me for a fool -- coming to our door but leaving again. I couldn’t remember what he looked like. I thought if I rode that bike I would be accepting him leaving the way he had. So I never rode it. Believe me, it took a lot of willpower to stay off it, because I didn’t have another bike.
Resilience helped Moton, 40, navigate Raleigh, North Carolina's toughest streets and evolve into one of the college game’s top young coaches.
He recently signed an eight-year extension that elevated his original base salary from $100,000 to $250,000.
“Yeah, it’s official,” he told ESPN.com.
He said he wrote the book with some reluctance but eventually decided to share his tales of hardship so that others might be able to see what they can overcome.
Before he became the 1996 CIAA player of the year and the school’s head coach 13 years later, he was a kid trapped in the drug game. He and his friends robbed convenience stores and engaged in petty crime. They also helped local dealers -- although they were too naïve to know exactly what they were involved with -- move their product through the neighborhood:
“I’d walk a package across the street to a parking lot for 10 dollars. I’d take a stroll down the block for 10 dollars. Eventually, after a few times walking across the street, I realized that I wasn’t delivering cookies.”
But everything changed the night police came to his home to question him about a murder that his buddies had committed during a burglary. Moton said he could have easily gone with that group that day but decided to stay home and watch “Good Times.”
That choice probably saved his life.
Today, he said he uses the lessons that he details in his book to teach his players about the value of good decisions. He said his background helps him reach young men (and their families) who’ve endured fatherless upbringings.
“People just want you to be real, especially when they’re giving you their most prized and precious possessions,” he said.
The light blue bike he held onto all those years was more of a message than a possession.
It drove him.
One day, Moton’s daughter, Brooke, was upset that she couldn’t ride the bike that his father had purchased for him when he was child.
So he told her the story in a way that only a 3-year-old would understand it.
“I had to bend down and tell my daughter that no Moton will ever be able to ride that bike,” he said. “Your father’s Daddy wasn’t there for me the way your father is for you. ... I just really told her my father left me and that’s why I’ll never leave you.”