IT'S 8:00 A.M. on July 1, 2016, and a vibrating iPhone jolts Malcolm Delaney awake. Groggy from the prior night at the Miami nightclub Cameo, he rolls over to see the name of his agent, Andrew Vye, glimmering on the screen. God, would Malcolm love to go back to sleep -- he and his friends got in only five hours earlier. But he knows the period in which NBA teams can sign new players has just begun.
"Good news," Vye says, when Malcolm calls him back. The Hawks are interested in Malcolm's services. More than interested. An offer is imminent.
Malcolm has spent the previous five years overseas. He has lived in France, Ukraine, Germany and Russia -- five years, four countries, three time zones. Although NBA teams have come calling before, this time, it's different. Malcolm is a free agent; there's no buyout or contractual clause standing in the way. In just a few hours, Malcolm, 27 -- seven years older than most first-year NBA players -- will earn the designation he has coveted since he graduated from Virginia Tech a half-decade ago: NBA rookie.
He takes out his cell phone and opens up a group chat where he keeps touch with his closest friends: "I just signed with the Hawks," he writes.
Three of those friends, staying with Malcolm at his three-bedroom North Bay Village condo, hustle into his room to celebrate. Four hours later, Vye calls back. Malcolm, in his living room, places Vye on speakerphone. Vye says it looks like the deal is going to be for two years and $5 million. The money is nice, albeit not much more than the $3 million to $4 million Malcolm has amassed overseas. But this is about more than cash. This is about something more: achieving what so many in his life never have.
There's his father, Vincent III, or Big V -- the moniker Malcolm's friends addressed him by -- who played forward for Voorhees College. There's Malcolm's older brother, Vincent IV, or V, a former free safety at Stonehill College. There are all the other AAU teammates, friends and neighbors who've dreamed of suiting up for a professional sports team. All of them scratched and clawed. All fell short.
As he speaks to Vye, Malcolm is euphoric, for sure, but mostly just relieved. Stoic, even. His friends, on the other hand, can't contain their glee. Keron DeShields, who grew up with Malcolm in Baltimore, runs circles around the two black leather couches in front of the flat-screen TV. Corey Spencer, also from Baltimore, hops up and down. Malcolm calls his parents, then heads outside to the balcony of his 18th-floor apartment overlooking Biscayne Bay, the hot Miami sun beating down on the group.
Four days later Malcolm boards a flight to Atlanta for a physical, then it's off to Las Vegas to work out with the Hawks staffers. On July 15, after flying to Los Angeles, he checks into West Hollywood's Mondrian Hotel, where Daniel Starkman, the Hawks' manager of basketball operations and information, meets him, contract in hand. Wearing a white T-shirt and white Nike shorts, Malcolm picks up the black pen.
He has been envisioning this moment for years, since the days when he and his brother would wear out the pavement of the driveway court sandwiched onto the side of their East Baltimore row home. Now it's real, all of it. Malcolm dials his family, telling them he wants to celebrate. He calls his brother, four years his elder but still his best friend, and tells him to start packing his bags. A business management major, Vincent's going to move to Atlanta and work with Malcolm, be the "E" to his Vince, just as they've always planned.
Sitting on the red-eye back to Baltimore, Malcolm realizes that everything he's ever wanted, every dream he's ever had, is about to be his.
"It was the best week of my life," Malcolm says today. "Then it became the worst."
MALCOLM DELANEY HAD expected to be drafted, and why not? He'd been one of the top high school basketball players in Maryland before enrolling at Virginia Tech. He'd finished his collegiate career third on the school's all-time scoring list and second in assists. As a junior he'd led the ACC in scoring.
At 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds he wasn't big enough to be a 2-guard, and his score-first mentality scared off suitors interested in having him play the point. His coach at the time, Seth Greenberg, implored NBA scouts to focus on the attributes Malcolm possessed rather than what he lacked. Malcolm, he told them, was a "basketball junkie," a natural scorer, a player who boasted the type of basketball IQ coaches fantasize about.
"They were worried about his position. I tried telling them he wasn't a point guard or shooting guard, he was a ball guard," Greenberg says.
On June 24, 2011, three months after his final collegiate game, Malcolm and his family congregated in front of the TV in the living room of their Baltimore home. His grandmother, aunt and uncle came by too. The night of the 2011 NBA draft they were all there to celebrate. The way the family saw it, Malcolm had led one of college basketball's top conferences in scoring; of course some NBA team would give him a shot.
They waited four hours to hear his name called. It never was. Malcolm, who'd spent much of the evening on the front stoop with friends, was dejected, his brother livid. Even worse, that summer's labor lockout meant Malcolm would have to wait, possibly months, maybe even a year, to sign with an NBA squad. The Delaneys didn't struggle financially the way many of their East Baltimore neighbors did. Big V is a social worker and his wife, Patricia (or "Ms. Pat" if you were one of the Delaney brothers' friends), worked for 30 years as a home aide and ran a local daycare center. The two had labored to give their children a good life.
Still, the family was far from rich. Malcolm, a now-unemployed former student-athlete with an empty bank account living in his parents' home, couldn't afford to go months without receiving a paycheck and had no interest in taking out a loan. Ever since he was a kid he had been addicted to stories and documentaries detailing the myriad ways athletes go broke. It was a hidden obsession, a pitfall he intended to avoid. Borrowing money, he thought, was the first step down that path. Instead, he signed a one-year, $130,000 deal with France's Elan Chalon and requested a $5,000 advance. He packed his bags, leaving everything he loved behind: his parents, his Baltimore crab cakes, the sneakers splayed across the floor of his childhood bedroom and the brother who was always by his side.
On the court in France, Malcolm averaged 15 points per game, helping lead his club to a 23-7 record and a Ligue Nationale de Basket Pro A title. Away from basketball he struggled. The car the team was contractually obligated to provide him was a stick shift, which Malcolm didn't know how to drive. There wasn't an IHOP or a restaurant with a good stack of pancakes anywhere in sight. Once, he tried buying pork chops; he wound up purchasing an unidentifiable mystery meat. He spent nights off from basketball in his apartment playing "Call of Duty" and binge-watching "Weeds" or "Breaking Bad." He refused to hang any posters or family pictures on the blank, white walls of his Chalon-sur-Saône apartment. The reason? "That wasn't my home."
Still, as time went by, he learned to cope. He downloaded an app to help him translate foreign menus. Patricia started sending him regular shipments of his favorite delicacies: Waffle Crisp cereal, maple syrup and Pop-Tarts. He FaceTimed his brother twice a day. And he devoted his gym hours to honing the areas of his game that needed the most work. He honed his shooting, learned how to navigate a pick-and-roll, how to reel in his desire to always attack. He signed the following season with Kiev, Ukraine's BC Budivelnyk, where he was named All-EuroCup First Team, and the year after that he led his German team to a title while being named league MVP. In just three years Malcolm had morphed into one of Europe's top players. That led to a two-year, $2.4 million contract with Russia's PBC Lokomotiv Kuban -- meaning he could buy his parents a nice house out in Baltimore County and still continue putting money in the bank.
"My goal," he says, "was to become a millionaire by the age of 25. I knew if I did that in Europe then the NBA teams would come calling."
Malcolm did, and then they did. And that's when his world turned upside down.
MALCOLM TOUCHES DOWN in Washington, D.C., earlier than expected. It's July 16, the day after he signed with the Hawks, and the red-eye was a breeze. There's enough time to squeeze in a workout and get some rest before dinner at East Baltimore's Jimmy's Famous Seafood, where his picture hangs on the Wall of Fame alongside the likes of Rudy Gay and Torrey Smith. About 20 friends and family members join him. There are heaping plates of crab cakes and wings.
Around 9:30 p.m., as dinner is wrapping up, Big V and Ms. Pat, wearing their new Hawks tees, suggest the boys return home, but Malcolm wants to treat those who've come out to a special night. He and Vincent connect with a promoter who sets them up with a table at a Washington club called Soundcheck. It's on a quiet stretch on K Street across from a bank, and a block away from the headquarters of The Washington Post. They rent a black Mercedes Sprinter van to shuttle them south. Toasts are made on the drive down. Future's music pulsates. Once there, they spend three hours cordoned off in their own section, toasting Malcolm and his success.
The club lets out around 3:00, and Vincent and a friend head next door to grab some pizza while the rest of the group waits for the van on the sidewalk outside. One of Malcolm's friends, a younger guy who's been drinking more than the rest, sees two black males around the same age and decides to "Eurostep" -- a hard step in one direction followed by a quick step the other way -- around one of them on his walk toward the curb.
A scuffle begins. Words are exchanged.
The van and driver are nowhere to be found. When the back-and-forth grows heated, Malcolm and the friend apologize. "This is my little brother," Malcolm tells them. "He didn't mean any disrespect." The words only further enrage the other men. They stride off and climb into their car. One of Malcolm's friends sees the man in the passenger seat hunched over and clutching something underneath his chair. What it is exactly, he can't tell. The Mercedes van finally arrives and Malcolm, Vincent and the rest of group pile inside.
"I think they had a gun," says one friend.
It's a cool 70 degrees, well after 4:00 a.m., as the van heads back toward Baltimore, cruising northeast on the Anacostia Freeway. The scare is over; it's time to unwind. Vincent turns to his right. There's Malcolm, his baby brother, his best friend. Vincent looks him in the eye. "I'd put my life on the line for you," Vincent says. "I'd never let anything happen to you." Pat will later tell friends this was a sign from God -- that Vincent had some type of intuition about what would happen next.
Moments later, Malcolm, Vincent and the other 10 passengers in the van hear a screeching sound from outside the left window, then piercing bangs followed by the shattering of glass. Gunshots. Eight of them.
For those under attack it seems like more. Seconds later the shooter's car speeds away. Around Malcolm, panic ensues. Not for him, though. Like many of East Baltimore's children, he's been around gunfire before.
The van's floor is littered with shards of glass. So is the back of Malcolm's shirt. He climbs out of the tangle of limbs he and two friends have formed by the door and surveys the scene. Wives and girlfriends are shrieking. Debris is everywhere. Malcolm checks himself for wounds -- he's unscathed -- and quickly looks for his brother.
"You good?" he asks Vincent. "Yeah," Vincent replies, but then Malcolm spots blood: It's splattered across the right side of his brother's face.
Vince's right shoulder has been hit, just above his "I AM MY BROTHER'S KEEPER" tattoo. There's another hole in his back. Malcolm rests his brother's head in his lap as friends frantically dial 9-1-1. They yell at the driver to find the nearest hospital, but she has been hit in the left thigh and one of the van's left tires has been shot out. Instead, she finds a gas station about a mile away, and two of Malcolm's friends leap out to secure Vincent a ride. Malcolm stays in the van with his brother, refusing to leave his side. The ambulance never comes. A friend hands his gray-and-black shirt over to Malcolm, to use while applying pressure to Vincent's wound. Malcolm does, but Vincent's brown eyes begin to fade. Malcolm slaps him, begs him to stay awake.
As Malcolm tends to Vincent, some friends spot a burgundy pickup truck parked at a nearby gas station. They sprint to the driver. It takes some pleading, but he agrees to shuttle them and Vincent north to Prince George's Hospital. Malcolm and two others gently lift Vincent's bleeding body and load him into the cargo bed.
The ride to the hospital is the longest four-mile trip of Malcolm's life. As they inch up the hill leading to the entrance to the ER, past the trees and blank office buildings, Vincent's heart ceases beating. Malcolm remembers the CPR classes he was forced to take back in Towson Catholic High School, so he takes his left hand, then his right, which has the name "Skyler" inked across the back, a tribute to Vincent's 6-year-old son, and starts pushing on Vincent's chest. Five seconds go by, then 10. Malcolm presses down 30 times, then lowers his mouth to his brother's lips.
"I think he's gone," he says out loud.
The truck pulls up to the ER's entrance, and Malcolm and his friends unload Vincent onto a stretcher. A doctor rushes out and puts her fingers to Vincent's neck.
"We have a pulse," she says.
VINCENT AND MALCOLM, Malcolm and Vincent. Growing up the two brothers were as inseparable as twins, and just as hard to tell apart. "We tried getting Malcolm to find his own friends," Patricia says, "but Vincent always wanted him around."
The two spent hours tossing a football or shooting baskets outside, often on the family driveway hoop -- which started off as a crate attached to pole -- or at a local park. Malcolm was especially fond of BMX bikes, and he and Vincent would launch them off the curbs near their house. In youth basketball league games the Delaneys did their best to squeeze Malcolm onto Vincent's team, which Big V usually coached. If prohibited, Malcolm would watch his older brother's games from the stands. "The family is like a cocoon," Greenberg says. As the brothers grew older, their faces grew more alike, from their smiles to their finely trimmed beards to their bodies -- in college Vincent was 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds -- which filled out similarly, too.
Later on, the brothers adopted a motto: FOE -- Family Over Everything. Malcolm got the letters tattooed on his back during his sophomore year in college, and Vincent and some close friends soon followed suit. Family Over Everything became everything to Malcolm. The acronym can be found engraved on every corner of his life: his social media accounts, his gold chains, his shoes.
IT'S 5:00 A.M. when Malcolm removes his iPhone from his blood-soaked jeans, calls his parents and settles into a waiting-room seat. Vincent Sr. doesn't answer his phone. When Malcolm tries Patricia, she's jolted awake.
"Vincent's been shot," he tells his mother.
"He's been shot. But he's alive."
Patricia passes the phone to her husband, who takes down the hospital's information. He and his wife are about an hour away. Malcolm, in the meantime, can barely stay still. He alternates between sitting and pacing across the waiting-room floor, praying for his brother. He thinks about Vincent's son, and how tomorrow he might be his to look after. All around Malcolm, the other passengers are replaying the events of the night, trying to extract some sense from it all. A few have found hospital scrubs to wear over their bloody clothes. The room is quiet. There are no beeps, no TV, no other families hoping for news. Just Malcolm and his friends, sitting there, with nothing to do but wait and pray.
After 35 minutes, a doctor emerges. He says he can't share much, but that Vincent is alive. Malcolm asks to see him, but he's told that his brother remains in critical condition, that more surgery and tests are on tap.
Vincent Sr. and Patricia see a homicide detective when they arrive. Their hearts momentarily stop and Malcolm quickly apprises them of the situation. A surgeon comes out with an update. Vincent, the surgeon says, took five bullets. One hit his right index finger, which will need to be amputated. He has holes in his chest and left shoulder, too. Another bullet struck his spine. That last piece of news hits them like a hammer.
Vincent should survive, but he'll be paralyzed.
The Delaneys desperately want to see their son, but are still told they cannot. Malcolm, who just 36 hours before was sitting in an L.A. hotel suite signing his first NBA contract, ignores the edict and sneaks upstairs.
THE PLAN HAD been to spend the summer in Atlanta -- to, as Malcolm says, "Go harder than ever before." But FOE doesn't take time off, not even for the NBA, so as the summer crawls along Malcolm refuses to leave his brother's side.
Vincent spends nearly two weeks in Prince George's Hospital, shot up with all sorts of drugs and hooked up to all manner of tubes. The cardiac arrest had crashed his brain, the bullets had robbed his body of its ability to function. It takes Vincent four days to open his eyes -- he'll eventually try to blink to communicate -- and twice as long to open his mouth. Even then, the words don't always make sense. Sometimes he cries out that the devil is in his room. The medication is messing with his mind. He doesn't remember anything from that fateful night -- not the shooting, not even why they were out celebrating.
Big V and Patricia commute back and forth from Baltimore County, while Malcolm gets a hotel room in nearby Bowie. He spends mornings at Bowie State University working out with a strength coach the Hawks had sent up, then from noon to 9:00 camps out at the hospital. He shows Vincent pictures of the two of them in Hawks gear and tells him how many people are asking about him and praying for him. He reminds him how strong he is, pleads with him to keep fighting.
Slowly, progress is made. The Hawks put the Delaneys in touch with a noted spine specialist from Emory University. Big V convinces the doctors to lower Vincent's medication dosage. Vincent starts lifting his arms. The family shifts from grieving the loss of one reality to accepting the arrival of a new one.
On July 30, 13 days after the shooting, 15 days after Malcolm had signed his NBA contract, Patricia and Big V celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows in a ceremony at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.
They're celebrating something else too. Earlier in the day, Vincent had been transferred from the hospital to a more rehab-focused unit in Baltimore. He's no longer in critical condition and has even begun speaking, though his memory is still hazy.
The doctors, when he'd come to, had asked if knew his name. "Yeah," he'd responded. "Malcolm Hakeem Delaney."
IT'S MARCH 22, 2017, and Vincent is back in D.C. for the first time since the shooting. He's sporting a red Hawks T with a black, flat-brimmed Hawks hat and sitting in his wheelchair in the stands of the Verizon Center, watching his brother take on the hometown Wizards.
This season has been a difficult one for Malcolm. He's not playing as frequently or as effectively as he'd like. The Hawks are still happy with him. They brought him in because they were attracted to his intelligence and willingness to defend. GM Wes Wilcox says he's seen nothing this season to make him believe the team made a mistake. Still, Malcolm struggles. His jumper has eluded him; a 40 percent long-range shooter overseas, Malcolm is connecting on just 24 percent of his 3s with Atlanta. At times he has grappled with making the adjustment from lead guard to role player. His minutes have dropped since the All-Star break and three weeks ago the Hawks signed veteran point guard Jose Calderon, pushing Malcolm further down the depth chart.
Some of the bounce he has always played with has disappeared. "It never really felt like I made it, when me and my brother couldn't share this, I wasn't happy after that," Delaney says. "I couldn't celebrate after that knowing that he couldn't celebrate, still to this day I can't really enjoy this."
He hears his words, then pauses to clarify. "I'm not saying I don't have fun playing, or that I'm not working hard. But he was supposed to be here with me. Without him watching every game courtside, it's just not the same."
All of which is what makes this night so special -- this will be Vincent's first time watching Malcolm play live in an NBA game. He has spent the season following along from his parents' home, where he now lives. Vincent and his wife are in the middle of a messy divorce and custody battle, one that began after the shooting.
So Patricia, with her experience as a home nurse, is the one taking care of her eldest son. But he's also getting better at taking care of himself. He has fought off the depression and can even lift his arms now. He's able to pick up some objects with his hands. He can't yet text, but he's back to FaceTiming. He and Malcolm speak every day, with Vincent often castigating his younger brother for not launching more shots.
"He's the glue to us; his spirit lifts us," Patricia says. "He doesn't sit there and feel sorry for himself." On game nights, the family gathers in front of the living room TV, with a Hawks hat on the mantel behind them. Next to it is a hand-drawn picture of Malcolm and Vincent, a gift from a friend, with Malcolm's arm draped around the neck of his older brother.
Two hours before game time, Vincent is wheeled into a van. He's tired, thanks to the nerves and anticipation that kept him awake the night before. The Delaneys make it to the Verizon Center just in time for tip-off. After the game Malcolm introduces his brother to teammates like Taurean Prince and DeAndre' Bembry. Malcolm speaks about Vincent so often they feel like they already know him. Vincent feels the same.
The night's highlight comes with nine minutes left in the second quarter. Malcolm jumps a sloppy pass thrown by Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. and streaks across the half-court line. Earlier that evening Vincent had just one plea for his baby brother: "Win or lose, at least get a dunk for me," he said. It's a tall request. Only once this season has Malcolm thrown one down.
Here, with no Wizard in front of him, the path to the rim is clear. Vincent's vision remains blurry, yet he can still make out his younger brother zipping for the hoop. Malcolm takes two dribbles with his left hand, transfers the ball over to his right and launches off his left foot. He violently slams the ball through the rim.
As a kid, Malcolm would always notice if his parents or brother were late for a game. He'd look up at the stands right before tip-off to make sure they were all seated and would later scold them if they were late. Now, back on the Verizon Center court, Malcolm quickly tries to regain his balance. He needs to get back on defense. There's no time to check if his family saw him score, but also no need. For the first time all season they are there, sitting where they belong, watching Malcolm fulfill his dream.
Follow NBA writer Yaron Weitzman on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.