ON JAN. 26, 2006, an 11-year-old boy received a writing assignment from his sixth-grade teacher at Northeast Elementary School in Parker, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. He stood about 5-feet tall and was rail thin. He played baseball, tennis and football, but he loved another sport above all. The essay prompt: "What I want to be when I grow up."
And so the boy wrote: "There are so many things I want to do when I grow up, but if I had to choose one it is to be a basketball player."
In his 126-word answer, he said he plays every day in the living room on a small hoop. He practices with his dad, he wrote. He acknowledged he isn't the best at the other sports, but in basketball, people say that he is one of the best passers, and that his shooting is improving. He hopes to attend North Carolina, he said, his favorite college, and play for his hometown Denver Nuggets. "That is what I want to do in the future. I hope you like basketball or I'll chase you down like a grumpy old man with a stick."
But less than a decade later, by his senior year, that dream was in peril. He stood 6 feet tall, weighed 150 pounds. His parents had recorded his games with camcorders, editing footage together for highlight reels, then sent dozens of DVDs to colleges, hoping to spark interest. No one responded.
He considered a junior college in Wyoming that had little in the way of facilities. He pondered a non-scholarship offer from an NAIA school in Denver. His hopes dwindled.
He began to accept that, perhaps, he would attend college, graduate with a degree and leave basketball behind for good. That the sixth-grade assignment would become a totem of his childhood, a reminder of a life that never was.
That the boy ever reached the NBA seemed impossible. But little did he know -- little did anyone know -- that 17 years after that writing assignment, he'd be leading a legendary NBA franchise to the precipice of glory, with the opportunity to play in the Finals against the very team he wanted to play for all those years ago.