This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 26 / Jan. 2 Issue. Subscribe today!
IT'S A THURSDAY afternoon in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and under normal circumstances, the 23-year-old Hornets forward would want nothing more than some shut-eye on this rare day off. He's bleary-eyed after playing 33 minutes in Charlotte's 104-98 win the night before.
But his mom, Cindy Richardson, has just arrived from his hometown of Somerdale, New Jersey, and she's here to cook the spaghetti sauce that was his childhood favorite. The nap can wait.
"No onions," Kidd-Gilchrist reminds her as he rubs his eyes.
"I know, baby," she assures him. "But no sugar in the sauce, though."
This is Kidd-Gilchrist's lone dietary cheat.
Even as a kid, he never ate junk food, the kind of nutritional discipline that allows someone to make his NBA debut a month after turning 19.
It's his fifth season in the NBA, and although the 6-foot-7 Kidd-Gilchrist is still younger than six players taken in the 2016 draft, today he's feeling every one of those years. He's grateful to be tired, though. It means he was healthy enough to play in a game -- something that hasn't happened much the past two seasons. In October 2015, a shoulder injury limited his season to seven games. "The worst thing that's ever happened to me," he says.
Things are turning around. He moved into his first house this past summer, and it holds reminders everywhere that he's still just a kid, after all -- like a dining room with a chandelier but with no furniture underneath, along with a regulation basketball hoop nailed to his living room wall.
Kidd-Gilchrist, born into a family of pseudo-chefs, never needed to prepare his own meals. That's why Mom is here in his 8,500-square-foot home giving step-by-step lessons.
"By the time you finish this spaghetti," she says, handing him the ladle, "you'll know how to cook."
A few minutes later, after he swirls the turkey into the sauce and spoons it onto the pasta at his giant marble island, she hands him a plate and asks if it tastes all right. "It's good," he says.
Kidd-Gilchrist makes his final plea.
"... but Mom, can I please add some sugar?"
2 45 oz. jars Prego ("OK, so I cheat")
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 red onion (diced)
1 red and 1 green pepper (diced)
¼ cup garlic powder
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
¼ cup Italian seasoning
½ cup fresh parsley
3 lbs. ground turkey
2 lbs. sweet Italian sausage ("How I put love in my sauce")
16 oz. spaghetti noodles
Brown turkey and sausage in separate pans.
Drain grease. In a large pot, combine all other ingredients and simmer 25-30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add browned meat to pot.
Boil pasta. Drain. Add meat sauce. ("We like our spaghetti saucy -- you know what I mean.")
Call everyone to the table.