'It's either hoop or you sell dope': Patrick Beverley never forgets his humble beginnings

How Patrick Beverley's bet on himself led him to the NBA (6:58)

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley overcame tough times growing up in Chicago, including getting suspended in college and having to use his own money to play in the NBA. (6:58)

THE LIGHTS WERE off and lasers were beaming in all different directions. The public-address announcer's voice boomed over the speakers at Staples Center as the LA Clippers' starting lineup was introduced for the season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.

"At one guard, 6-1, in his eighth year, from the city of Chicago ... No. 21, Patrick Beverley!"

Beverley tapped his chest and pointed skyward. The Clippers guard does this before every game.

He waited for each Clipper announced, meeting them with personalized greetings: a fadeaway jumper with Landry Shamet, a hook shot with Ivica Zubac.

Unlike Beverley, his teammates were introduced using their college -- or in the case of Zubac, the nation where he played before joining the NBA. Only Beverley was introduced with the city in which he grew up.

"From Chicago," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Beverley's tenacity. "He gets rebounds that he has no business getting. I think a lot of that is just his grit. And he believes it's his ball."

"I probably would've been the best drug dealer in the world."
Patrick Beverley, when considering what life would've been like without pro basketball

Entering this season, Rivers wanted Beverley to continue to play with the anger and intensity that made him one of the leaders of the team. But Rivers made it clear that he wants Beverley to play with emotion, not be emotional.

"It means, I get called for a foul [and I used to say], 'What the f---, ref?'" Beverley said. "Save it. 'Good call.' Next play. The team sees me do that, now everybody else is cool. The team sees me like this, now everybody else is like this, you know? So this is just all about growing."

Channeling his emotion is something Beverley has been working on in recent years, but he has been growing since one fateful summer in Chicago.

When asked to consider what his life would be without professional sports, the Clippers guard doesn't hesitate: "I probably would've been the best drug dealer in the world."

K-TOWN SITS ON the west side of Chicago, between North Lawndale and West Garfield Park. Beverley was back home for a few months during the summer of 2008, in this area that got its nickname because all of its streets start with the letter K.

He had been suspended from the University of Arkansas basketball team for his junior year for plagiarism. Upon returning home, Beverley was faced with a dilemma -- pursue a pro career or try to survive by earning a living on the streets.

With a 2-year-old son and a newborn daughter, Beverley had a $5,000 advance payment from an agent but felt his choice was made.

"Mouths need to be fed, you know?" Beverley said. "Coming from where I come from, I didn't have the luxury of having a trust fund. Or money from generations. Or the luxury of hoppin' into the family business, you know?

"It's either hoop or you sell dope."

LISA BEVERLEY JUGGLED as many as three jobs trying to feed her son, Patrick, and pay for a one-bedroom apartment in inner- city Chicago as a single mom. While her mother, aunt and cousins took turns helping raise Patrick, Lisa worked for the Illinois phone company, then known as Ameritech, and was an overnight dispatcher for two trucking companies. Whatever few hours were left in a day after that, she squeezed in appointments doing nails.

Lisa, who gave birth to Patrick just weeks after graduating from high school, secured their first apartment on the corner of Parkside and Washington when Patrick was 4. She tried to shield her son from the realities of their unforgiving environment, like stepping over someone doing cocaine in the stairwell. One morning when she was dropping off Patrick at her mother's apartment, she told her 8-year-old son to run while she was being robbed in an alley for $20.

"[My grandmother] couldn't tell me how to be a man, neither did my mother," Beverley said. "My grandmother used to tell me things like, 'You should watch Italian movies, watch all The Godfathers.'

"I never understood that until recently, she's like, 'Yeah, I didn't know how to tell you then but family is everything. Being the man of the household is everything.' So they kind of molded me to be this little baby gangster before I was me."

Patrick also would observe the drug-peddling boyfriends his mother dated for their protection.

"My mom had to do what she had to do to keep food [and a roof] over my head," Beverley said. "So the guys that she did date were all drug dealers."

He learned how to push drugs -- and do it well.

So what would his life be like had he remained a dealer?

"Rich, I'll tell you that," Beverley said. "During that time I wasn't really scared of anything, and those are the most dangerous people. I knew the ins and outs. ... I know the rules of the streets and then it was like, I got an extra credit class from all the guys my mom dated."

One of them, Adlai "Dexter" Hood, was a dealer his mother dated for four years. Hood was shot eight times and killed in his car, according to Lisa. Patrick named his oldest daughter, Adlaia, after Hood, who was like a father figure to him.

Lisa had no idea that Patrick sold drugs after he left Arkansas until he recently told her. But he didn't tell her how he learned to push.

"Oh, Jesus!" Lisa blurted during the season opener at Staples Center when told of Patrick saying he learned the tricks of dealing from some of her boyfriends. "It breaks my heart. I feel like I failed him."

BEVERLEY WAS MAKING good money selling marijuana, putting into practice what he learned. He was doing well. But in August 2008, as a light flickered from red to green at an intersection, Beverley's white Dodge Magnum collided with another vehicle running a red light.

His car flipped three times. Not wearing a seat belt and with the windows down, Beverley somehow was able to climb out without a scratch. A friend found his cellphone down the block after it flew out the car. Beverley remembers the EMT in the ambulance afterward telling him that he shouldn't be alive.

But it's what Beverley says he clearly heard in the car -- as clear as if it were broadcast over the car radio -- amid the explosion of twisting metal and shattering glass that has stuck with him to this day.

"I heard a voice saying we would be OK," Beverley said. "It had to be God."

He escaped physical trauma. But a few weeks later, Beverley suffered an emotional scar that has never healed.

Beverley grew up an only child, but to him, Donovan Morris was like his little brother. The two were three years apart but inseparable.

"They were raised like brothers," Beverley's mother said. "[His grandmother] adopted a lot of foster kids. Pat spent a lot of time there, so they were all raised in one house."

But on a Saturday night a few weeks after his car accident, Beverley drove Morris and another cousin to West Kamerling Avenue in Humboldt Park. After shooting dice with friends on the corner, Beverley decided to go back to his grandmother's place. Something, though, felt off.

He repeatedly tried to convince Morris to head back with him, to go eat at his grandmother's place as they had done so many times.

"Let's go, let's go," Beverley said to Morris, to no avail.

Not long after Beverley drove off, he got a call telling him that Morris was dead, shot multiple times. Beverley and his mother went to the hospital to identify the 16-year-old's body because Morris wasn't carrying an ID.

"I shouldn't have brought him over there," Beverley said, replaying the moment in his head like he has thousands of times before. "I should've grabbed [him]. Anything, you know? You Monday night quarterbacking, you can think of anything. I took that on the chin a lot."

Beverley later added, "I had nightmares for like two months straight. I went ghost. I went red. I was in a dark spot."

Two days after Morris died, Beverley got a call to play overseas in Ukraine.

"I'm going to play basketball and not be in his shoes," Beverley said of what ran through his head 48 hours after Morris' death. "People talk about like, I don't know, sacrificial lambs and all that. And of course, I don't compare him to a lamb, but his sacrifice kind of woke up our family.

"It forced me to go hustle -- the right way."

RIVERS HAS SEEN too many talented basketball players never make it out of Chicago, which also is where the coach hails from. For every Isiah Thomas or Derrick Rose, there are dozens of Chicago prodigies.

Last year was the 25th anniversary of "Hoop Dreams," and Rivers remembers how one of the documentary's main stars, Arthur Agee, was once an inspiration to a generation of Chicago kids. Agee also was part of the documentary sequel -- "Hoop Reality" -- that focused on Beverley, another prep star to follow in Agee's footsteps at John Marshall Metropolitan High School.

While kids in Chicago today might want to be the next Anthony Davis, Rivers said there's another blueprint when reality hits -- and Agee agrees.

"[Beverley] is the new grit guy for these guys who always think they are going to come into the league and score 20 points and have an immediate impact. Patrick Beverley represents all those hard-nosed guys who had to go overseas and had to work," said Agee, who does public speaking and is working on a new documentary with "Hoop Dreams" co-star William Gates.

"He is the smallest version of Dennis Rodman," Agee added. "He is a point guard Dennis Rodman. And don't nobody else in the league play like him, pick up guys 94 feet and twist and turn guys."

But Beverley did something Agee never did: make it to the NBA. And he did so without a lottery pedigree or the help of a marquee basketball school, instead going from a second-round pick who was cut by the Miami Heat in 2010 to a two-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection who played himself into the three-year, $40 million contract awarded by the Clippers this past summer.

Beverley used part of that money to buy his mother a six-bedroom house at Sienna Plantation, not far from Houston, where Beverley played with the Rockets from 2013 to 2017. He also told her to go on a shopping spree, but she couldn't bring herself to do it.

"I said, 'No, no. What if something happens?'" she said. "'I still got to hold on and make sure.'"

After years of fighting to prove himself, Beverley's spot in the NBA is secure. He has carved out a reputation as an elite defender and rebounder. Rivers also gave Beverley his game-by-game sheet to call plays, a responsibility he says he has given to only two other point guards -- Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul.

Still, it's vital to Beverley to never forget his humble beginnings. He visits Los Angeles hospitals and gives food at area shelters, and he and his mother are a part of an initiative along with the Clippers and a sponsor, Honey, to provide affordable tickets on game days.

"Coming from the projects, we used to sneak into the United Center, watch some games; they chased us out and everything," Beverley recalled during the preseason. "[That] I am fortunately able to get people $10 tickets is crazy. Unbelievable feeling."

IT'S A WEDNESDAY night matchup against the Boston Celtics in L.A. as the Clippers' starting lineup is introduced.

"The other guard, 6-8, in his 10th season, from Palmdale ... No. 13 ... Paul George!"

"And the other forward, 6-7, in his ninth year, from Moreno Valley ... No. 2 ... Kawhi Leonard!"

Beverley is no longer the lone Clipper introduced using the town in which he grew up. But before the contest starts, he still taps his chest and points to the air. He does this before every game for Morris.

It's a nightly reminder of why he is here and not on some dark corner of a street in K-Town.

"Everyone I see in front of me is like, 'Man, how you get ranked in front of me?'" Beverley says of why he plays angry. "There's no way that you've been through what I've been through ... seven, eight seconds left, I can go down deeper and get motivation from things that caused me so much pain that people can never get to.

"I can't shame my mom. ... My motivation comes from that and my motivation comes from Chicago. I go home ... I'm still in the hood. I don't need my friends telling me that, 'Hey man, you got killed.' I represent them. I represent Chicago."

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Nov. 22, 2019. It was updated on March 1, 2020.