(Third in a series on the rise of Celtics forward Marcus Morris from North Philadelphia to the NBA).
Success didn’t come easily for Marcus Morris.
Even for first-round draft picks, a long-lasting NBA career isn’t guaranteed. The pressure of being a pro athlete takes a toll, especially while trying to adjust to a new lifestyle, on and off the court, at such an early age.
The average NBA career lasts a paltry four and a half years, according to a 2014 study by Businessinsider.com, and even as the 14th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Morris wasn’t sure he’d last that long. A slow start to his rookie season forced the Rockets to demote Morris to their D-League team, devastating his confidence. Things got worse when a reunion with his twin brother, Markieff, cut short after two-plus years in Phoenix when the Suns shipped him to the Pistons.
Coming to the Celtics in 2017 changed his career – in all aspects – for the better. Morris is playing some of his best basketball while becoming a vital piece to a championship contender. In 2018, he spoke to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan about the challenges he faced in Detroit and the obstacles he tackled through the dark days he had off the court when he was alone.
Morris admitted that he, like most NBA players, had to face his demons when things went really bad. He spoke to the team psychologist, Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, who showed him different ways to de-stress, such as taking deep breaths and meditating. He didn’t agree with how he was portrayed in the article – an NBA player battling anxiety and depression – but he did admit that being judged and perceived as a bad guy had finally gotten the best of him in Detroit.
“I think a lot of that stuff got misconstrued about what was going on,” Morris explained. “I never had anxiety and I never was really depressed. I had certain ways about me because of where my upbringing came from that I couldn’t break or people couldn’t look past or couldn’t understand. That’s what I think came. I don’t want to use the word depressed, but I definitely had cold days where I just couldn’t break certain habits just because of where I was raised, meaning you get — I don’t want to use the word crucified — but I feel like you get judged a lot in this league.
“For me, it was like everybody was like ‘he’s a bad ass, he’s this, he’s that,’ and I think that all came from where I was raised, my attitude, stuff like that. I try to not necessarily break it because I really don’t care about what people think about me, but I use chapel, using my faith and knowing that everything’s okay, everything’s going to be okay. I’m built here for bigger things than just myself.”
Chapel has been Morris’ sanctuary, second to the basketball court, since he was traded from Phoenix. Reverend Robert Gray, the Celtics chaplain who is in his 19th season with the team after stints with the Red Sox and Patriots, met Morris when he came to Boston as a member of the Pistons.
“He’s very serious about his walk of life,” Gray said. “He’s just a blessing, he makes time. There was a point where his time for shooting around interfered with chapel. Somehow, they went and they were able to adjust it so that he could still come to chapel. But that was something he went and requested. He’s been a blessing to me. I see that kind of faith and I’m inspired.”
Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen accompanies Morris to chapel after each pregame workout, roughly one hour before tip-off. Whether it’s a home game or on the road – where every NBA team has its own chapel available before games – Morris and Allen make time to clear their minds of basketball and focus on their faith.
“With Marcus, we would talk about it. We talked about it all the time,” Allen said. “We just started going to chapel together since he came here. At the beginning of the season, we’d pray about the upcoming season, its challenges and health. We’d lock arms, and that’s his (doing). I’m just glad that I’ve been able to sit next to him in that space, as well. Probably more so than anything I can show him strategically on a computer about angles, how to attack, where to be on help-side defense.
“That’s really the most important thing, and he gets a chance to see me and my imperfections, but still holding onto what’s at the center of my life.”
Allen has seen players like Morris struggle day-to-day throughout his playing and coaching career. For the North Philly native who’s known the Celtics forward since Morris’ teenage years, Allen has been instrumental in helping Morris find peace throughout the past two seasons.
“I’ve been doing it for a while (going to chapel) but I think ever since I’ve been on the team, Jerome helped me even expand it a lot more,” Morris said. “He stays on me about going. He tries to push me in that direction with my family and things like that. You know, God puts certain people in your life for reasons. I feel like that was a reason for having him in my life. I could have played for any team, he could have been on any team and we end up on the same team. It’s a blessing.”
Allen also commends Brad Stevens and the Celtics organization for understanding the importance of players’ well-being.
“If you ask these guys, I think sometimes they see us too much, but the season is long and because of that we’re in a bunch of intimate settings with each other so we get to see the good and the bad about one another,” Allen said. “At every human being’s core there’s some element of goodness, I truly believe. The things that deter them or stop them from being who they are, I think before we start to label them, we need to try to have a better understanding as to why those things are the case.
“It could be they had previous traumatic experiences, it could be genetics, it could be trauma that hasn’t been addressed or it could be their whole sense of normalcy because of their upbringing. Who knows? But I think we need to do a better job of just trying to understand the cognition behind certain behaviors.”
Morris and Allen have shared numerous conversations about their respective struggles. Success on the basketball court has certainly helped smooth things over.
Morris is averaging career-bests in nearly every statistical category this season, including points (14.2), field-goal percentage (45.6), and rebounds (6.2). However, off the court, a life-changing (and jersey-changing) event gave Morris a new outlook on life.
The birth of his son, Marcus Morris Jr., is a day Morris will never forget. It inspired him to add the suffix ‘Sr.’ to the back of his uniform.
“It was special for me, just the process of going through nine months with my girl,” Morris said. “Finally (seeing) him and to know that I have a child to raise was different (but) probably the best feeling in the world.”
Morris never met his father. Morris’ grandmother helped his mother, Thomasine “Angel” Morris, raise him and the rest of his siblings in the troubled area of North Philadelphia until Morris eventually reached the NBA and was able to support himself.
It was no coincidence that the first thing Morris did with his first NBA check was buy Angel a house and a car before purchasing one for himself. Still, for the things money can’t buy – happiness and peace – Morris knows he’s fortunate to have a support system of friends and family that give him strength and joy every day.
Full article @ Marcus Morris Basketball Journey Part 3: Fighting demons and finding joy through faith
Source: GreenStreet Blog