«Never put any limits». Keith Langford’s letter to his younger self
The best Euroleague scorer Keith Langford wrote a letter to himself at 2008 (the first year in Europe at top level) and told about J.R. Holden’s advice, David Blatt’s patience and conquering the fear of finishing career in his mid 30's.
Dear 24-year-old Keith,
You’re sitting at the airport in Denver, Colorado on a layover. After leaving Las Vegas Summer League you’ve worked with two of the Nuggets assistant coaches and J.R. Smith. After turning down their offer to come to Denver and continue to work out while they decide whether or not to offer a contract, you decided to accept a 500k offer from Virtus Bologna in the Italian League.
Congratulations, Keith! I know your ass doesn’t have any money, so compliments for securing financial security for the first time in your adult life. Learn from the mistake you made two years earlier with Vanoli Cremona – the club from the second Italian division. Yes, you signed a contract for 160k. But when you arrived home for the summer, there was less than 15k in the bank. Learn the exchange rates of foreign currency and learn to be more selective in your spending habits. Get a separate bank account from your family members. It has to be you who decides how much they’ll receive and when it’ll be.
Next step’s to get rid of the insecurity and shame you feel for not making an NBA team. Man, you came home after a year in the Italian second division and still made the roster of Spurs! You’ll have plenty of jokes in the future about your career averages of one point and one rebound. Do you remember the first NBA basket you scored against Memphis Grizzlies? You scored it against Juan Carlos Navarro. You don’t know it now, but he’s arguably one of the best players to ever play European basketball. You’ll hear his name continuously for the next 9 years.
|Keith Langford and Juan Carlos Navarro|
You accomplished your goal and gave everything you had this summer! You played and started in the backcourt for the Chicago Bulls in the Summer League with the #1 pick of NBA Draft. Then with Denver you made 8/8 shots and played your best game of the summer. Don’t hang your head, young man. Before you get on this plane going home to Texas, make up your mind that it’s good news. You’ve earned this 500k contract. When they ask you what happened with Denver, just tell you weren’t good enough and move on. Focus on being the best damn Keith Langford you can be. Unfortunately, you will do the opposite of what I’m suggesting. But there’s a guy in Russia named J.R. Holden. He will enlighten you and help articulate what I’m saying now.
In 2010 you’ll be on the flight to the Russian League’s All Star Game and be sitting next to J.R. – the best American player to play basketball in Europe. He’ll beat you every time one-on-one. You won’t understand why until he introduces you to Darius. Don’t argue with Darius. Listen from day one! Darius will always have your best interest at hand. He’ll be there while you’re recovering from double knee surgery.
Sorry to tell you, but you’ll have surgery again – totaling 5! No one knows it because the work you do on the dark has people thinking you're just naturally gifted and that good. So don’t worry about the surgeries – you’re going to recover. It’s funny that players several years younger won’t be able to guard you while sometimes needing double teams.
On this flight J.R. is going to explain how to handle your money and how to deal with family. He’s going to be honest with you about how you’re cheating the game and what you need to do to get the most from this game. You won’t always talk but he’ll contact you when you most need it. Kelly McCarty will also mentor you, but J.R. will help set the stage for the player you'll become. J.R. and Darius are vital – use them even more than you’re going to. There’ll also be a lot of coaches on your way.
When you get to Bologna, your first coach Renato Pasquale will test you. He’ll try to come up with the ways to make you uncomfortable and force you to play his style of basketball without trying to understand the player he has in front of him. Don’t argue with him. You can learn from this experience because in a few years Rimas Kurtinaitis will do the same multiplied by 2 and cost you the largest contract you have signed up until that point. It’s a lot to understand, but don’t worry. You’ll get him fired after scoring 38 and 34 points in two revenge games against his team while setting the league record for most points scored in a quarter.
When Pasquale is fired after the first four games, Virtus will hire Matteo Bonicolli. He’ll be the first good thing to happen in your professional career. He’s going to give you the confidence to be yourself and he’ll help set the stage for winning your first championship in Europe. All while sparking the great love affair you’ll have with the city and fans of Bologna. Manu Ginobili told you earlier about the team he had played for in Europe before he came to San Antonio. Do you remember? You’ll go up on the team’s wall of fame next to him.
Sergio Scariolo will be the first coach to make you a millionaire. You’ll have highs and lows with him, but he’ll have your respect. You’ll come away from that situation wishing you would have listened more but having learned so much!
David Blatt will save your career after you lose ALL of the confidence when you get cut by Khimki. He’ll be patient when you get your swagger and timing back. You won’t be able to make a single free-throw for 5 - 6 games! But Blatt will tell you everyday: «I know you didn’t forget how to play basketball» and will overpraise you. Maccabi will give everything you need to recharge your batteries, but don’t waste time trying to negotiate with them. You’ll feel like you owe them something. They don’t have your best interest at hand. After you move on to Milan, don’t answer the phone when they call. And again when you’re in Kazan.
Luca Banchi will help you win the Alphonso Ford trophy and become the first team All-Euroleague player. He’ll make you practice a lot but you’re going to learn how to accept criticism and apply it to your game immediately. You’ll help Milano win its first championship in 20 years, but they’ll not offer you’re a damn thing when free agency comes along. The relationship will be repaired later, so don’t take it personal. They just won’t understand how valuable you were.
Before going to Kazan you’ll be tired and frustrated by the European basketball format. You’ll want to break the mold and chase your individual goals on and off the court. You’ll turn down several big teams offers because you want something different. Everyone will consider it a dumb decision, but it’s about what you want. Remember that. You’ll be looking for a situation where you can just hoop.
Kazan will grant you everything you wanted from a basketball and financial perspective in your career. Evgeniy Pashutin will let you play your game and grant you the freedom to be yourself. You’ll have a great working relationship with him. There’ll be unexpected challenges, Keith. Don’t compare Kazan to anywhere else you have been before – it’s a waste of time to do so. Ignore it all. Just put your head down and play.
Make the best of everything. When there’s an 18-hour road trip, buy your own business ticket. When there’s nothing for therapy, get a membership at spa and do your therapy there. When there’s no one to tape your ankles, buy some braces. The president of UNICS respects you and has paid what you’ve asked, so just play and manage all the little things yourself. By the time your 3rd year in Kazan comes, these things will have improved.
Fight your ass off to get to the Euroleague and lead the league in scoring again to win your second Alphonso Ford trophy. Do it all without complaining. Live with the results because you have everything you asked for. It’s going to be tough, but you’ll know you left it all on the court in every game.
Luckily, your family will be there every step of the way. Let them know you appreciate them because it’ll be difficult for your wife to understand how much time you dedicate to your craft. Manage this as best as you can. Understand that she’s trying to do what she thinks is best for the family as well. It’s all being done out of love.
That being said, forge ahead and keep working because you’ll set your personal career highs in the VTB League and Euroleague. There’ll also be scoring records for both leagues. At the age of 33 when you’re writing this, you'll still have a surprise for the basketball world that has yet to be revealed. Your story is still being written!
I know you’re afraid of being that old in the back of your mind. You're thinking that you'll stop playingl when you're 32. But do you remember game #6 of 1998 NBA finals? Broadcaster Bob Costas said: «Jordan’s 35 years old. It’s his 118th game of the season. He has played most minutes since his rookie season and hasn't missed any game». Remember how amazed you were? Could you imagine Jordan at 24 thinking: «Oh, at 32 I’ll be done»? Of course, no. So, Keith, never put any limits on yourself.
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