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For Some NBA Draftees, Making it to the Pros Runs in the Family


When the Houston Rockets selected Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. with the third pick of the N.B.A. draft on Thursday, it continued a tradition of basketball as a family inheritance.

His father, also named Jabari Smith, played in the N.B.A. in the early 2000s.

“My dad just told me it was time to amp it up a little bit, time to work even harder,” Jabari Smith Jr. said of his father’s reaction to the draft. “It’s a new level, whole new game. Just trying to get there and get to work.”

For a cadre of N.B.A. players, having a parent or being related to someone who played in the N.B.A. or W.N.B.A. isn’t particularly unusual. And many players who aren’t related to someone who played professionally have parents who played college basketball.

This past season, 30 second-generation players appeared in at least one N.B.A. game — a total that represents 5 percent of the league, and is nearly twice as many players as about two decades ago.

W.N.B.A. connections could also be found among top picks. Rhonda Smith-Banchero, the mother of the No. 1 pick, Paolo Banchero, played in the W.N.B.A. Banchero, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic, said his mother “stayed on me, always held me accountable and made sure I was on the right track.” The Detroit Pistons selected Purdue’s Jaden Ivey with the fifth pick. His mother, Niele Ivey, played in the W.N.B.A. and was a recent assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies. She’s now the coach of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team.

“It’s actually an amazing story to have a mother who’s been in the league,” Jaden Ivey said. “You don’t see too many stories like that, and the bond that we have is special. I thank her for all the things that she’s done for me. I know I wouldn’t be on this stage, I wouldn’t be here, without her.”

“He just shook his head,” Gary Payton II said. “I know that means it’s time. You know, go to work.”

And as the final seconds ticked away in Golden State’s championship-clinching win in Game 6, Curry embraced his father, Dell Curry, along one baseline. Stephen Curry broke down in tears.

“I saw him and I lost it,” he said, adding, “I just wanted to take in the moment because it was that special.”

In fact, the N.B.A. finals offered up a smorgasbord of generational talent. Among the Celtics: Al Horford, whose father, Tito Horford, played for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Washington Bullets, and Grant Williams, whose cousins, Salim and Damon Stoudamire, both played in the N.B.A. This season, Damon Stoudamire was able to keep a close eye on Williams as one of the Celtics’ assistants.

Players and coaches have cited a number of factors in the steady, decades-long emergence of father-son pairings, starting with genetics: It obviously helps to be tall. But many sons of former players also benefited from early exposure to the game, from top-notch instruction from the time they could start dribbling and from various other perks. For example, Stephen Curry and his younger brother, Seth Curry, who now plays for the Nets, had access to a full-length court in their family’s backyard, complete with lights.

But with certain privilege comes pressure — especially when you share a name with a famous father. Gary Payton II recalled how his father had learned to back off when it came to basketball so that his son could develop a passion for the game on his own. They simply stopped talking about hoops, and that has remained the case.

“Nowadays, he really doesn’t say anything,” Gary Payton II said. “We just talk about life, family, other sports and whatnot.”

It can also be a strain if your father is the coach, a situation that Austin Rivers was faced with when he played for his father, Doc Rivers, on the Los Angeles Clippers. Doc Rivers played in the league from 1983 to 1996 and is also an accomplished N.B.A. head coach. The younger Rivers called it “bittersweet.” Doc Rivers had his back as his father, but Austin Rivers told The Ringer that “everything else, man, was hell,” because it created an awkward dynamic with his teammates.

A similar situation may repeat itself next season: The Knicks hired Rick Brunson, a former N.B.A. player, as an assistant coach and are expected to target his son, Jalen Brunson, one of the top free agents, as an off-season acquisition.

Of course, it could work out just fine, as it did for Gary Payton. In the hours after Golden State won it all last week in Boston, he celebrated his son’s triumph by dancing through the hallways at TD Garden.



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