The holiday season is a time of reflection for many people, a time to count your blessings, and that is especially true for Nets forward Taurean Prince, who endured two years of being homeless as a youth but still found a way to earn a basketball scholarship to Baylor and to eventually work his way to the NBA.
After the trade that brought him to the Nets last summer, Prince, 25, signed a two-year contract extension worth $29 million that will kick in next season, but he hasn’t lost his appreciation for the values that mean the most in his life.
Asked to describe how his childhood experience affects his approach to the holidays, Prince told Newsday, “Well, I’m big on sacrifice, so when my mother had my youngest sister about seven years after me, it was a situation where I told her, ‘Just focus on getting her presents.’ Then she had my little brother 10 years ago. It was more about them than myself.
“That’s how it’s been ever since I was in middle school, and I carry that with me now. I just make sure other people around me are taken care of and they feel loved and they get certain things they may have been wanting throughout the year on Christmas. I just show them the love and show them that they’re cared for.”
Just over a year ago, Prince wrote a moving account of his youth for The Players Tribune. He was 12 years old and going into seventh grade in San Antonio when the marriage between his mother, Tamiko, and his father, Anthony, broke up. Shortly afterward, his father got into legal trouble that led to a brief prison term, but when he got out, Taurean chose to move to San Angelo, Texas, to live with his father because he didn’t want him to be alone.
They were living with a grandmother, but after she died, they lost their house and found themselves living a hardscrabble existence, spending many nights at a Salvation Army shelter, sometimes staying with relatives and occasionally even sleeping on the street. “It happened a few times, but it wasn’t a continuous thing,” Prince said of what it was like when he and his father had no place to go.
“Those are the things that shaped me. I’d go through it 100 times again if I had to. I love the man I am right now. I love who I’m becoming. I love my beautiful family I’ve been blessed to be able to create. It’s all about elevation.”
Prince’s homeless period lasted through his middle school years in seventh and eighth grade, but his father managed to make sure he attended school. As Prince wrote in the article for The Players Tribune, a school friend named Bowdy Thompson told his parents what Prince was going through. They invited him to live with them, and his father agreed to allow it while he worked to get back on his feet.
“They gave me my own room and everything,” Prince wrote. “I was the only black kid in that neighborhood … But the Thompson family never made me feel out of place. They embraced me. Bowdy’s mom treated me like one of her own. To this day, it means the world to me, how giving they were, and I still talk to Bowdy. I can’t really ever thank them enough.”
The hardship Prince endured shaped him and filled him with appreciation for the little things in life, such as a comfortable mattress to sleep on. “For sure, it goes to show you the little things we don’t even think about,” he said. “We have access to so many things as Americans in this great country we live in, but we’ve got to realize some people don’t have the same means. Everybody is equal, but not everybody has the same opportunity. We’ve got to take advantage of it, those of us that have it.”
Prince is making $3.48 million in the final season of his rookie deal, which has allowed him to provide a more comfortable existence for his parents and siblings along with his girlfriend and their two young children.
“That’s where I choose to put my money and make sure my family is taken care of, not given everything, but make sure they are well off to where they don’t have to worry about certain things but still have that grind mentality,” Prince said. “That’s how I was raised. Nothing is given, everything is earned. My mother and my dad have instilled that into me, and that’s what I try to instill in my children.”
Rather than downplay his struggles as a youth, Prince has used it as a source of motivation. The two-year contract extension awarded him by the Nets is validation of all his hard work and attention to detail. As coach Kenny Atkinson has observed, Prince plays with an edge that is reflected by his physicality.
“A lot of it comes from me just wanting to be in a position to take care of other people around me and do great things and be a role model in a way — not necessarily for others, but for my family and to be a big representation for the last name on the back of my jersey,” Prince said. “I think that’s the big thing I carry around with me every day, and I think people feel that.”