- He would be the starting center and defensive and rebounding anchor of a retooled roster that was expected to compete in the NBA’s Eastern Conference and bring some sizzle back to South Beach.
- He would meet the demands of every day life in the NBA – the day-in day-out physical and mental grind of the game, as well his the commitments on and off the court.
- He would continue to be actively involved in his charitable efforts in his and in the larger community, under The Bam Foundation, an organization that he founded as a rookie in 2017.
It’s a lot, especially for a 22 year-old going through all this for the first time. But Bam Adebayo is doing it all. And he’s doing it with an easy grace and a big smile on his face.
After meeting us at a philanthropic event in June, Adebayo was kind enough to keep in touch and to spare a few minutes for an interview on an early-season off-day. Good Men Project Sports is grateful for the opportunity to share a bit about the remarkable man in the middle for the Heat.
After drafting Adebayo out of University of Kentucky in the first round of the 2017 Draft and watching him grow and develop for two seasons, the Miami Heat decided to let starting center, Hassan Whiteside, go and to turn over the starting role to Adebayo.
For Adebayo that was a big step up in terms of role, minutes and responsibility. He remembers “getting thrown right into the fire” during his rookie season by Coach Erik Spoelstra when the starting big men went down with an injury. Adebayo had assumed that one of the other more experienced players would get the call, but Spoelstra “told me at the end of the shoot-around, ‘Hey, you’re guarding LaMarcus Aldridge tonight.’ ‘Uh. Oh. Well, OK. Let’s see how this goes, fellas!'”
That was his first time starting, and his first time getting real minutes. Back then, as Adebayo remembers, “the game speed feels like it’s going fast.”
Last year, the 6-foot-10, 255 pound Adebayo averaged 8.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 23.3 minutes while playing in all 82 of the Heat’s games. He improved his game as he season wore on. Even with Hassan Whiteside on the roster, Adebayo started 22 of the Heat’s last 23 games, and averaged 11.6 points on nearly 60 percent shooting, 9+ rebounds, 3 assists, 1+ steals, and one block over that span.
These days, the game has slowed down for Adebayo not just a little bit, but “a lot:”
Compared to my rookie season, it feels like the game is in slow motion now. It’s like doing anything new. At first, you struggle. You feel like you don’t get it or don’t understand it. And then after a while, you start studying a bit, you start messing around with things a bit, and you start to get good at it. That’s how basketball is. That’s the NBA.
When asked about the physical and mental adjustment to life in the NBA (and now as a starter), Adebayo focused on the mental aspect:
I feel like I’m one up with the physical part. But the mental part is really the biggest part about the NBA. If you don’t have it from the shoulders up, you can’t function in this league. The 82 game season, when you have tons of games where you won or lost on a last second shot and then you have to play a back-to-back against a team that’s well rested, it all presents a real mental mind game. Just having to focus and fight through that, especially when you’re coming from college where you’re playing maybe 30-35 games.
To those watching closely, that end of the season run provided a tantalizing look at the type of player he can be.
He has continued that level of play and improved upon it in the early part of this season. Bam is averaging 14 points, 9 rebounds, nearly 6 assists (!), and 1+ steal and almost 2 blocks per game, delivering real returns on his once-tantalizing potential.
Adebayo has incredible physical tools; his athleticism, raw power, leaping ability, and wingspan, make him a dangerous defensive player and an imposing finisher around the basket. He is also an unusually deft ball handler and passer for a big man.
Adebayo has welcomed the challenge being the Heat’s starting center this season, and appreciates the vote of confidence from the team in giving him a chance to perform in that role:
“I wouldn’t consider it pressure. I would more consider it an opportunity, a big opportunity for that matter. And just going out there and just playing positive, staying positive and showing everybody what I can do….
Although just 22 years old, he is focused not just on improving his game, but on being an high impact leader on the court:
“You got to be a leader 82 games, plus playoffs, then off the court, when we do events. I’m looking forward to that challenge just because you get to see where you’re at. How am I with my teammates? Do my teammates, when I speak, do they listen? … That’s the challenge I’m looking for ….
They’re pushing me to be more of a leader. So, yeah, I do feel like I’ve become a Heat Lifer type of guy and just being more involved and having like a [Udonis Haslem] responsibility when it comes to my teammates.”
Bam has big professional goals. When asked recently about his goals by the Miami Herald, he said: “I want to be a Defensive Player of the Year, I want to be All-NBA, I want a Championship.”
Adebayo has also gotten noticed for his philanthropic efforts. He recognizes the power and responsibility of having a platform, and he has been active in using it for doing good from the moment he stepped foot in the NBA.
This past June in New York City, Bam was honored as a 2019 Rising Star at the Champions for Philanthropy Most Valuable Philanthropist Awards.
Despite being just twenty-two years old and being busy adjusting to life in the NBA, Adebayo has already prioritized giving back to his community. He founded The BAM Foundation during his rookie year in 2017, to provide support and expand opportunities for single mothers and their children.
Adebayo was born in Newark, New Jersey, and was raised by a single mother. They spent the first eight years of his life in Newark, before his mother moved them to North Carolina “because of violence.” Speaking of The BAM Foundation, Adebayo credits his mom with the idea for forming it:
It was really my mom’s idea. She was a single parent, and alot of people don’t get it. Not a lot of people, single parents, end up with their son playing basketball in the NBA. We’ve got to do something for single parents just to let them know that we know how difficult it is and that their work goes noticed. Its not for the cameras or anything like that; its just to show that we know what they’ve been through, because we’ve been through it too.
Although the impetus for starting the Foundation was single parents, its focus is not solely on that. They do events like Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives around the holidays or at community centers in Miami. Being actively engaged in those communities and with those kids, shows them a pathway and gives them role models and tools:
We always give back to them because there are kids there with single parents. They are in a less fortunate side of town. We want to give back and help them any way we can. When you care about people and care about your community…you never know how you can impact people. Just buying a kid cleats or a basketball could change his life forever.
When asked about his own role models, Bam lists both his Mom…and Kevin Garnett. It’s an unlikely pairing, but it makes a lot of sense:
In terms of my role models, I’ve always looked up to my mom. She’s always been my number one role model. And that’s because she always fought through the struggle. Nothing was ever easy for her. She never got anything easy. And that’s how it always was in my own life. I never got anything easy. I was always overlooked. Somebody was always ‘better than me.’ And that just always kept a chip on my shoulder, because my mom went through that. Seeing her go through that and push through, it keeps me on edge. I never get comfortable with what I have. I always want more. It’s a lot of hunger, but also it’s the lesson to always stay humble.
My second role model is probably Kevin Garnett. Kind of a similar story to mine. Just his demeanor, his aggressiveness, and his emotion towards his profession. You can tell that he really cares about it, and he cherishes all of it, the competition and the drive to win and the game itself.
95% Of Young Men Never Want To See Their Mom Work Again 💯💙 pic.twitter.com/s094TwpeZh
— 13am Adebayo💥 (@Bam1of1) June 30, 2017
Adebayo describes this year’s Heat team as having “a lot of good energy” and having “that Miami feel back again.”
That is born out by their 5-1 start, and an exciting “refreshed” roster.
His go-to guy for knowledge is “UD,” long-time Heat veteran power forward, Udonis Haslem, who has been in the organization for a long-time. He also continues to call upon his former coach, former University of Michigan ‘Fab Five’ member, and the newly minted head basketball coach at University of Michigan, Juwan Howard. With the Heat, Juwan Howard made his mark coaching the big men. He was a go-to resource for Bam for all things:
Sometimes I call on Juwan Howard. He was my coach my rookie year and last year. It’s just nice to catch up with him now. He’s got his own head coaching job now. I’m so proud of him. I feel like he’s going to excel in that role, and I feel like he could be a head coach in the NBA one day. He’s just got to wait for his time.
Off-the-court, the teammates that Adebayo says he hangs out with the most are the young guys, like high-flying forward Derrick Jones, Jr. and glue-guy two-way forward Justice Winslow, and occasionally with on-court alpha dog, the mercurial four-time All-Star combo guard Jimmy Butler. (“He’s a funny dude,” says Adebayo, with a laugh.)
Adebayo also continues to have a great relationship with his fellow Kentucky Wildcat alums, like D’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, and is building a rapport with his new teammate, this year’s first round pick out of Kentucky, sharp-shooter Tyler Herro.
Balancing it all is no easy feat. On that front, Bam credits an “incredible” small group of people that help him on a daily basis.
For a young man with such athletic gifts, the mental drive to work hard and succeed, and a focus on getting better and contributing not only on the court, but in his community, Bam is an easy guy to root for and support.
If he can continue along this path to grow into some combination of the two people who he looks up to most – his Mom and Kevin Garnett – he’s going to be impossible to stop.
Photo Credit: Bam Adebayo/Instagram (with permission)