Leon Powe doesn’t fit in at the NBA summer league in Las Vegas.
At 28, he’s older- sometimes by 10 years – than everyone he’s competing against. He’s one of the few players among the field who can flash an NBA championship ring. And he’s already a true professional, playing with guys who are just learning what it takes to play in the league.
Still, Powe found himself suiting up for the Chicago Bulls on Friday night and playing against his hometown Warriors, because he feels he has just as much to prove as the first- and second-year players flanking him in the starting lineup.
“There are more teams (in Las Vegas), more people to show that I’m fine,” Powe told NBA.com. “I’m not in any wheelchair. They keep putting out there that I’m not OK, like my leg is killing me. I’ve been working (to rehabilitate it) three years, and I came to show everyone my leg is fine.”
Powe has had five surgeries on his left knee, dating back to bone grafts and reconstruction during his high school days at Oakland Tech and including a microfracture procedure to repair a torn meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament as recently as 2009. Last year, he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
It is absurd to compare Powe’s traumatic childhood to his injury toils. But he finds solace during his current struggles because of the lessons learned through his nomadic early years in Oakland that were regularly tainted by family legal problems.
Powe endured a childhood in which his family moved 20 or 30 times. It’s hard to keep track when you’re stuck in a revolving door of motels, homeless shelters, abandoned buildings and cars.
When Powe was 2, his father walked out and left his mother, Connie Landry, to support two children by working odd jobs. When he was 7, their North Oakland duplex was destroyed in a fire.
Landry was convicted for petty theft after stealing groceries in 1994, and five months later, she pleaded no contest to a felony count of welfare fraud. In 1996, she was again convicted of welfare fraud. She died four days before the high school state championship game his senior year.
By the time Powe attended Oakland Tech, he was 6-foot-4 and developing into a standout basketball player. He led the Bulldogs to back-to-back state championship games in 2002 and ’03, was the first Oakland Athletic League player to participate in the McDonald’s All-American Game and was the first athlete from Tech whose number was retired.
He first had knee trouble the summer after his junior year, and the reconstructive surgery had to be redone after his senior season. He was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2004 at Cal, but he missed his sophomore season because of a fourth knee surgery.
Powe returned to the court for the 2005-06 season, averaging 20.5 points and 10.1 rebounds to become just the sixth player to lead the conference in both categories. He was drafted in the second round by Denver and traded to Boston.
“I’ve always had to prove myself,” Powe told NBA.com. “Sometimes you want to get mad, but you can’t get mad. … I love proving people wrong.”
Powe played three seasons in Boston and was becoming one of the league’s most consistent reserves. In Game 2 of the 2008 Finals against the Lakers, Powe scored 21 points in 15 minutes to lead the Celtics to a 2-0 series lead.
He played a career-high 17 1/2 minutes a game in 2009 and appeared on the verge of a big payday as a first-time free agent. But Powe, who spent part of the season recovering from a right knee strain, tore his left ACL in the playoffs and needed microfracture surgery after refusing for three minutes to come out of the game.
Powe rushed to prove to contenders that he would recover in time for a 2010 playoff push, but he was able to sign only a two-year, $1.77 million contract with Cleveland. After playing sparingly in Cleveland and Memphis for two seasons, and even in Puerto Rico last season, Powe thinks he’s finally healthy.
The 6-8, 240-pounder went into Friday’s game averaging six points and 3.5 rebounds in 15 minutes a game. More importantly, he has been a mentor to Chicago’s young players.
“I’ll play the game hard and respect the game,” Powe told NBA.com. “I just want to come in and help a team win. It’s the attitude on the court and off the court. I’ve been there.”
Which is why he looks so out of place in Las Vegas.
1999-2003: Attended Oakland Tech, leading the Bulldogs to the state championship game in 2002 and 2003. Had knee surgery after both junior and senior seasons.
2003-2006: Played at Cal as a freshman and junior, sitting out sophomore season with knee injury. Left school after junior year in which he averaged 20.5 points and 10.1 rebounds.
2006: Drafted 49th overall by the Nuggets, who traded him to the Celtics.
2006-2009: Played for the Celtics, winning an NBA championship in 2008. Torn ACL during the 2009 playoffs ended his season and time with Celtics.
2009-2011: Played two years for the Cavaliers. Had surgery on his right knee in 2011 and was waived on Feb. 24.
2011: Finished the regular season with the Grizzlies, playing in 16 games and averaging 8.8 minutes per game.
2012: Played with Atleticos de San German in Puerto Rico.
Written by Rusty Simmons