Beasley: 'I guess I'm still chasing the dream'

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Sunday, March 11, 2018

It's 1:30 a.m. when the New York Knicks' team plane lands at Westchester County Airport. Groggy players are ready for sleep, hopeful to catch a few hours before practice that afternoon.

And then there's Michael Beasley.

"He's just sitting there, drinking coffee and singing," Knicks center Enes Kanter said. "He never stops singing."

Beasley's vocals have provided a soundtrack to a 2017-18 season headed for a fifth straight lottery appearance for the Knicks. Whether it's in the locker room, on the plane or on the team bus, Beasley always seems to be serenading his teammates, even if they're not in the mood for impromptu a cappella.

"I don't like it at all -- even if he can sing a little bit," Knicks forward Courtney Lee said, only half-joking. "Bro, shut up!"

Knicks center Kyle O'Quinn puts it bluntly: "His singing is pretty s---ty," he said with a laugh. "Sometimes I have to get up and sit in the back of the plane."

Bad reviews aside, the Knicks have grown to appreciate and embrace Beasley's quirks over the course of the season. Whether it's his singing or his unconventional theories that spark lengthy locker room debates, Beasley has provided a dose of levity and energy for a Knicks team that has needed every bit.

"He has a very unique personality, and he owns that uniqueness," Knicks general manager Scott Perry said. "I think it's been good for our team culture."

Those who remember Beasley as the talented scorer who ran into trouble off the court may be skeptical, but Beasley, his teammates and those close to him say the mistakes that the former No. 2 overall pick made earlier in his career are in the past.

As he begins to wrap up his 10th professional season -- with his sixth different NBA team -- Beasley has found peace in his personal life. The search continues for something that has been out of reach professionally: a long-term NBA home.

"I guess," Beasley said, "I'm still chasing the dream."

ONE SUMMER DAY last offseason, Beasley sat frustrated in front of Frank Martin's office in Columbia, South Carolina.

Beasley, who played for Martin at Kansas State for one season in 2007-08 before jumping to the NBA, has spent the past few summers working out with Martin and his staff.

"No one was offering him a decent [NBA] contract," said Martin, current South Carolina head coach who guided the Gamecocks to the Final Four last March.

Martin suggested Beasley take the same approach he took in his college career.

"Do one-and-done," Martin said.

So Beasley bet on himself, choosing a one-year, $2.1 million offer with the Knicks over a multiyear offer from a Chinese team that was worth more than $12 million. Beasley is quick to respond when asked why he'd turn down more than $10 million guaranteed to play in New York.

"Money doesn't always define basketball," Beasley said.

"Yeah, I want a lot of [money]. But I want to prove that I'm the best. The ball will tell you who the best players are, not the contracts, not the media."

Before this season, Beasley caused a stir when he said in an interviewthat he was just as talented as perennial MVP candidates LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

Most fans scoffed at the idea. Not Durant.

"I was feeling him, because he is [just as talented]," said Durant, who grew up playing basketball with Beasley as kids in Prince George's County, Maryland.

"He can score from anywhere. He can score on anybody."

Durant may be biased, but many players and coaches around the league feel the same way about Beasley.

"He scores like the rest of us breathe; he's unbelievable," one member of an opposing coaching staff said. "I always say that if there was a one-on-one tournament, make it, take it, I'm going with Beas."

Oklahoma City Thunderforward and former Knick Carmelo Anthony, who knew Beasley growing up outside Baltimore, saw his abilities at an early age.

"Some people just have it," Anthony said. "Some people just have a knack for scoring the basketball, and Beasley's one of those guys."

Beasley's scoring prowess dates back to high school and college, where in his lone season at Kansas State he established records for double-doubles as a freshman and won Big 12 Conference Player of the Year. He averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds and was named a consensus first-team All American.

"We would go into games, and it would look like he wasn't even sweating. It was like he was in a shootaround," said Henry Walker, Beasley's college teammate.

"That's sort of how he played every game. He could do anything he wanted to do. When he was focused, he could get a bucket off of anybody."

BEASLEY WAS SELECTED No. 2 overall by the Miami Heat in the 2008 draft but never found a consistent NBA home due in part to off-court troubles that included multiple marijuana-related offenses.

The off-court issues contributed to Beasley bouncing around the league. He has never played for a team for more than two seasons, though he did return for another stint in Miami from 2013 to 2015 after being traded in 2010 to make room forDwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James.

Those around Beasley at the time describe someone with a big heart and big personality but who was struggling to adjust to the lifestyle, salary and notoriety that come with life in the NBA.

"He was a giving, playful young guy," said Reggie Theus, an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves for one season during Beasley's tenure.

"He was someone who had an enormous amount of talent who was not always focused but wanted to be better."

The desire to be better is still there for Beasley, now 29. He and those around him say that the poor decision-making that plagued him earlier in his career -- and partially led to him spending two seasons with theShanghai Sharks and Shandong Golden Stars of the Chinese Basketball Association -- is a thing of the past.

After spending the past six months with him, people around the Knicks have gotten the same impression.

"He spends a majority of his time talking to his kids on the phone. He's a good dude," Lee said. "He gets a reputation from stuff that happened in the past, and it still follows him to this day.

"But he's not that guy that everybody perceives him to be."

The Knicks' first-year general manager, Perry, adds: "Getting to know him, you see that this guy cares about his teammates, he cares about the team that he's with. I learned that he's matured a lot from his earlier days from when he first entered the league."

Those closest to Beasley say his focus these days is on his family and his craft. The personality quirks are still there and are sometimes misunderstood. His teammates admire the nail polish he wore in pictures posted on social media, which weremocked by some earlier in the season, because they know he paints his nails with his daughters at home.

"I have a bossy 4-year-old that picks the colors," Beasley said.

After home games, Beasley will head straight home to watch and analyze film with his trainer Sean Crawford. Or he'll go to the training facility some nights for a late workout. During All-Star Weekend, Beasley stayed home instead of going elsewhere to escape the frigid air of a New York February.

"He just wasn't satisfied," Crawford said. "He said it wasn't the time to rest."

The work has paid off in flashes, as Beasley is giving the Knicks a scoring punch with 21.3 points per 36 minutes on 49.4 percent shooting and knocking down 39.3 percent of his 3-pointers. He's never going to be a lockdown defender, but Beasley single-handedly won a few games for New York during Tim Hardaway Jr.'s lengthy absence with a leg injury earlier this season.

Beasley had 30 points on 18 shots in a victory over the Thunderon Dec. 16 and 32 points on 20 shots in a win over theBoston Celticson Dec. 21 during a brief period when New York still held out hope of making a playoff run.

After the performance against Boston -- and the MVP chants from the Madison Square Garden crowd -- Beasley delivered quote of the year material when asked when he started to feel the hot hand:

"January 9, 1989," Beasley said, referencing his birthday.

Eleven days before that win over Boston, the other end of the spectrum was on display as Knicks fans serenaded him with sarcastic cheers, when he fouled out of the game in just 10 minutes.

More recently, Beasley's scoring has dipped as the Knicks give their young guards more liberty to shoot at the tail end of another lost season. He was removed from the starting lineup earlier this week but put up 16 points on 13 shots in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night.

"He's trying to do everything we ask," Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek said.

BEASLEY DOESN'T SAVE numbers in his cell phone.

Crawford first noticed this when he and Beasley were watching film after a game last season. He saw different numbers pop up on Beasley's screen and asked him about what seemed like random numbers appearing.

"I know who they are. I memorized all the numbers," Beasley said, not divulging the full number of digits he has committed to memory.

"If I lose my phone, then I don't got to ask nobody else for their number. I've been doing it so long, I just thought it was normal."

It's just one part of the Michael Beasley experience, one that includes wearing wristwatches on his ankles ("Just doing something else to look nice," he says) and sparking plenty of thought-provoking locker room banter.

"The conversations you have with him will be ones you remember for the rest of your life," said Celtics center Greg Monroe, who played with Beasley last season with the Milwaukee Bucks. Monroe says the topics are almost always off the beaten path, such as Beasley's argument in an interview earlier this season about the capacity of the human brain.

"That's Beas every day," Monroe said with a laugh.

Beasley recently asked Lee about the first time he consciously looked down and saw his nose.

"I was like, what? What?!," Lee said. A bizarre back-and-forth quickly ensued.

"Every time he talks it sparks a conversation. ... On the plane, in the locker room, wherever," Knicks rookie Damyean Dotson said.

Beasley says there are basketball-related motives at work.

"[Those conversations are] where we learn about each other the best," he said. "We get to see things from different perspectives. It's a good learning tool."

IT WAS PRESEASON when the Knicks held a kickoff event for players and their families. That was when Hornacek saw the other side of Beasley, a vast difference from the reputation that once preceded him.

"That night we see how he acted as a dad, with his children," Hornacek said. "When you see that kind of stuff, you know off the court there's not going to be any big [red flags]. Anything you may have heard is from years and years ago. He's been awesome."

This aligns with what Martin sees from the player and person he has known for more than a decade.

"Listen, he's made mistakes, but he's always taken ownership of it, and he's in a great place right now, mentally, spiritually," Martin said. "I don't know where he's going to end up, but I know today he's in a really good place."

A future for Beasley in New York is still unclear. Management has been pleased with Beasley's production and the way he has carried himself off the court. Earlier this season the organization viewed Beasley as a player it wanted to pursue in free agency this summer, so it would surprise no one if the Knicks offered Beasley, who recently hired Derrick Powell at Tandem Sports as his agent, a contract this summer.

But New York has plenty of issues outside of Beasley's free agency to sort out. Management has to decide if Hornacek, entering the final year of his contract, is the right coach to lead the club going forward. The Knicks also have to hit on their first-round draft pick in June and figure out the best approach forward with injured star Kristaps Porzingis, who is eligible for a five-year, $157 million extension but is rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn left ACL.

Would the Knicks feel more inclined to re-sign Beasley with Porzingis sidelined for a significant portion of the 2018-19 season? Perhaps. New York can offer the forward a multiyear deal with the midlevel exception.

It would give Beasley the one thing he's searching for at this point in his career -- an organization that believes in him.

"I haven't had that yet," Beasley said. "Until I get that, I guess I'll just be an unsung hero."

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