Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK — Before the Brooklyn Nets hosted the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, there was a less heralded homecoming, but an important one for local children that live outside of New York City and have dreams of making it big.
Mike James has been there and done that, and the 11-year pro who attended Amityville Memorial High School is a shining example of what hard work and dedication can lead to.
Despite having a standout career at Amityville and following it up with a solid career at Duquesne University, James went undrafted and began his career in the USBL. James would move on to play professionally in Europe before finally earning his opportunity to play in the NBA. During the 2000-01 season, James was signed by the Miami Heat and since then, he's put together a very solid NBA career.
But never did he think he's be playing in an NBA game in Brooklyn.
He went from Amityville Memorial High School to being a 20-point per game scorer for the Toronto Raptors over the course of the 2005-06 season.
James is on the short list of Long Islanders who made it to the pros, and joins the likes of former players Wally Szczerbiak (Cold Spring Harbor), Zendon Hamilton (Floral Park) and Tom Gugliotta (Huntington Station).
Currently, Tobias Harris of the Orlando Magic, A.J. Price of the Washington Wizards and Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs are waving the Long Island flag in the league, as well. Harris is from Islip, Green is from North Bablylon and Price, though born in New Jersey, attended Amityville, like James.
So for James, although he didn't grow up in New York City, his hometown in only about a 45 minute drive from Barclays Center. For him, playing in Brooklyn is every bit as awesome as lacing up his sneakers and playing in Madison Square Garden.
"A team in Brooklyn, that's kinda amazing," James told SNY.tv before the Mavericks took on the Nets. "Growing up, I would have never thought there would be an NBA arena in Brooklyn, but they made it work and now there are two teams in New York."
James had only about eight guests for the game, but that's okay. "They're not giving up no free tickets here," he said with a chuckle. "It's cool to save on that."
But even with a smaller contingent, James was clearly excited to be back—minutes away from home. "This gives me an opportunity to come home twice in a year, and that's a blessing," he said.
And it's a blessing that almost didn't happen. James, ever the fighter, was asked by the Mavericks to do a stint in the NBA D-League before the team was willing to commit to him. At 37-years old, the thought was that James may not be able to play anymore.
Many NBA players—Allen Iverson comes to mind—feel as though playing in the D-League is beneath them, others are embarrassed to go.
James? He relished the opportunity and took full advantage of it. In two games as a member of the Mavericks' D-League affiliate—the Texas Legends—James averaged 18.5 points, four assists and 2.5 steals per game. He played 34 minutes per contest and was a man—even if an old one—amongst boys.
James played his second game with the Legends on Jan. 7 and the Mavericks had seen enough, on Jan. 8, he was signed to a 10-day contract and earned a second one before being signed for the remainder of the season on Jan. 27.
Some might be surprised that James, who initially clawed his way into the league about 12 years ago, was able to do the same at 37 years old. Not him, though.
"Not at all," he said when asked if he's surprised to be back in the NBA. "This is the reason why I took the road that I took," referring to his brief D-League stint. "I wanted to be back here so, you know I'm grateful of the opportunity and taking full advantage of it."
Though James is nostalgic about being in an area he considers home, he is hoping his Mavericks can leave Barclays Center with a victory. The Mavs enter play on Friday night as the 11th seed in the Western Conference and they trail the eighth-seeded Houston Rockets by five games.
"We gotta keep fighting, we gotta make it happen," James said. "There are no excuses and the bottom line is that we gotta win games and we are putting ourselves in good situations but it's about finishing and so that's not what we've done the last few games and so tonight is definitely a big one."
He knows, though, that beating the Nets will be no easy task. "The Nets are definitely a good team," he told SNY.tv before the game. "They have good players and a prety solid record this year, so getting a win here would definitely do right by us."
Whether or not the Mavericks leave Barclays Center with a victory, James, after defying the odds and seeing his career have him suit up for a game in Brooklyn, has already hit the jackpot.