4.02.2008

Another Telling of the Leon Powe Story

Patriot Ledger
Quincy, Mass


The two reconstructive knee surgeries were child's play. The fact that he has persevered in Boston after an iffy rookie season has been a piece of cake.

Leon Powe's real personal battles were fought long before he ever appeared in a high-level basketball game.

Know why he's so motivated to perform in the NBA? Because he came from less than nothing, and he never forgets it.

"It's everything for me," said the Celtics forward, who has 13 double-figure scoring games, plus three double-doubles, since mid- January, when he became a member of the rotation. "I came up from nothing, so I don't take anything for granted. And when you don't take anything for granted you tend to work a little bit harder, and that's what I do."

Less than nothing? His father left his family high and dry in Oakland when he was 2. His mother did anything and everything to eke out some kind of living, including selling leftovers from flea markets. Powe and his brother were often left to fend for themselves, with some supervision from their grandmother, but one day, when grandma wasn't looking, younger brother Tim got a hold of a book of matches and set the family's home on fire.

Powe and his family were left homeless, drifting for seven years trying to make some sense of their life. Meanwhile, his mother just kept having kids. Five more, seven in all. With so many kids around, with his mother trying to earn some money, Powe found himself missing school, eventually skipping the fifth grade entirely.

''My mother couldn't afford a babysitter so I had to stay home and take care of my brothers and sisters,'' he once said. ''I had to do this so my mom could go to the flea market and sell stuff.''

He said he once told his mother to stop having kids; he was afraid there wouldn't be enough money to feed them all.

And when she found herself in legal trouble over reporting income and welfare fraud, the kids were scattered around the Bay Area in foster care. Powe took it upon himself to stay in touch with each of them, keeping his brothers and sisters together, in a sense. His mother died at age 40. He became the man of the family, kept his wits and his sanity about him, hooked up with some really good people, mentors such as Jonas Zuckerman, his sixth grade teacher, and especially Bernard Ward, a convicted drug user who turned his life around, worked the motivated Powe out on the courts of Oakland and saw him through Oakland Tech, where he received every honor in the book, leading the team to a state finals berth. He averaged more than 27 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks there.

He was good enough to get into Cal, where he became the first freshman in the history of the Pac 10 to lead the league in rebounding and the sixth player in league history to lead in rebounding and scoring. He was good, he was strong and powerful, with a deft shooting touch and an insatiable desire to better himself on and off the court. But there were problems. Seriously.

At Oakland Tech, he'd blown out his knee as a junior, requiring reconstructive surgery. He returned for his senior season. At Cal, during a routine physical in 2004, doctors determined he needed further knee surgery. In fact, it was two surgeries, one of them reconstructive - again.

Powe again came back with a vengeance. He came back for his junior and senior seasons, was drafted by Denver in the second round of the 2006 draft and shipped to Boston because Director of Operations Danny Ainge thought he was worth acquiring.

Now, Powe is in the NBA, although this road hasn't been simple, either. Last season, coach Doc Rivers saw him struggling to just learn the plays. He got some late-season time as the team regressed, and it helped. He came back last summer, and since joining the regular rotation, getting his opening when Kevin Garnett was injured, he's been impressive.

"It just shows a guy with a positive attitude," said teammate Paul Pierce. "He didn't let the things he's been through bring him down. I think he let it motivate him early in the year when he couldn't get off the pine. He stayed motivated, came to the gym every day."

Rivers is his biggest fan.

"I've always believed in him. I really have," he said. "He's just so good in what he does, and you just kept thinking he's going get it and we've got to be patient, and he's getting it.

"He's the best story to me in my career. As a coach I guess you shouldn't cheer for a guy, but I openly do. I'm human, too, I guess, so that'll never change."

Powe hasn't always been as upbeat as he is today, father of a 2- month-old daughter who'll never want as he did. Despair was always hovering somewhere overhead. "Sometimes I thought that," he said, "but I had good people around me and my mom didn't raise me to anything negative, so when something comes up negative I try to think positive and make the best of the situation."

Even if Powe doesn't make it big in the NBA, he's already done that.

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