Former NBA center Ryan Hollins experiences highest of highs and lowest of lows in 24 hours, then loses his job!
I offer this story as a warning to players about how some teams operate so they might be able to avoid the same problems. I believe there should be rules in place that protect players from such treatment.
I am a very private person, especially when it comes to family, but this is a story I felt I had to tell. So welcome to the happiest/saddest 24 hours of my life.
On March 1st (2017) at 3:20pm, my circle of loved ones grew: Eve Gail Hollins arrived at Vithas Santa Catalina Hospital in the Canary Islands, measuring 19 inches and weighing 7 pounds and one ounce.
At 10 a.m., the next morning, that same circle shrank: my uncle, Gary Burdett Hollins, the man who had become a father to me after I lost my own two years earlier, had died in Pasadena, California. But, not before Eve and Uncle Gary had a chance to meet.
Shortly after Eve’s birth, I was on Cloud Nine as I gently held this cherry-red baby girl who had a peace about her, as if she had been here before, for Uncle Gary to meet via FaceTime on my phone. With me continuing my basketball career overseas, Uncle and I connected this way just about every day. This time I couldn’t wait to show “Papi G” his new niece. Gary and I often broke the rules of FaceTime etiquette by answering no matter where we were. In true Gary Hollins fashion, in what would be our last FaceTime call, he took it even though he was in the middle of his day of on-the-job training as a manager in charge of the city’s electricity. Though we kept it brief, he was his usual loving sarcastically comedic self. “You know I’m only answering for the baby and not for you,” he said. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he gazed at Eve for the first time; and, as I now realize, I looked at his face alive for the last time.
I consider Eve’s birth a miracle because of what preceded it. A year earlier, we experienced the unfathomable sorrow of losing a baby, something only a couple who has . Then, during Eve’s long anticipated gestation, my wife, Janice, was diagnosed with a type of diabetes that causes the body’s pancreas to temporarily malfunction. That wasn’t the only challenge Eve threw at us; she also had lodged herself into an area of my wife’s hips that not only limited her mobility but resulted in paralyzing and unpredictable pain.
All this was happening at home in California while I continued to pursue my professional basketball career in the Canary Islands. Now came the biggest question: have the baby at home with me not present or have my wife fly, along with our two kids, to join me so we could go through this potentially high-risk pregnancy together? I didn’t see leaving the team to fly home for an undetermined stretch as a viable option.
After prayerful consideration and Janice getting medical clearance to fly, I decided in favor of the family bond. My wife, unleashing her Superwoman powers, made the 17-hour trek by air at eight months’ pregnant with two kids strapped to her side.
I was on the way to practice the day after Eve’s birth when I received a text from Superwoman: “Call Jessica now!” Jessica is my aunt, and Uncle Gary’s wife. I couldn’t help but think of a text I had received two years’ earlier from Janice — “Call me now!” — to alert me of my father’s death.
It was then, two years ago, that Gary stepped in not only to replace my father, but also serve as a grandfather to our children. I tried to convince myself that my fears were irrational. Gary was only 55, the second youngest of 8 boys; how could this be? He was in excellent shape and had no major health afflictions, other than the most common ones for middle-aged African American males — sleep apnea and high blood pressure.
Still fearing my intuition about the text I deleted the first one, somehow thinking that might make it not real. When I finally called Aunt Jessica, I was crushed to hear that I was right: Gary was gone. But I had no time for tears. I was on my way to work. I had to do what my father had taught me so well: take care of my own. My job was to be there for my family and, to the best of my ability, I was going to do just that.
As I walked onto the floor for practice, everything was a blur. I couldn’t feel my arms or legs. I think we ran through our offensive sets, 5 on 0, to prepare for the next day’s game. My mind raced trying to make sense of everything going on around me — the gift of Eve’s successful birth immediately followed by Uncle Gary being taken from us. It was actually a relief to be on a basketball court, where I knew exactly what I needed to do and how to do it.
I played the next two games in honor of Uncle Gary. This wasn’t a time to feel sorry for myself but to get on the court and leave all the frustration and hurt behind. I’ve always been a passionate player and I love the game, but those two games took all that to another level. We (Herbalife Gran Canaria) would lose the first game by three to Amare Stoudamire’s team, Jerusalem, which knocked us out of the EuroCup playoffs. Our team was outmatched, but I wasn’t the only one who played my heart out. We left everything on the floor. It was the kind of game that transforms teammates into brothers.
Our next game was a regular Spanish League contest. We won by 34.
Our lives weren’t the only ones complicated by Gary’s death. Asya, the youngest of Gary’s 2 daughters, was due to get married in two weeks. There was little choice but to hold the funeral as soon as possible, the Saturday before her wedding. As much as I wanted to be there for Asya’s big day, especially with her father gone, I wasn’t sure that was fair to Gran Canaria. But there was never a question in mind about being there for Gary’s funeral; my family comes first.
Herbalife Gran Canaria initially acted as if they understood. They gave me nothing but support through my wife’s pregnancy and Eve’s birth and news of Gary’s death. But when I made it clear I wanted to go back to the U.S for the funeral, the team suddenly refused to give me its blessing. In my 10 years in the NBA, I’d never heard of a team refusing to let a player attend to a matter of life or death; it seemed inhuman. I told my agent, Todd Ramasar, about Gran Canaria’s stance and what I felt I had to do.
After playing one last game before heading home, the team president offered me his condolences. He said he understood my pain and that he always put family first as well. The fact that we were out of EuroCup play meant we only had one game a week of Spanish League competition now. The funeral would force me to miss one game; if I stayed for the wedding, I would miss two. After weighing everything, I felt I owed it to the team to get back as soon as I could, so I changed my flight itinerary to return right after the funeral services.
Since Eve was not yet a month old and did not have a passport, I went back alone for the funeral. I did my best to stay in communication with both the club and my agent during the trip over and back. But as soon as I arrived back in the Canary Islands I was called in for a meeting and told my contract was being terminated for insubordination.
You can imagine how furious that made me. I had skipped the wedding to do right by the club and they had me make the 20-hour flight back to the Canary Islands just to tell me I no longer had a job. While I knew they weren’t happy about me leaving, they gave no indication I would be cut if I went.
A lot of thoughts raced through my head. Did I make the right choice? Did I put my family in jeopardy? How do I tell my wife I just got fired? This being the first overseas team I had ever played for, I wondered: does this happen a lot?
As I have so many times in my life, I turned to prayer and my faith in Jehovah. These are the scriptures that were particularly useful to me as I contemplated going home now to my family no longer employed:
Psalm 55:22 Throw your burden on Jehovah, And he will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to fall.
Matthew 6:26 Observe intently the birds of heaven; they do not sow seed or reap or gather into storehouses, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than they are?
Psalms assured me that I’m not alone in my times of distress and that my God will take all of my anxiety, as he has. The passage from Matthew stood as an important reminder that my job should be the least of my worries and that my family will be taken care of.
Barely a day later, my agent informed me that he’d already started negotiations with Fiat Torino Auxilium, a first-division team in Turin, Italy. It is strange to be starting over and it has meant leaving my family in Spain while I go to live in Italy, but I see it as a prayer answered. My new team and their fans have embraced me in a way I never could have imagined. While I miss my family and can’t wait for us to be reunited — even Superwoman needs a break! — I have to believe that everything happens for a reason.
I’m still thankful for every moment I had in Gran Canaria; given the chance, I’d do it all again. I would not want to have missed living and working in another country — especially one as beautiful as Spain — and the brotherhood I developed with my teammates. I’m sharing this story not to selfishly suggest I’m the only one who has experienced joy, heartache, and tragedy, but no team should be allowed to handle personal matters the way Gran Canaria did mine. I offer this story as a warning to players about how some teams operate so they might be able to avoid the same problems. I believe there should be rules in place that protect players from such treatment.
While I made a choice and will live with the consequences, I don’t believe anyone in any profession should have to choose between their job and saying goodbye to a loved one who means as much to me as Gary does. We are not just professionals on a court, we are also people who live, love, and hurt just like any other.
And so begins the next chapter of my life’s journey. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Revelation 21:3,4 – 3 With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them. 4 And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”
Which brings me to my last thought for now: