RAISED IN THE NBA
Mark Blinch/For The Globe and Mail
For the sons and daughters of professional basketball players, growing up around the game can be an apprenticeship
Ninety minutes before the Toronto Raptors play the Los Angeles Clippers, Bismack Biyombo leaps into the air and throws down a slam-dunk, landing near 10-year-old Tiago Scola, who dutifully rebounds the ball and returns it to the towering Raptors centre.
Tiago is growing up behind the scenes of the NBA alongside his father Luis, the Raptors power forward. It's the coolest backstage pass a kid could imagine.
Well-mannered Tiago, the oldest of Scola's four sons, often tags along with his father, hanging out in NBA locker rooms and on courts with some of the best players in the world, rebounding for them, watching their work habits and getting advice. After the players jog off to the locker room, he sometimes gets the glossy hardwood to himself to work on his own game.
"I learn from the players, and they always give me high-fives, tell me I'm tall and that I have big hands," says Scola, whose height, dark hair and eyes resemble his dad's. "Lots of players know me here, mostly everyone knows me here. My friends say I'm lucky."
Since his father transitioned from playing in Europe to the NBA in 2007, his family has lived in Houston, Phoenix and Indianapolis before moving to Toronto this season. They spend summers back home in Buenos Aires. He plays many sports, but loves basketball best, playing since age five, and recently joining a club team in Toronto. He dreams of playing in the NBA and winning an Olympic medal for Argentina, just like his dad.
"Any chance I get to bring one of my kids, I do it because I want to spend a little more time with them and involve them in what I do," said 35-year-old Scola, whose other sons are five, six and eight. "Tiago sees the way pro players practice, prepare, eat, sleep and watch film – things the rest of us discovered when we were like 21. He's been asking if he can arrive at his own practice an hour early because he's seen me do that. He says, 'If I go at the same time as everyone else, how am I supposed to get better than them?'"
The experience is about more than the basketball for little Scola. He winds independently through the back hallways of the ACC, wearing jeans, black high-tops and a Raptors jersey with TIAGO across the back. He veers into a large suite reserved for Raptors' family members. He scampers around the space playing tour guide, pointing to the catered food, a room for playing with toys or video games and a back hallway the kids sometimes use for hide-and-seek or dodgeball.
Mark Blinch /For The Globe and Mail
"I had lots of friends in Indiana, so I was a bit sad to leave there," said the youngster. "At first, I didn't know that Toronto was in Canada, and then when I learned that, I was excited to come. I've made lots of friends here."
Lots of players will have families in tow when the NBA all-star game comes to the ACC on Sunday. The event always provides plentiful photo opportunities of players and their adorably dressed offspring.
The toddlers of Toronto's two all-stars have become familiar faces at the ACC. Kyle Lowry's son Karter is often present, the one Lowry wanted in his arms most after his game-winning shot attempt in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets was infamously batted away by Paul Pierce. DeMar DeRozan's daughter Diar is usually seen courtside right before tip-off, hoisted up by her mother to deliver her dad a pre-game kiss.
Some kids have become nearly as recognizable as their superstar fathers, like Stephen Curry's charismatic little daughter Riley, who charms when he puts her in front of a microphone. Curry and his brother Seth grew up as tag-alongs with their NBA player-dad, getting to dribble around with stars like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady.
"Kids of professional athletes can get really spoiled, but we wanted to give our kids everything they needed but not everything they wanted," said their father Dell Curry, reached in Charlotte where he now broadcasts Hornets games on Fox Sports Southeast. "I think that kept them humble and hungry."
The sons of LeBron James – 11-year-old LeBron James Jr., and 8-year-old Bryce Maximus – pack gymnasiums and prompt YouTube clips galore when they play with their local club team. James recently insisted publicly that colleges stop recruiting his oldest. The two boys are fixtures at Cleveland games and in their dad's Twitter feed, often wearing something from Nike's LeBron collection.
The James kids recently modeled in a holiday campaign for clothing designer Sean John, starring in billboards across the U.S. with Carmelo Anthony's son Kiyan – an eight-year-old also brimming with hoops talent. Maybe someday they'll join a line of kids who have followed their NBA dads into a life of professional ball.
"All six of us kids would pile into the car and go to our dad's games," said David Stockton, son of Hall of Famer John Stockton, reached in Nevada where he now plays for the Reno Bighorns of the NBA's Development League. "We'd wait until [Utah Jazz Coach] Jerry Sloan was done addressing the team after the game. When he left the locker room that was our cue that we could go back, get a basketball and go shoot. That was the kids' time and we had some fantastic competitions."
Stockton can remember going to his father's all-star weekends, especially in 2000, when he was among some kids sitting close to witness Vince Carter win the most eye-popping dunk competition on record.
"I was there sitting next to Allen Iverson's mother, and wow, was she was a lot of fun, taking care of all the kids, giving us signed photos of her son," said Stockton. "We knew there was something special about us because we got to go on the court, and other kids didn't, but my parents were all about teaching us to be very humble."
After tagging along with their father, long-time NBA player Antonio Davis, twins Kaela and Antonio Jr. have grown up to play NCAA basketball. His daughter remembers the little things most – sitting courtside on the floor cross-legged and being a little frightened by the mascots, getting to help herself to cups of Gatorade, news helicopters flying over the house when her dad was being traded, or being given a bobblehead by Vince Carter.
"It can be annoying when people say, 'Of course you're good, your dad played in the NBA' – well, we use him as an asset, yes, but it still takes a lot of hard work," said Davis by phone, a guard who recently transferred to The University of South Carolina. "People used to pack our high school gym to watch us because my team also had the daughters of Dee Brown, and MLB players Ken Griffey Jr. and Delino DeShields. Everyone wanted to see how we compared to our dads."
Young Scola bounds back out to the court after his meal, saying quiet hellos to the courtside cameramen and broadcasters who know him. He finds his 6-foot-9 father there shooting threes. The dad breaks into a big smile and ruffles the boy's hair, and the youngster jumps back into rebounding some more before his mom and brothers arrive for the game.
"My dad always talks to me about defending, how to pass the ball when guys are guarding me, and tells me, 'Don't just chuck shots, but get into your stance and shoot,'" said the youngster. "I hope I'm gonna be as tall as my dad some day."
Editor's note: An earlier digital version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote said by Kaela Davis to Antonio Davis Jr. This version has been corrected.