Not even a torn ACL could keep Leon Powe from the game that helped him escape a tattered life.
Powe injured his knee in Game Two of the C’s playoff series against the Chicago Bulls, but actually kept playing for three more minutes. That he would play on a destroyed knee “says so much about him as a person,” said Doc Rivers.
What kind of person? One who never quits battling, no matter the circumstances. Who knows that he may be down, but never considers himself out. Who has seen so much during his life that a simple knee injury could never compare to any of his other struggles. Even if the injury was during a contract year. Even if it came at the worst possible time.
Leon Powe was two when his father walked out on the family. He was seven when his five-year-old brother accidentally burned down the Powe’s house. His mother battled drug addictions. She was arrested on at least three occasions. The family bounced around, living in motels, cars, apartments and homeless shelters, making 30 temporary stops during Powe’s childhood.
Actually, what childhood?
Do you want to know how Powe spent his fifth-grade school year? By skipping almost every day of school, so he could babysit his siblings while his mother was at work. Many kids that age are getting helped with schoolwork by their parents. Leon Powe basically was a parent. Powe’s youth went by far too quickly, and the troubles mounted within his family.
During his junior year of high school, after being placed in foster care and overcoming an aversion to school to post passing and even solid grades, Powe’s mother passed away from a heart disease. Despite her problems and his family’s lack of normalcy, Powe had remained close to his mother. He even admired her.
“She made a way out of no way,” he told the Boston Globe. “That’s what I remembered at all times, because she always found a way to get it done even when it was looking like there wasn’t no way.”
Only four days before his state championship basketball game, Powe’s life was shattered yet again.
“That was all bad. I thought about quitting [basketball],” he explained to the New York Daily News. “My dream was always to buy my mother a new house and she was gone.”
Powe’s team lost the state championship and, the following summer, he tore his ACL in an AAU basketball tournament. The torn ACL was the first of many injuries that have haunted his career, the most recent being the one against the Bulls.
Doc Rivers said some people thought Powe would never play again after his most recent injury. That his career would be over. That those three minutes he played after tearing his ACL — probably three excruciating minutes — would be the last he’d ever play in the NBA.
But Doc figured otherwise.
“To me, [Leon's return] will be a success story in a lot of ways, because a lot of people didn’t think he would ever play again,” Rivers told the Boston Globe. “When he got hurt, I heard that the first time, I said people clearly don’t know who Leon Powe is. That kid will always be a success story.’’
Tonight, Powe will be available to return to an NBA game for the first time since that injury, this time as a Cleveland Cavalier. If he plays, it will be against the players he used to call teammates, the organization he used to call his own.
In his recent time of need, injured and contract-less, the Celtics failed to tender Powe a contract. He doesn’t hold a grudge, but it must have hurt to be thrown to the wolves by the one NBA team he’d ever played for; the team he’d given his heart to and sacrificed his body for. Powe deserved better, but didn’t receive it.
Sounds a lot like the rest of his life, eh?
Kendrick Perkins said he is anxious to see how Powe looks, after a long stretch of rehabilitation. He might not look great. He might not even play a single minute. He might be stuck behind a deep frontcourt rotation already including Shaq, Anderson Varejao, Antawn Jamison, and J.J. Hickson.
But if there’s something else you should know about Leon Powe’s life, it’s this:
No setback has ever been too big.
Nor have hurdles ever proven to be too high.