Although it certainly was not the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famed speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, it was a pretty good “I Have A Dream” offering in its own right.
“I feel like the kids here in Dayton need an example,” said Norris Cole, the Miami Heat point guard out of Dunbar High. “Not just from athletes like myself, but from other successful people in the community – doctors, lawyers, police officers – who go back to the schools to the community and speak to the youth and inspire them with their own stories.
“All kids need is a dream. That’s all I had. I walked these same streets, these same paths, went to the same schools – the Dayton Public Schools – but I had a dream. And the fact that I was able to accomplish it, kids need to know that. Then it’s easier for them to believe they can reach theirs, too.”
And as dream weavers go, Norris Cole is one of the best.
The 6-foot-2 point guard has been in the NBA just two seasons and already has won two NBA championship rings. Of course he’s with the Heat – which has had the most star-studded team in pro basketball – but the fact that he’s part of that select roster is a statement in itself.
Cole was initially over-shadowed by older and more physically imposing players at Dunbar and then was snubbed by all Division I colleges, except Cleveland State. Even when he was a first-round NBA pick in 2011, he was traded by two teams on draft night until he landed in Miami.
While he admits that ending up with the Heat was “more than great… I was ecstatic,” – it would have been a short stay had he not been able to hold his own among guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
“I used the lessons my parents taught me back here in Dayton about life,” he said. “Things like no matter what you do be professional, be courteous and work hard. That’s how I earned respect down in Miami.
“I didn’t expect them to give me anything – and they didn’t – but I had never really been given anything anyway. I went in and worked hard and listened and I learned.”
Those are some of the lessons Cole is bringing back to the Dayton area over the next two weeks as he runs youth camps in Centerville (July 29-Aug. 2) and then at the Salvation Army/ Dayton Kroc Center (Aug. 5-9.)
“I want to teach kids the fundamentals of basketball and a love for the game,” he said, “but I also want to teach them how to interact with other youth and follow directions and go after their own dreams.
“Now days people want everything right away, but that’s not the case in life. It’s a process. And I’m a product of that process of working hard and staying with the grind…. If you do that, good things can happen.”
Learning from vets
Cole said a couple of Heat veterans – Juwan Howard and Shane Battier, who have 30 years of NBA experience between them – took him under their wings and showed him “the correct way” to be a pro.
“Those guys still prepare as though they are rookies. They work hard. They’re always on time for meetings, on time to the gym and they’re the ultimate professionals when it comes to sponsorships and doing public events. They set the example.”
And Cole learned well. Backing up veteran point guard Mario Chalmers, he became an integral part of the team. He averaged 6.1 ppg in the playoffs and in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Chicago Bulls he put on a long-range shooting display that set an NBA record.
Over a three-game span, he made his first eight three-point attempts – something no one had done in league history – and set a pair of Heat playoff series records with 9-for-11 (81.8 percent) shooting from three-point range and 20 of 29 accuracy (69 percent) from the floor overall.
“You always wonder, ‘Can I perform at a high level when everything is at stake?’” he said. “In the playoffs your whole season is on the line every possession and I learned I could handle it.
“A lot of people get caught up in the hype, the cameras, the playoff pressure, but you have to understand it’s still just the game of basketball. And I can play basketball. That’s why I focused on and I learned the lights aren’t too bright for me.”
Getting mental rest
It took all seven games of the championship series for Heat to conquer San Antonio for the NBA crown last month and some of the moments that followed the final gun have become indelible images for Cole.
“I remember it all like it was yesterday,” he said. “I remember the clock going to zero, the confetti, holding the gold (trophy) ball, seeing my family there and taking the pictures. I remember enjoying it with the thousands of fans who were there and then riding on top of those double decker buses as the parade went along Biscayne Boulevard and the whole city of Miami – something like 400,000 people – cheered us.”
Since then Cole has taken some needed time off.
“Part of training is resting,” he said. “A lot of people understand you have to work out, run, lift weights and shoot the ball, but your body has to recover, too.
“If you are a championship team, it’s a nine-month season because the playoffs add an extra two months. So you don’t only have aches and pains – everybody has them – but there’s mental fatigue. So you need to take the time off to build back your bonds with your family and friends and just rest your mind.”
Right after the season, he vacationed in Jamaica –“I didn’t have any phones. I just totally relaxed.” – then went to Las Vegas to watch unbeaten Trotwood middleweight Chris Pearson fight last weekend at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
It was the first time he’d ever been ringside at a pro fight and he came away with a special appreciation of boxers: “Those are some spectacular athletes. It takes a lot of courage. You don’t play boxing. You play other sports, but you don’t play boxing. Somebody can really get hurt there.”
Cole feels a kinship with Pearson and some of other young pro athletes from Dayton.
“I try to stay in touch with some of the different pros that made it out of here – guys like Sweet Pea (Pearson) and Daequan (Cook), Will Johnson, Derrick Brown, Chris Wright, Jerel Worthy – cause there aren’t many of us. We need to stick together and do what we can back here.”
And so he’s expanded his camp to include Centerville as well this year. After that he said he’ll slowly begin to gear up for training camp in the fall.
“The point guard position is as competitive as it’s ever been in the NBA,” he said. “One night you’re guarding Tony Parker and the next night it’s Russell Westbrook, Then it’s Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo and Kyrie Irving and John Wall.
“Every game, every city and there is another elite point guard. You’ve got to bring your A game every night. And my attitude is ‘Just bring it on.’ I’m a competitor and in order to be the best, you have to compete with the best.
“One day I want to be on that list. One day I want to be considered one of the best – or the best – there is.”
Norris Cole still has a dream.
Norris Cole Basketball Camps
For boys and girls ages 6 to 18
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
For questions or to register:
July 29-Aug. 2
500 E. Franklin St.
Aug. 5 to Aug. 9
Salvation Army/Dayton Kroc Center
1000 N. Keowee St.