My early years
STARTING A NEW JOURNEY
This was the moment that my mother insisted that my name be T. James in honor of her fallen brothers of whom I would forever remind her of. My father did not approve.
He insisted that he would not have a child with an initial for a first name. Three years later, in a courtroom in Memphis, it was determined that I required a name to attend school or daycare and that it was illegal for me to have been removed from the hospital without an official name. My mothers exact words were, “name him what you want, but I’m going to call him T.J.”
My father then decided, after verifying with his brother, Willis Lincoln Hardaway II, that he would not have a son, that I should be named after his father as Willis Lincoln Hardaway III. Later, my uncle went back on his word, had a son, and named him exactly that. Therefore, there are two Willis Lincoln Hardaway III in the United States; one in California and one in Tennessee. This was foundational for my future lack of commitment to a label. I’ve played 6 college sports and I was known by a different name in each one.
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“lack of commitment to a label”
In highschool, I played soccer, cross country, and eventually track & field then football my senior year.
I even earned a scholarship to Bethel University who had previously won the NAIA National championship the year before my arrival. However, my recent senior experience with football couldn’t have changed my perspective at a worse time. I had decided prior to graduation after playing football and running track that soccer did not offer me the opportunity to pursue my full physical potential.
So it wasn’t long after my first semester into soccer at Bethel University that I made the transition to gridiron football at University of Memphis.
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THE NEXT CHAPTER
Still, there was a lingering lack of acceptance that I felt among my piers., I received news that my Uncle Michael had undergone a major laps in his sickle cell condition. I was asked to be his caretaker for the summer by my family members due to their busy schedules. And as I replay the intended response in my mind of, “I can’t, I have football practice,” it seems more and more ridiculous with every attempted rehearsal. So I said, “yes,” instead. The lack of comradery with my teammates, feelings of manipulation by the people who were immersed in the politics of football, and the dangers I realized football imposed on my mental health, made it less difficult to walk away from a successful year.
As his health declined
He had shown all the realists and doctors that he could live as long he decided he was still needed. But his son was a grown man with a family now, and his daughter was about to graduate college. It seemed he was nearing the end of his purpose in life. I remember there’d be times he would make cruel and scolding remarks that were not characteristics of the father figure I had loved sense my existence, and my mother would say,”he doesn’t mean it,” or “ he doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
Later, I understood that this man was giving me more truth and honesty than anyone I will ever meet again, and it was because he knew he was near death.
As his health declined, he became meaner and more relentless in his scolding. But daily tasks kept him going and sometimes I would see glimpses of my beautiful uncle Michael.
“I would breathe white fire, like my mother’s unyielding spoken mind”
My uncle Michael was only a few years younger than her, and she had taken care of all her younger siblings, but he was her first baby brother. She had always held his hand in the hospital and when his condition hurt the most, he would say,” Re, it hurts so bad im gonna cry,” and she would say,”don’t cry Michael cause I’ll cry too,” and they would just cry together. It was very strange to see a father figure die and then have the majority of my family ask me what he was like in his last days. I was told to remind them to remember him in his best days and remember the very best version of Michael White. I made a choice to be with my family over sports and it was the last time I saw my uncle Michael alive; how could I regret that choice.
That January when I received that amazing email that I had been selected for the Savannah tournament, I knew I finally had an opportunity to take control of a new chapter in my life. I could still be, “the second coming”. But even more so, I could be take that old toughness and use it with this new wisdom to be my own Legend.
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