By Paul George, as told to Christina M. Tapper
Paul George made a lot of noise during his third season in the NBA. The 23-year-old swingman for the Indiana Pacers had career highs of 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game on his way to earning his first All-Star selection and winning the NBA's Most Improved Player Award. George made even more noise in the postseason, helping Indiana reach the Eastern Conference Finals by averaging 19.2 points per game.
But long before his rise in the NBA, George was a quiet kid who grew up in Palmdale, California. He spoke with SI KIDS about battling his sister in basketball, the time he played a game in jean shorts, and mastering chess.
My sister Teiosha is five years older than I am and a really good basketball player. I started playing against her in the front of our house when I was five or six. She would crush me — I would run into the house crying. She was bigger and stronger. She was also a great shooter and had some really good post moves. She went on to play at Pepperdine. I learned a lot about the game from her.
The first time I beat my sister, I was 17. We were shooting around and then we ended up playing one-on-one. It wasn't very competitive, but then I started stealing the ball from her and blocking her shots. I finally beat my sister. Finally! My mom was there and recorded it. I'm not sure where that footage is. It's in the lost files. We're going to have to dig that up. I finally had bragging rights.
My very first organized basketball game was when I was nine. It was spur of the moment. My cousin was the head of a YMCA team and my father told me I had to go to a game. I was wearing jean shorts. I didn't have anything to change into except the jersey I was given. I looked around and all the other kids had on basketball shorts. It was really awkward. I was the tallest kid there, wearing jean shorts in a basketball game. I didn't play well. It was my first-ever game, but I won't blame it on that. It was definitely the shorts!
Blossoming on the Court
By the time I was 16, I was traveling with my AAU team, playing with [future NBA players] Jrue Holiday and Klay Thompson. We played games in North Carolina, Ohio, Las Vegas, and Seattle one summer. It was really cool to be around those guys and get out of my city. Palmdale is really small. Everyone knows everyone. Basketball allowed me to see more and learn more. It got me out of my comfort zone.
Before the start of my senior season in high school, my coach sat me down in front of the whole team and asked my teammates if anyone had any problems with me taking 20 to 25 shots a game. I looked around and all my teammates said no. They said in order for us to win, the ball should be in my hands, and I should be the one scoring. That was such a boost of confidence. I was used to being a distributor, but my teammates believed in me, so I stepped up and into a bigger role.
I was 10 when my mom suffered a stroke and had blood clots in her brain. At one point she was pronounced dead, but she made it through. It was tough to see my mom like that. She was in the hospital for about three or four months. (Editor's note: George's mother recovered but was left partially paralyzed.) It affected the way I interacted with kids at school. I was already a shy kid, and when my mom got sick, I just became less social. I was sleeping at the hospital, and when she got home, I made a place for me to sleep right next to her bed. I wanted to be by her side. It was a lot to deal with. This was around the time my interest in basketball increased. It was a good distraction.
Basketball wasn't the only thing I was interested in as a kid. I started fishing with my dad when I was two. I think the first thing I ever picked up was a fishing pole. It was so much fun and a good way for my dad and me to bond. He wasn't really into sports, so fishing is how we connected. We would catch catfish and bluegill fish, bring them home, clean them, and fry them up.
I used to be a big chess player, too. My fourth grade teacher would give lessons to students after school. I got hooked. I love how it's about outsmarting your opponent. I haven't played in a long time. I'm not sure who on the [Pacers] knows how to play, but if I have to take a guess, I'd say [center] Roy Hibbert. I'll have to see if he plays and maybe we'll get a game going. It could get competitive!
Photos: Andrew Hancock for Sports Illustrated; courtesy Paul George