Bam Adebayo: The Rise Of The Miami Heat’s Hottest Young Star

 

Bam Adebayo
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Photo Credit: Nick GarciaGOING ONE-ON-ONE WITH THE MIAMI HEAT’S HOTTEST RISING STAR, BAM ADEBAYO

BY LAURA SCHREFFLER
PHOTOGRAPHY NICK GARCIA
STYLING LINA PALACIOS
GROOMING CESAR FERRETTE
SHOT ON LOCATION AT 57 OCEAN

Bam Adebayo
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Photo Credit: Nick Garcia

BAM ADEBAYO DOESN’T NEED TO CLICK HIS SIZE 16 KICKS AND SAY, “THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME” THREE times to arrive at his favorite spot in the Magic City: more often than not, he’s already there. And by “there” we mean his couch. The Miami Heat’s hottest young rising star is a bona fide homebody.

But he comes by it honestly. “Where I’m from, in the middle of the country, there were no clubs or parties. You had to make your own fun. [You were limited to] sitting in the house or going outside,” Adebayo explains. He typically chose the first option while waiting for his single mother, Marilyn Blount, to come home from an all-day shift at the Acre Station Meat Farm in Little Washington, N.C., where she earned $12,000 a year as a cashier. “My mom and I would just kind of hang out at the house, and now that’s all I want to do,” he says.

His rented Miami digs, on the 48th floor of a downtown high-rise, are a far cry from the single-wide trailer of his youth. He finally has room to breathe; his bachelor pad has all of the necessary space and then some to accommodate his towering 6’9” frame. And because his mother lives in the same building, a mere 43 floors down — and still frequently does his laundry — he really does have all his creature comforts in one place. It’s understandable that he’d be loath to leave.

For the record, the newly minted All-Star is far from a recluse. He’s 23; it’s almost his civic duty to indulge in the hedonistic delights that Miami offers. He most certainly isn’t in North Carolina anymore.

For one of the city’s most recognizable and feted residents, it’s likely that just about any and every door is wide open. But that doesn’t mean he has to step behind the curtain. Bam splashes out on a very small scale: a special steak dinner at Prime 112, or, more frequently, a “quality” waffle and mango smoothie at midtown eatery Angelina’s or a “calm situation” at Tap 42.

“[I was raised] to be laid-back,” he explains. “If I have friends in town visiting, we’ll go get dinner, but if I’m just by myself, I’m at the house, watching random TV shows. Right now I’m into this thing on Disney+, Brain Games [an Emmy-nominated show featuring games and experiments designed to mess with your mind]. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s [actually] pretty cool. I’m [also] starting to learn to play chess. I said, ‘I’m going to learn to play chess, because I want to win.’”

NBA, and, yes, an anomaly. Where most young players are flaunting their multimillion-dollar contracts at Joia Beach, KYU, Swan, Papi Steak and Komodo, dropping G’s on flashy cars, bling and expensive timepieces, Adebayo is cut from different cloth. He’s at home, playing mind games and doing crossword puzzles, quietly explaining that his first big purchase after signing with the Heat was a leased Range Rover because it was “too early” for him to commit to anything more expensive.

It would seem that he’s cautious about his newfound wealth, as if someone might snatch it away at any moment, but really, this is who he is: a kid who was raised without, but, now that he has, remains unpretentious. On his nightstand there’s a framed picture of the trailer he grew up in, engraved with the words “Never forget where you came from, and never lose sight of where you are going,” a reminder to stay that way.

But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t parted with some of the $8,900,280 he’s earned from his three-year contract with the Heat. In fact, the best money he ever spent also happens to be his proudest moment. “Growing up, it was just me and my mom. I watched her struggle for 17 years, and when I was 19, I got a chance to pay off all of her debt after two paychecks. That’s a crazy feeling,” he says a bit emotionally, adding, “You think about it in a different way. It’s kind of a thank you, but really it’s more of an ‘I love you and don’t want you to have to worry about anything else.’ It was a milestone. Some guys, when they get drafted, they only think about themselves. They go buy cars and houses. I just wanted to take care of my mom.”

But he also wanted to help others like her — and others like himself, too. In 2017, Adebayo created the BAM Foundation, with the mission of changing the lives of single mothers while also changing the chances, choices and challenges for their children; he was named a Rising Star by Champions for Philanthropy in 2019. He has also, quite significantly, been a champion of the Black Lives Matter movement, ending each game of the 2019-20 season by saying, “Black lives matter, people.”

“[Having this kind of money] means I can do stuff for other people,” he says. “Going back to [my hometown] and giving back to my people, telling the kids they have a chance even when they think they might not, that’s important to me, because I didn’t have a chance at one point in time.”

And though that is clearly no longer the case — he is now a pivotal part of the Miami Heat machine, and, to prove it, has avoided free agency by signing a five-year max extension with elevator clauses that can take the total to a whopping $195 million — fans will never find Adebayo acting different or “better than.” His mother would have his hide. “My mom never let my head get big. When I was younger and playing really well, she would always find something that would bring me back to reality,” he recalls. “There’s nothing wrong with having confidence, but cockiness is different. My mom never wanted me to be a cocky kid, even though I was one of the best players in the area. The greatest life lesson she ever taught me was to stay humble, and I just want to make her proud.”

Bam Adebayo
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ADEBAYO DOESN’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF; HE’S A PRETTY RELAXED GUY. BUT EVEN HE HAS HIS MOMENTS. He had a few really bad nights in late September after the Heat’s 2-4 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals.

“It’s been haunting me since we lost,” he confesses. “We went that far, and to come home empty-handed…I lose sleep over stuff like that. I didn’t sleep for four or five nights. It’s difficult to wrap your mind around it, when you get that close. Nobody wants to end the season second. Where we were in the bubble, we could see [the Lakers] celebrating; we wanted to be [the ones] celebrating.”

As crushing as the loss was, there’s a silver lining. “Obviously, nobody wants to lose, but I’m competitive, and losing drives me to be the best player I can be,” Adebayo says. And in all other respects, he has had one hell of a year. Something remarkable occurred for him this season. Always a good player with raw potential, he is now on his way to becoming one of the greats.

The center/power forward — born in Newark, N.J., as Edrice Femi Adebayo (he acquired the nickname “Bam Bam” of The Flintstones fame as a 1-year-old after flipping a coffee table) — has always been a basketball prodigy. After moving to North Carolina, where he attended high school at the High Point Christian Academy, he was named North Carolina Mr. Basketball in 2016 and played in the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic that year. He was rated as a five-star recruit and had his pick of prospects, opting for the University of Kentucky due to Hall of Famer John Calipari’s coaching record. His on-court prowess there earned him the 2017 SEC Champion title, as well as an agent and a 14th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

But it’s been a slow and steady burn up until this year, when Adebayo was really given a chance to show what he was made of. He’s really brought the heat, so to speak, making franchise history on Dec. 10, 2019, by becoming the youngest player ever to record a triple-double with 30 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a game against the Atlanta Hawks. In that same game, he also became the fourth player in Heat history with a 30-point triple-double. He was named a first-time NBA All-Star and voted to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in the 2019-2020 season, as well as being named the 2020 Taco Bell NBA Skills Challenge Winner during NBA All Star weekend and a finalist for the U.S. Olympic team.

“I’m simple, so [personally], I don’t think my life has changed any,” he says. “But when it comes to basketball, my life has changed tremendously, and that’s because I got the opportunity to really be myself on the court. I’ve been able to express all the other valuable talents that I have. My first years, I had someone playing in front of me, and I worked my way up to getting a starting spot. I got the opportunity to be myself, to not worry that my coach [Erik Spoelstra] was going to take me out if I messed up. He let me play through my mistakes.”

It was a smart strategy that obviously paid off when the Heat became this season’s Eastern Conference champions. Adebayo showed what he was made of spectacularly during the playoffs, averaging 18.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists in the bubble. And he’ll continue to keep up the hard work, with the intention of being the best he can possibly be.

Bam Adebayo
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Photo Credit: Nick Garcia

“[I’m going to] keep a level head, keep it simple and easy as I’ve always been doing. [I’m going to] keep working behind the scenes, keep building my confidence to be a bigger and better player,” he says.

That works for the Heat brass and his teammates alike, all of whom have praised him to the hilt. President Pat Riley has referred to him as the “cornerstone to our franchise,” while team star Jimmy Butler has said “he’s the heart and soul of this thing…he’s going to be the reason we win a championship.”

It’s also been rumored that the Heat would refuse to even discuss a trade for Adebayo, who seems quietly flustered in discussing his own greatness. “It makes me feel like I’m wanted,” he says with a laugh. “Obviously, that means you’ve got a lot of respect from the organization, from your team and from other teams, because they want you to join them, that they see I’m an impeccable player on both ends of the court. It’s all respect.”

Adebayo says he’s a realist, not a dreamer; he’d rather deal in fact than fantasy. Yes, he’s getting to live his dream, but he’s doing so with his eyes wide open and his head clear. “If you can’t put yourself in a state of mind where you’re at peace, I don’t think it’s possible to go through an 82-plus-game season or playoffs,” he declares. “Sometimes you need to meditate to shut your mind off. I turn off all the lights in my room, go to YouTube and type in ‘thunderstorms’ and listen to that. It’s definitely very calming.”

With such a short turnaround period between the 2019-20 season, which was delayed because of Covid-19, and the 2020-21 season, which at press time was planned to kick off on Dec. 22, he’s going to need to harness all the calm he can. Pretty soon, he’ll be heading off to long, grueling days of practice, then home to his zen oasis. Back and forth, forth and back. So goes Bam Adebayo — and he doesn’t plan on any more sleepless nights.

“I’m looking forward to the new season,” he says. “I’m trying to be better than I was this past year, and I want to bring this city a championship.”

Now, that is some magic we can get behind.

Bam Adebayo
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Photo Credit: Nick Garcia

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