Michael Beasley: How the Timberwolves forward transformed his game
Given that Minnesota Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley has a story for each of his 60 tattoos, he may need to reserve some space on his human canvass if he can eventually help return the team to the playoffs.
"I love tattoos. I feel like the era I've grown up in, tattoos are expression," Beasley, the T-Wolves' leading scorer, said before a recent home win over Detroit. "Every tattoo I have has a meaning. Every tattoo I have is something I've been through."
Although Beasley's still a few weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, the yarn of his budding, then mourned, then rediscovered hoop stardom spins a thread both strange and sanguine.
The MVP of the 2007 McDonald's All-American game as a senior at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Beasley earned the honor while playing in a contest that included a ridiculous wealth of prep talent, including the likes of Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, along with current Minnesota teammates Kevin Love, Jonny Flynn, and Kosta Koufos.
As a freshman at Kansas State, Beasley segued to the collegiate ranks, which offered a bigger stage for the brilliance of his rising star. En route to earning first team All-American honors, he became just the third frosh in NCAA history to lead the country in rebounding (12.4 per game) and stomped Carmelo Anthony's freshman record of 22 double-doubles, recording 28 in 33 games played.
The summer following his lone college campaign, the Miami Heat went all-in on Beasley's blue-chip stock, taking him second in the NBA draft behind eventual rookie of the year Rose. While Beasley would ultimately be selected to the league's All-Rookie Team, his time in Miami was a two-year stretch that saw him take more heat for his behavior outside the arena than his results on the hardwood.
"He's been through a lot of stuff in the course of his life and his career," says Timberwolves rookie Wesley Johnson, who has known Beasley since the two were in their early teens. "So that being said: He really just had to change. If he didn't he was going down the wrong path. It was time for a change, and he did, and it's working out to his benefit."
Before the change, the genuinely original and entertaining Beasley was becoming a cautionary tale. Prior to his first season in Miami, he was booted from the NBA's rookie symposium and fined $50,000 after the scent of grass was detected from a hotel room he inhabited with two other players. Less than a year later, Beasley checked into a Houston rehabilitation clinic for what is widely believed to be a combination of psychological and substance-abuse issues (though he later denied the latter).
At about the same time, posts on Beasley's Twitter account created a number of concerns for his well-being. One entry revealed a photo of him displaying a new back tattoo; on a table in the background appeared to be two bags of weed. Additional tweets revealed Beasley's frustration after learning the length of his rehab stay, reading: "Feelin like it's not worth livin!!!!!!! I'm done," and "I feel like the whole world is against me I can't win for losin."
After a month at the Houston clinic, Beasley returned to the Heat, calling the rehab experience his "lowest hour." After his second year in Miami, Beasley became a cost-cutting sacrifice as the Heat brought LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Beach. Just two seasons after being the number-two pick in the draft, he was shipped north for a mere pair of second-round draft picks and cash considerations.
Yet instead of being the occasion for a relapse, Beasley's short time in Minnesota has already shown signs of what may prove the smartest trade in the Wolves' oft-tragic 22-year history.
"I called Pat [Riley] and asked about him," says Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis, who played six-plus seasons for Riley (now the Heat president). "He was very honest on the pros and cons about Michael. Every player has pros and cons. He talked about what a great person he is, what a great human being he is, and his love of playing basketball—how those are positive characteristics of Michael. And those have all proved to be true, too."
There's no denying Beasley's talent as an elite scorer. In 171 regular-season and playoff games with the Heat, he had just 11 games of recording 25 or more points. In first 28 games playing for the Timberwolves, Beasley has already matched that 11 mark. Through the Wolves' first 30 games, he averaged 21.4 points, good for 15th in the NBA.
"He opened a lot of eyes after he hit the 42 points, his career high," Johnson says of Beasley's gaudy mid-November game in Sacramento. "But that didn't surprise me just knowing him; seeing him in AAU and college, I knew he was capable of doing that. And he's finally getting the opportunity to do it. It really opened up other peoples' perspectives from the outside, thinking he didn't have that in him. In Miami, he didn't get the opportunity. I think a lot of people now are like, 'Wow, he's the real deal!'"
Along with showing on-court growth next to Kevin Love in the Wolves' frontcourt, he's also offering Target Center the playful, childlike persona of the "RealMikebeasley" (his new handle on Twitter).
"He's Sponge Bob-watching, Skittles-eating, iCarly-watching, he likes video games—that's Mike," Johnson says with a smile. "Really, just think of a kid and that's Mike."
That kid is also the father of two children of his own (look for the image of his daughter on Beasley's left inner bicep). But youth—or taste in television—rarely defines or equates to a man's level of success in professional sports. And Beasley's youthfulness is quickly redefining the hoops vibe in downtown Minneapolis.
"He's got a great human spirit about him and an enthusiasm for basketball, and he keeps the locker room together and light," says Rambis, a 14-year NBA vet who is at a loss to find an on-court comparison to Beasley's unique skill set. "He's always up, he's always energetic, and he brings that enthusiasm to this ball club."
"I was excited, coming to a young team, try and help this team grow," Beasley says. "It's one thing to come to a winning team. It's another thing to build a winning team. I want to be part of that process."
Beasley sees in himself a young man matured on the court of life.
"I'm a lot smarter than I was when I first came in the league, a lot wiser," Beasley says. "I'm not really a spur-of-the-moment type guy anymore. I plan my situations out and take life slow. That had been me my whole life, but when I got to the NBA it just didn't work."
But does the power forward hold fears about being part of a team that claims just a lone Western Conference Finals appearance in over two decades?
"No," Beasley says. "Me? I'm a player. I've never really been on a losing team, and I don't want to start. Our record's not that great right now, but I feel like once we put it together we can make a push for the playoffs. We hang in there. We're just a young team that doesn't really know how to finish games. I feel like once we can get over that hump we'll be a force to be reckoned with."
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