Leon Powe was born on January 22, 1984 in Oakland, California. He attended Oakland Technical high school. This kid has had a rough life and has come through it a strong person and a gritty basketball player. By now, you probably know his story. His father bolted the family when Leon was two, leaving his mother to support Leon and his newborn brother Tim. For awhile, his mom managed to hold down a variety of jobs which when supplemented by public assistance and a little help from Landry's mother, kept a roof over their heads.
When Leon was seven, while he was at school and his mother at work his younger brother Tim was left unsupervised briefly while his grandmother was babysitting and he came across some matches and accidentally burned the house to the ground. This drove the family into a homeless shelter for awhile and began a seven-year odyssey in which the family rarely stayed in one place for long. They stayed with Landry's mother for a short time, and with her Aunt Jessie for awhile before she went into a nursing home. The family stayed in various shelters in Richmond and Oakland, they lived for awhile in transitional housing and shabby apartments, as well as in residential hotels. Leon estimated that they made at least twenty moves in all but there were so many, it was hard to keep count.
Leon's mother got into legal trouble for petty theft when she was caught stealing groceries to feed her family as well as being convicted of welfare fraud. She was sentenced to ninety days in county jail and ordered to pay restitution. She was then accepted for a work furlough program and her sentence was suspended. To make matters worse, Landry kept getting pregnant by various men. In December 1992 she gave birth to Leon's half-brother Richard. Unable to work with an infant, she left her job and tried to make money selling odds and ends that she found behind storage units at the flea market. Baby Jessica was born next, followed closely by Michael. Tatiana and Christine would come along later.
Over time, the burden of trying to keep her family together and care for them proved to be too much for Powe’s mother. With no steady income to support her family, and a building drug habit, child Protective Services took control of Leon and his brothers and sisters and placed all but one into foster care. His sister Christine went to live with her father who had been Landry's boyfriend at the time.
As the oldest child, Leon often had to care for his younger siblings. As a result, his attendance in school was sporadic. He would be absent for days and sometimes weeks at a time, and he missed the fifth grade entirely. But rather than being bitter about this, he will tell you that it made him more responsible and more appreciative of what he has now.
By the time Leon entered sixth grade a year late, he was already six feet tall. Powe wasn't into basketball at the time in spite of his size. He would shoot around at the park but he didn't try out for the school team. Instead, he spent much of his spare time hanging out with a friend, Shamare Freeman. Shamare was headed for trouble and at times Leon went along with his friend. At first it was small things like shoplifting but Shamare was moving toward serious crimes such as drug-dealing and stealing cars. It was about this time that Leon moved again, which fortunately for him put some distance between he and his friend. It was around this time that Leon began developing a friendship with Shamare's older half-brother Bernard Ward.
Ward had been an All State Junior College basketball player and had gotten offers at some colleges but slipped and got into drugs and ended up spending time in jail. After he got out of jail, he tried to get back into playing but broke an ankle which ended his hopes of a college basketball career. He got his life outside of basketball in order, however and became a counselor. It was at this time that Leon approached Ward and asked him to help him with his game. At first Ward didn't take him too seriously but Leon persisted. To see if Leon was serious, Ward told him to run seven laps at a local school and then shoot jump shots until the sun went down. As Ward secretly watched Powe complete the unsupervised workout, he came away impressed with Leon's work ethic and self discipline. Ward became Leon's mentor, father figure, and guardian.
While Leon began to impress on the basketball court, his schoolwork was much less impressive with a GPA of 1.9 his first semester. Another family friend, Jonas Zuckermann was enlisted to work with Leon on his studies and found him a very willing pupil. Most of his struggles stemmed from having missed so much time in school while growing up. By the start of his sophomore season, his grades were greatly improved and his basketball skills were blossoming.
During his junior year in high school, his mother died of a heart attack at the age of 41 just days before his team was to play for the state title. He had remained close to his mother and the loss weighed heavily on him. Just weeks later, he tore the ACL in his left knee in an AAU tournament. He came back to play his senior year on his reconstructed knee and was named a Parade All American, a McDonalds All American and a top 10 prospect for college recruiters.
Powe played his college basketball for the California Golden Bears from 2003-2006. After his freshman season at Cal, he was named PAC 10 freshman of the year and became the first freshman in PAC 10 history to lead the conference in rebounding. In his freshman year, his GPA dipped below 2.0 and he was forced to sit out several games. Showing just what kind of determination he has, he improved his gpa to a 3.5 by his junior year.
But, he still had severe pain in his reconstructed knee and he had surgery for a bone graft to relieve that pain. His knee didn't respond and they operated again and reconstructed the knee for a second time, his third major surgery on the same knee in the span of 2 years. A lesser person would have given up. But Powe persevered and went through rehab once again and he returned to Cal and became a dominant force, averaging 20.5 point per game and 10.1 rebounds per game, becoming only the 6th player ever to lead the conference in both categories and was named a second team All American. As a sign of the type of person Leon is, he went back to thank the surgeon who reconstructed his knee.
Powe entered the draft after his junior season and was taken by the Nuggets with the 49th pick and immediately traded to the Celtics. Danny didn't have any picks left, but when he saw Powe still available, he got on the phones trying to make a deal with any team to get him. In spite of having great promise, teams were scared to take a chance on him because of his knee problems.
In Powe's first season with the Celtics, he didn't see much playing time but when he did get on the court, good things seemed to happen. Several times after Leon was a difference maker in a game, Doc said that he would have to find more playing time for him, but he never seemed to do so. But, Leon always made the most of the minutes he got and never stopped working to improve his game. After the season, Leon delivered hand written thank you notes to everyone involved with the team.
His nickname in high school and college was "The Show." That is a great nickname, but the players on the Celtics' Summer League team his first season gave him a new nickname: "The Grown Man" because he is built like a Mack truck and is very mature for his age. I guess going through all the adversity has made him wise beyond his years as well as a very strong and gritty player. You have to pull for a kid who has gone through so much and yet has seemed to rise above it all.
This past season, Leon once again got sporadic playing time. He played in 56 games and averaged 7.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in just over 14 minutes per game. As with his first season, he made the very most of every minute he played. In game 2 of the playoffs, Leon burst out with 21 points and 2 rebounds in just 14 minutes of play. After the game, Phil Jackson even mispronounced his name in the press conference. But, even that couldn't detract from the clinic that Leon put on during the game as he helped his team to a 2-0 lead in the series.
Leon donates a lot of his time helping kids and does free and low cost basketball camps every offseason that he calls his Powe Folks Basketball Camps. He uses his money to help care for his siblings. This offseason he took his family on a vacation. He had this to say at a recent promotional event:
"We've got to step up. I always love a challenge. I told coach (Doc Rivers) whenever you put me out there I am giving 110 percent. If I am missing shots, I am still rebounding and playing (defense). If I'm making shots, I am fighting for every loose ball and every inch I can get on the court."
He works very hard on and off the court to make himself a better basketball player and a better person. We can all hope that Danny gives Leon an extension because in a league where many players act like prima donnas and are always in the news for some trouble or other, Leon Powe is a breath of fresh air and a player that will add class and grit to any team he is on. Consider me firmly on the Leon Powe bandwagon.