Darvin Ham follows basketball fortunes into Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame
BY HUGH BERNREUTER, MLIVE.COM
SAGINAW, MI — Darvin Ham almost flew. He almost died. He almost didn't make his high school basketball team.
Ham, 41, overcame a lot of almosts to put together a basketball career that ledhim to the cover of Sports Illustrated, to the NBA championship and, now, to the coaching staff of the Atlanta Hawks.
"There were things that happened to me that make me wonder how I got to where I am now," Ham said. "All I can say is that's why God is in control."
Ham is a member of the 2014 class of the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame, joining James Reed, Liz Mulvaney, Daryl Szarenski, Tom Kennelly, Hugh Matson, Lawrence McKinney and the 1976-77 Saginaw Gears hockey team. They will formally join the Hall off Fame at the induction banquet Sunday, Nov. 2, at Horizons Conference Center in Saginaw.
"When I was 14, I was caught in a crossfire on the corner of Remington and Genesee," Ham said. "We lived on Emily Street, and I was in the passenger seat with my brother driving to Little Caesars and Al's Market to get a pizza and soda."
The bullet went through Ham's right cheek, lodging in his neck.
"I never lost consciousness, but I was bleeding all over the place," Ham said. "Maybe it was the adrenaline. I didn't panic, but my brother and everybody else were going crazy.
"I turn my head or lift it one way or the other and I'm dead. But it didn't happen."
Ham attended Saginaw High, but did not play basketball until his senior season. Even then, he was a backup player who almost didn't make the 1990-91 Saginaw High team.
"He tried out as a sophomore and junior, but as a sophomore he was probably 5-6 and 145 pounds ... by the time he was a senior, he was about 6-5 and up to 185 pounds," former Saginaw High athletic director and basketball coach Marshall Thomas said. "We had very good players, so it wasn't easy to make the team."
Ham got a boost from the other players.
"There were things that happened to me that make me wonder how I got to where I am now. All I can say is that's why God is in control." - Darvin Ham
"He made the team more because of what the other players thought, not what I thought," Thomas said. "I asked the returning players to give me 15 names of players they want to be on the team. Sometimes, there are guys that coaches overlook. The kids play all summer together. They know each other better than the coaches do sometimes.
"On just about every list, Darvin was on it. They let me know that Darvin was worth putting on the team. He was always a good person. He wasn't going to be a detriment to the team if he wasn't playing. He ended up playing about a quarter per game once the season started."
Still, there wasn't a lot of demand from colleges for a backup forward from Saginaw High.
"I had my papers to join the Air Force all ready to sign, but I put off signing them," Ham said. "I don't know why. My dad (Howard Ham) was in the Air Force. My uncles (Marshall Ham, Renaldo Ham) were Air Force guys.
"I always wanted to travel the world. There was a map of the world at my grandma's house, and I would always study it while I was eating breakfast. Other kids were reading the box, but I was looking at that map, wanting to go to those countries.
"It's funny, but I think I've played in or visited every continent but two (Antartica, Australia). I ended up traveling the world anyway. I guess I joined the Ball Force."
But before Ham could join the Air Force, he received an offer from Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado. Ham played one season at Otero and redshirted his second season after suffering a season-ending injury. He was kicked out of school after getting into a fight with a baseball player, alleging that he used a racial slur.
"People took chances on me," Ham said. "Coach Thomas didn't have to put me on the team. And after what happened at Otero, it was hard to find someone to give me another chance."
Texas Tech, however, offered him a scholarship. In his three years with the Red Raiders, Ham played 90 games, averaging 8.1 points and 5.1 rebounds. In 1996, Ham helped lead Texas Tech to the Sweet 16 and was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated after he broke a backboard in a win over North Carolina.
Ham became one of the top dunkers in college and in the NBA, leading to a variety of nicknames, including 'Ham Slamwich' hen he was with the Pistons.
He was not drafted, but found another team willing to give him an opportunity.
The Denver Nuggets signed Ham, leading to an eight-year NBA career with the Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons, winning an NBA title in 2004 with the Pistons.
After his NBA career was over, Ham became a player-coach for the New Mexico Thunderbirds of the NBA's Developmental League for one season before becoming a full-time coach for the Thunderbirds. In 2011, Ham became an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and currently serves as an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks.
"To get into the Saginaw Hall of Fame means a lot because it's always special when your hometown recognizes you," Ham said. "But it was never something I thought about or sought out to do.
"I know there are guys who set it as a goal and are upset if they're not in it, but I never thought like that. It's a surprise and an honor. A lot of things could have gone different, here or there, and I wouldn't be here.
"Maybe it's fate. I understand how lucky I am. I am extremely grateful for this and everything I've gotten."