by RENALDO DORSETT
PHOENIX, Arizona – In his sixth NBA season, and with his Suns in the midst a playoff race, Deandre Ayton said he continues to draw inspiration from fatherhood, family, and Bahamian athletes excelling across the globe.
Ayton wrapped up morning shoot around at the Suns’ practice facility ahead of Thursday night’s matchup against the Orlando Magic, and said Jazz Chisholm Jr’s star climb has been a major motivating factor for him this season.
“I keep up with Jazz, I know he’s an All-Star now – but he’s a whole superstar. I just love seeing what he’s doing, how he’s taking over his league and I’m like ‘Yo, I got to win me something now,’” Ayton said, “It’s just motivating me how he’s so young, the responsibility that comes with it and the people who he’s representing. He’s doing his thing in his league and I’m doing my thing over here.”
Chisholm, the Miami Marlins outfielder, was recently revealed as the cover athlete for MLB The Show ’23, following his breakout All-Star season. Ayton, meanwhile, is averaging a double double for his sixth consecutive season at a career 18.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. The Suns are currently fourth in the Western Conference standings at 37-32.
Aside from Chisholm, Ayton said he continues to celebrate the work done by Bahamian basketball players to achieve success at the highest level in the NBA and WNBA.
“The Bahamas has way more athletes, you got Buddy [Hield] taking over in Indiana, you got Kai [Jones] developing so well and it’s just great to see and of course you have ‘Ms MVP,’ Jonquel Jones in the WNBA,” Ayton said, “We’re a whole Wolfpack, we ain’t going nowhere, we’re letting it be known that we’re here and hopefully the kids back home watching us know that we’re representing them.”
He also praised the development of Bahamian basketball in recent years. Led by Hield and Jones at the national team level, Bahamas basketball reached previously unprecedented heights last summer when they reached the second round of FIBA World Cup qualification.
“It’s right where it needs to be. We’re all developing and we’re getting older. That’s what we need, for us to get some experience, get banged up a little bit, win a little bit, understand how hard it is to win in leagues and play against the best around the world,” Ayton said, “I think [Bahamas basketball] is where it needs to be because everybody is developing, understanding and having that confidence that they can do it as well. Once we got that, the future of Bahamas basketball should expand, completely.”
The 24-year-old Ayton said fatherhood has changed his approach to the game, both on an off the court since the birth of his son Deandre Jr.
“I have a bit of dad power where I’m not just representing young DA no more, I’m representing my family, I’m representing my son who’s named after me and I understand that it’s a legacy I’m trying to leave behind,” he said, “I’m trying to make sure that he doesn’t have to introduce himself because of the work I’ve put in.”
Deandre Jr recently celebrated his second birthday and is already finding a passion for basketball, much earlier than his dad.
“That boy has been dunking the ball before he’s been talking and walking and I try to put the ball in his hands as much as I can. He’s very alert when he comes to the games. He understands when the ball goes in, you cheer, he knows when I’m on the floor, and he knows what I’m doing,” Ayton said, “He’s so alert, he knows whether it’s a dunk or a jumpshot, if you tell him dunk it he’ll do that, if you tell him shoot he’ll do that. I try to instill the game early as much as I can. My parents didn’t have the opportunity early to do it for me so I’m trying my best to do it for him.”
He continues to make it a point for Deandre Jr to connect with his Bahamian roots as much as possible back in Nassau.
“We’ve been doing it ever since he was born,” Ayton said, “When he was born during the Finals and we had that late run two years ago, I think right after game six we went right back home, I put his feet in some sand to let him know that’ this is the soil where you’re from’ and ‘this is who we are’ and let him know we’re born around water, this is the beautiful island where we are born and raised.”
The family’s philanthropy has also take center stage in the greater Phoenix area. Ayton and his mother Andrea have partnered with Fox Restaurant Concepts to showcase one of her dishes on their menu. The venture ensures that 10% of sales of each meal purchased are donated to Helping Hands for Single Moms.
Helping Hands for Single Moms is a non-profit organization that assists low-income, single-mother families with every tasks, and encourages the pursuit of tertiary education.
“It’s all about her just giving back dealing with single moms and understanding that she once went through the same thing. I think every single mom goes through the same thing, just being both parents for a child and understanding the struggles that comes with it,” he said, “It’s about her giving back to families that don’t have it as well, cooking and keeping these foundations going with her generosity. I’m thankful I have this platform for her to expand on those things. t’s about understanding what it does for the community. This is why we play, and this is way bigger than basketball.”