ORLANDO – E’Twaun Moore has been a NBA point guard for three seasons, but the biggest assist of his life actually came far away from the court this past summer.
Following last NBA season, when he was back home in the same gritty, crime-riddled Guthrie Street neighborhood that he grew up in in East Chicago, Indiana, Moore was able to present his parents with the keys to a new home. The house was physically just 20 minutes away to the suburbs on the Indiana side of the border town, but it might as well have been a world away considering the bleakness that Ezell and Edna Moore were escaping. For more than 30 years, the family had somehow survived a place where gangs, drugs and violent incidents usually outnumber belief, hope and promise.
What was also significant to Moore – a talented guard for the Orlando Magic – was that this would be the first time that anyone in his family had actually lived in a house. Before, the family had only lived in what he called ``the projects’’ as they bounced around various apartments. Why, even when Moore made it to the NBA – first with the Boston Celtics and currently with the Magic – he had lived only in apartments because, quite frankly, that’s all he had known his whole life.
The new house is brilliant, Moore said, what with its four bedrooms and four levels and is complete with a ``mancave’’ where E’Twaun, his dad and his older brother can now retreat to for hours of shooting pool.
The details of the dwelling pale in comparison to the fact that the family is simply in a house for the first time ever. Knowing that his mother and father are able to look out the windows and see green grass and not fear for their surroundings, the magnitude of that moment hit Moore hard. Hidden where no one could see, Moore was overwhelmed with emotion.
``It was so gratifying,’’ Moore said proudly. ``Inside it was really emotional for me, but I didn’t let them see that. Just to know deep down that I was able to make it out of the ‘hood and be a successful young man and do something for my parents it was amazing. Really, I was able to do something that a lot of people in that situation are never able to do and I’m proud of that.’’
`A BIG PART OF OUR TEAM’
Moore, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered type who coaches love because of his blend of toughness and professionalism, has plenty to be proud of this season with the Magic. Quietly, he’s been one of the most consistent players off the bench for Orlando and he’s played a big role in the Magic winning three big games early in the season. His finest moment came last week in the team’s signature defeat of the Los Angeles Clippers when Moore buried two fourth-quarter 3-pointers to spur the Magic onto victory.
Moore’s numbers – 7.9 points per game, 1.5 assists and 1.4 rebounds – aren’t particularly flashy, but Magic coach Jacque Vaughn and veteran captain Jameer Nelson shudder to think where they would be without him. Because Moore can play both guard spots, he is key is helping ease the NBA transition of rookie Victor Oladipo and also to give Nelson some rest. And the Magic don’t mind one bit if the ball finds Moore late in games because of his fearlessness when it comes to taking and making big shots.
``E. is a big part of our team,’’ Nelson said. ``He is a good shooter, he plays well without the ball and he can handle it, too. He made big shots for us (versus the Clippers). We like to feed off one another when we are out there in different lineups and in different situations.’’
Added Vaughn, who often uses Moore in a utility role because of his versatility: ``I tell the guys every day that a coach wants to be able to look at to the bench and have guys down there that he can trust, believe in and know what they are going to give him on a nightly basis. (Moore) is that guy who is gaining the trust of his teammates and definitely with his coaching staff. His ability to be tough, guard multiple spots for us and just make shots is big. And at the end of the day, he competes and that’s the bottom line.’’
TOUGHNESS IN A TOUGH SITUATION
Moore, 24, had no choice but be tough considering the difficult circumstances that he grew up in just nine miles from Gary, Ind., and 35 miles southeast of Chicago. Dad, Ezell, worked as a mover for a furniture company, while mom, Edna, was a preschool teacher, and they provided a safe environment for E’Twaun – the youngest of three children – as long he was inside the four walls of their apartment.
Outside the apartment is where the chaos of gangs, drugs and gunfire was never far away. One of his closest friends, Dante Brown, was killed when Moore was a teenager, as was another relative, incidents that scared him straight. Brown was as good or better a basketball player, Moore said, and had they made it out of the neighborhood together they both could be in the NBA today.
Moore always had two watchful parents who raised him with tough love and discipline. Looking back, Moore said he didn’t always understand their methods at the time, but they just might have saved him from the streets.
``When I was younger, I’d have to come in (the family’s apartment) as soon as those street lights came on,’’ Moore said with a chuckle. ``My friends would be able to hang out until 12 (A.M.) and I would wonder why I had to be in the house by 9 (P.M.)? But my parents always told me, `We want to know that you are fine. We want to know that you are safe.’ Of course, I always fought it and wanted to hang out with my friends, but my parents were there for me and kept me grounded.’’ And, of course, there was always basketball to guide Moore and keep his mind occupied. He was a regular on the asphalt courts just outside his apartment, shooting a pock-marked ball through chain nets and a double rim. Often he’d be out there playing for hours against ``grown folks’’ when he was just 12 years old.
Playing against bigger, stronger and older men is where Moore learned the high-arching jump shot from the corner and his teardrop floater in the lane. It also taught him to pick himself up when he gets knocked down, fear no man and fear no shot late in games with the balance hanging in doubt.
``That definitely made me a lot tougher and not scared of anything,’’ Moore said proudly. ``After growing up in that, my approach has always been that if I can make it through that I can make it through anything. I’ve never been scared once playing basketball because it’s only a game.’’
Moore got a glimpse of what a powerful force basketball could be in his life in 2007 when he faced off against Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, Eric Gordon, in the Class 4A state championship game. At the time, Gordon was considered the top guard in the country, but it was Moore who poured in 28 points to help his Central High team pull off the shocking upset in the state title game. Moore said while he was growing up not once did he think that basketball could help him get to college or even to the NBA. He just played because he loved the sport and it beat the alternative of getting mixed up in the violence surrounding him. Looking back, Moore admits that basketball likely saved his life.
``My neighborhood was really tough with a lot of violence, drugs and gangs. I was able to stay away from it because of my household, my parents and my brother and sister. That and basketball, of course – those things kept me straight. My parents stayed on my tail and basketball kept me busy,’’ he said candidly. ``Basketball definitely saved me. I had best friends and family members who died in the streets, so definitely basketball saved me.’’
At Purdue, Moore became just the third player in Big Ten history to tally at least 2,000 points (2,136), 500 rebounds (611), and 400 assists (400) in a career, joining among others Michigan State star Steve Smith.
A rarity as a NBA prospect who was a college senior, Moore was a second-round pick of the Celtics in 2011. He stuck with Boston because coach Doc Rivers loved his grit and versatility. As fate would have it, the best game of his rookie season was a 16-point, four 3-pointer performance against the Magic in January of 2012.
Moore signed with Orlando prior to last summer and was a key cog in the Magic offense until last January when he dived for a ball and a Washington player landed on his arm. The hit hyper-extended his elbow and sent the confidence in his shooting stroke into a tailspin.
``That was a bad injury,’’ he said, shaking his head some 11 months later. ``That one really messed me up.’’
`My way of giving back’
Not long after the Magic picked up the option on the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder’s contract, ensuring him a second season in Orlando, Moore began the process of securing the new house for his parents. Deep down, he knew there might be resistance from his parents even though they lived near a place akin to a warzone during dark times. After all, Moore said wistfully, it was the only life that the family really had ever known.
``They knew about the new house the whole time. I didn’t surprise them and I let them knew because that (apartment complex) was still their home that they were moving out of,’’ Moore said. ``It was still kind of tough for them to move because they were so comfortable being in one area for so long. Sometimes making that change is tough. I had to kind of force them to move to the new house.’’
Moore sold the idea of the new house to his parents as a way for him to finally give back to them for all of the support that they had offered through the years. Even today, Moore’s mom and dad, older brother (Ezell Jr.) and sister (Ekeisha) drive to Magic games in Indiana, Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee to cheer him on.
Just like when his parents required him to be in the apartment as soon as the street lights came on at night during his teen years, Moore wanted the peace of mind of knowing that his mom and dad were ``fine’’ and ``that they are safe.’’
And when the family spent that night together in the house that was their own for the first time, Moore marveled at how he was able to make such an impactful difference. It moved him, even if he didn’t let anybody see it.
``I didn’t literally cry, but it was just a warm feeling inside to do something for them,’’ he remembered. ``Without my family I wouldn’t have been able to make it to where I am today. This is my way of giving back and giving them anything that they need.’’