MIAMI - There was a time, and it wasn't long ago, when Michael Beasley would blow through $20,000 in a night, awaken and want to do it again. Spend fast, drive fast, party fast.
He was an NBA millionaire, living like repercussions need not apply, trusting almost everybody, listening to almost nobody.
And then, he insists, two people changed his ways without saying a word.
The Miami Heat forward says he decided to try escaping his destructive patterns because of his children — Mikaiya, his 7-month-old daughter, and Pierce, his 4-month-old son.
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“They’re everything to me,” Beasley said.
Beasley knows it sounds cliché, and doesn’t care. When 2009 began, he was on the cusp of becoming out of control, with priorities driven way out of whack by his own apparent inability to handle the combination of acquiring copious riches and copious fame in a short time.
He spent much of the summer in a rehabilitation facility getting treatment for substance abuse, particularly marijuana, and endured the indignity of having to deal with that delicate situation in a very public manner.
As the year ends, he says everything is different.
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His is a nontraditional family. Beasley’s kids are in South Florida, living with their respective mothers in separate residences, but he can see them daily when the Heat is home. He monitors spending like never before, checking credit reports and credit card bills regularly, and laments not having more already stashed in his savings account.
A big night out typically involves video games and crashing on teammate Daequan Cook’s sofa. And the NBA game is slowing down for him, too.
Michael Beasley, all of 20 years old, says he’s growing up.
“People think maybe I cleaned my act up for the moment,” Beasley said. “But I know that if I were to mess up again, everything in my past would be brought up. I’m a whole lot slower now. Not on the court, but I move slow. I take life by strides now. I’m more relaxed than I was. I was a fast motor, the Energizer bunny, got to be here, here, here, every party. Now I sit on my bed and watch Roseanne.”
And he says he doesn’t miss the fast-lane lifestyle.
“Not one bit,” Beasley said, without hesitation.
Beasley went through — put himself through — more this year than some people will deal with in a lifetime.
He said this fall that one more strike against him would have led to a suspension through the NBA substance-abuse policy, which means he already had two strikes. His parents both made headlines for things they posted on Twitter, the social networking site that Beasley used to get himself in trouble through his words and a link to the now-infamous tattoo photo that some thought captured a bag of marijuana on a nearby table.
He found his role with the Heat, becoming a full-time starter at forward. He became a father twice by two women. He didn’t remain romantically involved with either woman but works with both to raise his children in what he hopes is the right way. That is especially important to him because his father wasn’t always around. He got stronger, physically and mentally.
That’s a full year.
“He put the scarlet letter on his back, himself. And he’s got to deal with it,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “And he’s dealing with it as best as a 20-year-old can deal with it. We’re helping him, facilitating everything we can to help him and all of our players, to limit whatever kind of load is out there so he can concentrate.”
Even those who really know Beasley can find themselves wondering exactly who he is at times.
Is he the goof who sings “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R’ Us kid,” in the locker room after a game? The guy who wowed the Heat by once sitting down at a piano and starting to play without warning, even though he hadn’t taken a lesson in years? The homebody who can rip cars and computers apart and usually put them back together? The budding artist who wants to finish a mural of his teammates by season’s end? The addict who needed rehab and flies in someone he met during rehab once a month to play chess?
Try all of the above.
And Beasley’s basketball game is better for it, too.
“He’s playing great right now,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I thought even last year, look, he was up and down like rookies will be, but scoring is easy for him. It comes very naturally, very easily, even against good defense. He can get a good shot anytime he gets the ball. ... On defense, I don’t think he’s at the point where you can go in and just pick on him at the other end of the floor.
“He’s made great strides.”
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Amid all the off-the-court changes that went into Beasley’s reinvention, his work ethic on the floor may be better than ever.
Throughout high school, AAU basketball, even his one year at Kansas State, there weren’t many people who could guard the left-handed Beasley. In the NBA, the 6-foot-10 native of Frederick, Md., started finally playing with people better than him, a new and humbling experience.
So he got busy. He could not play defense the way an NBA player should when Miami chose him No. 2 in the 2008 draft, not even close, and he didn’t seem necessarily bothered by that when his pro career began. Now, when he gets beat or blows a defensive assignment, Beasley gets demonstrably upset with himself and bears down even harder at both ends of the floor.
“Playing like that, that’s the Bob McAdoo in me,” Beasley said, referring to the Hall of Famer and Heat assistant coach. “I pick his brain all the time. He tells me, ‘Don’t let anybody score, and if they score, you get one right back.’ Not a bad way to play at all for me.”
He is averaging 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds, both ahead of last year’s pace, and he’ll play in an NBA Christmas Day game for the first time today when Miami visits the New York Knicks.
Beasley listens now. That didn’t happen a year ago.
It’s just another sign of the maturation process.
“When you have kids, you grow a lot faster than you normally would,” said Cook, Beasley’s close friend and another young father.
“You’ve got to mature a lot faster. He understands what you can and can’t do now that you have kids. You have to be a role model for them. You’re their father, they look up to you a lot more. Having kids, I think everything’s a lot slower, a lot smoother for him now.”
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Part of the rehab experience involved Beasley being forced to think about his future, about his kids, and how he would provide if the NBA riches all went away — one of the countless reasons why he says he’s now embracing a life of sobriety.
Yes, he has a lot of cars, at least half a dozen. He said last year he had more televisions in his house than he had rooms. He likes nice clothes, new gadgets, things like that, and his $4.9 million salary this season allows for plenty of fun.
Then he came to realize that $35,000 worth of partying in a weekend tends to add up quickly.
“When I first started getting paychecks, you couldn’t tell me anything,” Beasley said. “December of last year, I looked at my savings and I had money but I didn’t have as much as I want. That’s when it hit me: If I keep spending at this rate, I’m going to be one of those players they talk about.”
Now? He swears, he’s not that guy anymore.
Beasley rarely misses a chance to say how appreciative he is that the Heat, Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra and teammates stood by him during the rehab fallout. At the same time, he believes there’s people out there waiting for him to fail, to go back to drugs, to parties, to see if he’ll waste the unbelievable opportunity the NBA provides.
That’s when he thinks of Mikaiya, thinks of Pierce. And everything, in those moments, seems right for Michael Beasley.
“My future is up to me,” Beasley said. “Their future depends on me. I don’t take anything more seriously than that.”