For Utah Jazz star Rudy Gay growing up in Baltimore was essential for him to achieve what he has done in his 35 years of life. His tough upbringing made the NBA player have a vision for his life although he didn’t know anyone who also wanted to play basketball. The city pushed him to try hard and to be less hesitant about what he wanted to do in life.
“I was raised by an older Black man. Back in those days, they played baseball, Jackie Robinson,” Gay says of his early beginnings. “All they talked about was the Negro Leagues and breaking barriers.”
It was those days that Gay thought his initial calling was to be a baseball star. Like so many older generations, America’s favorite pastime of baseball was what brought so many Black communities together. But the glaring culture of the NBA is what first caught Gay’s attention before making the transition to basketball.
Gay began playing competitive recreational basketball at the age of 12 in his hometown. At 14, Gay began playing for the nationally known Cecil-Kirk AAU program under coach Anthony Lewis. Even before his college days, the player was racking up accolades and receiving national attention. By 2004, Gay was listed as the No. 2 small forward and the No. 5 player in the nation.
It was Gay’s optimism and his work ethic that kept him going. His humble beginnings instilled in him to follow his gut. Gay's college recruitment and decision to attend the University of Connecticut over the University of Maryland was controversial. Still, the decision paid off. He was an unanimous Big East All-Rookie Team selection, was named National Freshman of the Year by The Sporting News, and earned Big East Rookie of the Week honors five times. That was only the start of his college career.
The rest is history as Gay became the eighth overall pick during the 2006 NBA draft. From the Houston Rockets to the Memphis Grizzlies, and on to his recent trade to the Utah Jazz, Gay’s career shows that the decisions he made have helped him establish himself as a player who has longevity.
After 16 years in the game, Gay is still happy to learn new skills and enter new spaces.
“I actually learned how to DJ during the pandemic. Well, I didn’t teach myself, I had a couple of friends teach me. But I learned how to DJ,” Gay says.
The player perfected his craft while throwing parties that he allows his kids to attend. Gay also says he has fashion on his mind while he thinks about what comes after his basketball life.
As time has changed since Gay first began playing professional basketball, so has what athletes are becoming to be in the public eye. Outside of the glitz and glamor, Black athletes are speaking out more, even though they receive pushback.
“Black athletes only make you more visible and more in the public eye,” Gay says. “People just listen to us more… I believe the people that are passionate about it should do it,” he says regarding Black athletes who speak out against certain societal issues.
“I think that right there is a responsibility of athletes. Because if you grew up in a community, and you are raised by the community, you are a son of that community. I think people that grew up around that need to see someone that has made it out or has made great strides… Kids need to see more of that,” Gay says about Black athletes using their platforms.
Gay isn’t all talk when it comes to using his platform for good. In 2010, Gay was named an ambassador for the Hoops for St. Jude fundraising program for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis and donated $20,000 to the program. That same year he was awarded the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for March in recognition of his service to the Memphis community and his ongoing support of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
Gay has also used his platform to create his non-profit Flight 22. The mission of the Flight 22 foundation is to provide disadvantaged youth with proper access to resources and opportunities that will increase their self-confidence and leadership skills in order to successfully compete in the 21st-century workforce.
Although the pandemic has affected the progress of the organization, Gay is still pushing forward.
“‘I’m just trying to give back and do things for the community that I wish I had. Not in the traditional way but the way that my kids can relate to it,” the ballplayer says.
And with all that he has going on Gay still keeps his priority of being a father number one. With his hectic schedule, Gay knows that communication is key to making sure his kids understand the life he lives, although it is still difficult for his two sons Clinton and Dean to completely understand. The NBA star credits his wife for being a great mother.
With the 2022 season underway Gay is currently focused on making it his best season yet. As far as life after the NBA, Gay is taking his time to see what strikes his interests.