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In many ways, new Bulls guard Larry Hughes is the embodiment of the modern-day professional athlete.
In his 10-year career, which began when he entered the draft after only one college season, he has been cast off in trade, has tested his value on the free-agent market and, playing for his fifth NBA team, does not pretend to be looking for any emotional attachments or entanglements.
His mother, Vanessa, says he’s just like any other businessman, albeit one whose salary this season is $12.8 million.
“When he left school, he knew he was taking on a job and that’s what it is,” she said. “It’s a job that allows him take care of his family and his extended family. If it tells him ‘Tomorrow you have to pack up,’ you go.
“I tell him, ‘You’re not going to be the poster child for the NBA. You may not be No. 1 in shooting. But your ability to take care of your family, that’s a gift from God.'”
It is a gift Hughes takes seriously and comes by naturally, his relationship with his mother and younger brother Justin, a heart-transplant recipient who passed away two years ago at 20, rivaled only by his devotion to wife Carrie and children Lauryn, 9, Landys, 7, and Larry II, 4.
It is those relationships and the work he and his mother do on behalf of the Larry Hughes Foundation — dedicated to assisting families in need of organ transplants with travel and other living expenses as well as the families of donors, whom he has helped with funeral costs — that truly matter.
And so when strangers in new cities read his tattoos and want to know more, when they see the two permanent tear drops etched below one eye — in honor of Justin — and assume they’re gang-related or, at the very least, mistake him for just another tough guy, the 29-year-old Hughes shrugs and smiles.
If it’s the price he must pay for being quiet and detached, so be it.
“But I think once people get to know me, they can see that I’m a straightforward guy,” Hughes said. “I always fess up to anything I’ve done or said. I try to stand up for whatever I say and how I feel and give the reasons why I feel that way and be respectful.”
As for the tattoos, about 20 in all, they each tell a story — his right arm, the basketball side of him, he explains; his left arm “all the tragic things going on.” There’s the Grim Reaper tattoo on his left shoulder to remind him what his younger brother constantly was facing after being born with a severe heart defect when Larry was 7.
On his neck reads “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” and across his stomach read the words “Quiet Storm,” complete with clouds and lightning bolts, which is how Hughes describes his inner passion and his outer calm.
Tattoos do talking
“It’s me,” he said of the markings. “It’s how I express myself. I don’t do a lot of talking. This is my life and all the things I have on me are something I really want to remember. I can always look at an arm or a hand and know where I was or what I was thinking at that time.”
Those who have known him longest, like Western Illinois coach Derek Thomas, who coached Hughes both in high school and college (under now-retired Charlie Spoonhour at St. Louis), say Hughes could do more to express himself.
“It’s one thing he doesn’t do great,” Thomas said. “If people don’t understand him, he doesn’t go out of his way to make them.”
That said, Hughes did win the “Austin Carr Good Guy Award” in 2006, which recognizes the Cavaliers player who is cooperative and understanding of the media, the community and the public.
“I wish I understood what people want him to do, because I think he is a really good person and a really good player,” Spoonhour said.
Hughes has been subject of an equal number of interpretations of his on-court persona, from coaches such as Larry Brown questioning his work ethic early in his career to Wizards and Cavs fans hounding him for his shot selection to others wondering about his durability.
He does not duck any of them. Click HERE to continue reading.