Darvin Ham introduced himself at his first press conference as the Los Angeles Lakers head coach on June 6, 2022, and dove right into some of his motivations and background.
One segment that stuck with many watching his conference was Ham’s story about getting shot in the face by accident when he was just 14 years old growing up in Saginaw, Michigan, and the impact that it had on his life and perspective since then.
Here’s what you need to know:
Darvin Ham Was Shot in the Face By Accident When He Was 14 Years Old & Was Told He Was Lucky to Have Survived
“I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan,” Ham said during his introductory press conference. “I was shot in the face by accident, April 5, 1988. You go through something like that, it’s going to do one of two things. It’s going to make you fearful or fearless. It made me fearless.” He said it means he doesn’t feel overwhelmed as the coach of the Lakers and described it as a challenge. “I don’t feel pressure. It’s basketball.”
Ham grew up in a house that was right behind a liquor store and a nightclub, NBC reported, and it was normal for him to hear gunshots and fights every night. On April 5, 1988, when Ham was 14 years old, he went to pick up a pizza with his brother and as they were driving and turning from a parking lot onto their street, the brothers got caught in the middle of a crossfire.
Ham recalled hearing gunshots and seeing someone running toward their car as three others chased that person and shot at him. One of the bullets hit the 14-year-old in the jaw, with the bullet remaining in his body in the back of his neck, he shared in an NBA interview.
Ham underwent a successful operation and said the doctor handed him the bullet afterward and told him he was lucky to be alive. “My face was totally swollen; I could barely turn my head,” he added. All in all, he spent 11 days in the hospital, but the impact of that day remained with him much longer.
“Fourteen years old,” Ham told the Los Angeles Times. “Think about it. I could’ve died. At 14. ‘Walk it off,’ that’s what they’re telling me,” he continued emotionally. “Walk it off. No, ‘How you feeling? Are you OK? Are you scared it could happen to you?’ … I got to give something back, man.”
Ham explained in his NBA interview that he had to testify in a trial a couple of months later but it ended up being ruled a mistrial. He shared that the person who’d been the target of the gunshots didn’t want to name his shooters so the case didn’t proceed. He said it was an eye-opening moment, realizing that he could have died and no one would have been convicted for it.
Darvin Ham Shared That He Still Suffers From PTSD After the Incident & Has Been in Therapy
Ham explained that he has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from that incident and others in his neighborhood growing up. He said it’s a larger issue than just his own and argued that Black people don’t often get the therapy they need. “I have PTSD to this day off them shots ringing out, getting shot, the s*** going on in my neighborhood,” he told the Times. “And we don’t … we think it’s cowardice or we’re weak if we go get help… And we need so much help, bro.”
He shared that he’s done a lot of work in therapy to help him process his past but it’s also created his tough mentality and appreciation for life. “I could have been dead so easily,” he shared in an interview with NBA. “It set a foundation in me to never take anything for granted. So I’m not afraid of failure, or success. I’m only afraid of not being authentic, or sticking to my principles.”
Saginaw was named the Michigan city with the highest violent crime rate in the FBI’s 2021 crime report, with the city ranked the fourth most violent nationwide. According to MLive, the high crime rates aren’t new for the state and violent crimes in Michigan usually trend above the national average, with peaks in 1986 and 1991.