Welcome To The Family, Bam
The Miami Heat All-Star talks about signing to Jordan Brand, his passion for giving back and why family is so important to him.
Photography: David Alvarez
For Miami Heat All-Star forward Bam Adebayo, family is everything. As a young child, he and his mother moved from Newark, New Jersey to Little Washington, North Carolina, in hopes of creating a better foundation for Bam’s future.
Even as a shy kid, Bam was motivated by his mother’s tireless work ethic, which led to him becoming a McDonald’s All-American and North Carolina’s Mr. Basketball in 2016. When it came to picking a college, Bam made the difficult decision to leave the proximity of his family and attend the University of Kentucky. His path had a greater purpose, one that would eventually allow him to repay his mother for the sacrifices she made.
Attracted by its reputation for producing NBA players, Bam bought into the Kentucky system and earned spots on the SEC All-Freshman team and Second-team All-SEC. After helping lead his team to the Elite Eight, Bam declared for the NBA Draft, taking another step towards his goal of taking care of his family. Selected #14 overall by the Miami Heat in 2017, Bam once again bought into his team’s system and applied his relentless work ethic. Improving throughout each of his first two years, Bam made the leap from promising young player to All-Star during the 2019-2020 season. Following his first All-Star selection, Bam also earned a spot on the NBA’s All-Defensive second team and helped lead his team to a Finals appearance.
After just three seasons, Bam has Miami fans, players and executives comparing him to franchise greats. His embodiment of “Heat culture” earned him an early five-year extension that will keep him part of the Heat family for the foreseeable future. As he continues his quest toward another NBA Finals, he’ll also be representing family on his feet.
We caught up with Bam to talk about his commitment to giving back, how his mother inspires his game and his love for Air Jordans. Welcome to the family, Bam.
How does it feel to be a member of the Jordan Brand family?
It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it will soon, even just based on the simple fact that everybody knows who MJ is and what he’s done for the game of basketball. Being able to say that I’m part of the Brand makes me sit back and really cherish everything. I’m looking forward to the experience.
What does the Jumpman symbolize to you?
It represents MJ’s legacy of being a great basketball player, to the point where there’s now a Jumpman on the jerseys of teams he played against. It shows his legacy and what he did for basketball. To be a part of that is great because I get to represent that greatness. Seeing me in Jordans means a lot to the people looking up to me.
There’s a scene in The Last Dance that went viral, where MJ says, “I took that personally.” When you did a pre-draft workout for the Heat, they put you through some drills that fired you up, and you let them know. You took it personally that they were trying to test you. Where does that competitive spirit come from?
My mom. She’s a single parent and raised me through the struggle. My competitive nature is influenced by how she’s built. She’ll never quit. She is one of those people who has no filter. That’s where it comes from, it’s just in my DNA.
Jordan Brand prides itself in operating like a family. How important was that for you when deciding to sign?
I’m built off of family. That’s one thing I cherish and don’t joke with. If I say you’re family, that means you’re in my circle. Being able to say the Jumpman is my family means I really care about it.
Did you talk to your mother about this decision? What was her reaction?
My mom has always been one of those cool parents who’s happy as long as I’m happy. When I told her, she gave me a fist pound and was like, “You on Jordan now!” She’s cool with it, and she’s going to be geeked to get some Js now.
You’ve worn a lot of Jordans on and off the court. When did your love for the Brand begin? Do you have a first memory?
There’s just something about the Air Jordan XI that I really love. I started to hoop in them once I got into the league, when I finally had enough money to buy multiple pairs.
Is it important for you to not only feel good but also look good on the court, when it comes to your sneakers?
Hell yeah. You can’t be out there with your shoe strings too tight, choking the tongue. [Laughs] You look good, you feel good, you play good.
You’ve worn a lot of custom Air Jordans, and now you’ll be able to work with the design team to create official PEs. What are you looking forward to about that process?
Players look forward to customizing their own PEs, and the simple fact that I get to is mind boggling. Not many in this league get the opportunity to do that. Just being able to say “that’s my Jordan” is incredible.
What are some of your recent favorites?
I’ve always been an Air Jordan I Low fan, so that’s my top off-court shoe right now.
There’s a long list of great athletes who have worn Jordans across different sports. Are there any you were a fan of growing up?
When Kobe used to wear Jordans, that was a big sign of respect to me. For him to idolize the man and wear his shoes while he was playing against him? That was special. He wasn’t signed with Jordan, but the fact that he wore them was cool to me.
You have just as many highlights off the court when it comes to philanthropy. What does “RAK” or “random acts of kindness” mean to you?
It started during my senior year because my mentor Kevin Graves loves to help people. He cares about everybody. He came up with this thing called “random acts of kindness” and told me that when I get to a point of financial stability, I should take care of people. It starts with little stuff, like going to a coffee shop and leaving a nice tip, or just telling people that you appreciate their time. Then, it might be buying someone’s dinner. Anything I can do to help, I will.
People need help, even if they don’t want to admit it. I’m in a position now where I can help people. It’s on my shoulders to make sure that I take care of them.
You received the Champions of Philanthropy “Rising Star Award” in 2019. How important is that to you?
People noticed the work that I didn’t want attention for. Somebody was watching me do all of these good deeds, just from my heart. I don’t really share that stuff in the media, so for them to give me that award was a big surprise. I felt like I had achieved something, even though it wasn’t originally my goal.
You had a big season last year and made it to the Finals. What’s your mindset this season?
My mindset is to go back to the Finals and have a different outcome. Right now, my team is focused on getting healthy. We’re fighting to get back.
Outside of your highlight plays, you’ve built a reputation for doing all of the little things to help you team win. How do you stay motivated to get better on the fundamentals every day?
The fear of failing drives me. I never want to be a person that lets my team down.