For the majority of those who follow professional basketball, July 12, 2010 -– the day that Michael Beasley was traded from the Miami Heat to the Minnesota Timberwolves -– was a footnote in free agency of LeBron James.
But for Michael, it marked a new beginning. Coming out of Kansas State University in 2008, he had been one of the most heralded NBA prospects in recent memory. Yet even after helping Miami jump from 15 to 43 and then 45 wins in his first two seasons, even after averaging 14 points and six rebounds, there was something about Miami and Michael that had never quite gelled.
In Minnesota, things would be different.
"He holds himself to a higher standard and wants to excel in this league." -- Kurt Rambis
Playing for the Timberwolves, Michael re-emerged as the promising young talent the NBA had expected -- the 6'10" forward with the lethal jumper and point guard handles, the affable, prankster known to his teammates, friends and family simply and fondly as B-Easy.
"He feels he holds himself to a higher standard and wants to excel in this league," said Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis. "He wants to become one of those top echelon players."
Michael echoed Rambis' sentiment.
"Basketball is not my job," he said. "It's my life. It's my passion. You know, it's my everything…besides my daughter. I put my all into it."
THE MAN IN MARYLAND
Michael Beasley was born in South East D.C., on January 9, 1989, growing up in what was about to become an unparalleled hotbed of hoops. One of five children, he grew up big and fast, with a penchant for jokes.
By the time he was eleven, it was also clear that he was a basketball prodigy. He drew the interest of an AAU team –- the PG Jaguars -– and despite a terrible tryout, was invited to join the team.
One of his teammates and childhood friends was two-time NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant, who recalled young Mike's talents with hints of awe.
"He was 12 years old, and all he was doing was tipping the ball to himself," said Durant. "He was almost dunking. His hands were so big. He was getting rebounds, and his hands were at the rim laying it in."
Durant's mother, Wanda Pratt, recalled Michael's other defining quality: his sense of humor.
"He was fun-loving," she remembered. "He liked to have a good time. He was always well-mannered."
Paired with Durant, Mike and the PG Jaguars went on to win multiple national AAU championships. It was only the beginning. Mike subsequently joined another AAU team, the DC Assault, and playing with future college stars Nolan Smith, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, went on to further success. At the end of his senior season in high school, Michael was named to the 2007 McDonald's All-American team.
He had already drawn the interest of college coaches across the nation. In the McDonald's game, he made his mark, logging 23 points, 12 rebounds and the game's Most Valuable Player award. And just like that, B-Easy was the nation's best high school basketball prospect, ranked No. 1 in the nation by Rivals.com
KING OF KANSAS
With college suitors abounding, Michael decided to pay a visit to Kansas State. It was an unlikely destination for someone who had spent his entire life in Washington D.C. metro area. But a former AAU coach, Dalonte Hill, had taken a job there, and he talked Michael into a visit.
Despite a shaky, aborted flight in a prop plane, followed by a two-hour drive through the Great Plains, Michael liked what he saw in Manhattan, Kansas. He decided to stay and play for Kansas State coach Frank Martin.
It turned out to be the proverbial win-win.
Michael kicked off the 2007-2008 season with 32 points and 24 rebounds in a runaway 30-point victory. The Wildcats won four of their first five games with Michael the dominant force in all of them. No team kept him under 28 points or stopped him from pulling down at least 10 rebounds.
But the name-making for B-Easy came against Kansas State's archrivals: the Kansas Jayhawks.
Prior to Michael's arrival in Manhattan, K-State had not won on its home floor against Kansas in 24 years. Before the season had even started, Mike had made a bold prediction: "We're going to beat Kansas at home."
On January 30, 2008, the Jayhawks arrived in Manhattan undefeated, the second ranked team in the country. Facing double and triple teams the entire contest, B-Easy could not be stopped, scoring 25 points and grabbing six rebounds en route to a stunning 84-75 win for the No. 22 Wildcats.
After the Kansas win, Michael would lead K-State to its first NCAA Tournament berth in a decade, and though the Wildcats fell in their second game, the season was one of the most spectacular recorded by a freshman in the history of college basketball.
The NBA was calling.
SEASONS IN SOUTH BEACH
Michael was selected by the Miami Heat with the second pick of the 2008 NBA Draft.
Miami was only two seasons removed from winning the NBA title, but had finished the previous season with a humbling 15-67 record. The Heat desperately needed an impact player, and when the year began, it appeared they had him.
Michael dominated the NBA Summer League, scoring 29 points in his debut, and carried that momentum straight through the start of the NBA regular season. In nine of his first 10 games, the rookie hit double-digits, including 14 games of 19 or more points.
By year's end, B-Easy was putting it together, closing down the season with a five-game average of 24.2 points, and 9.6 rebounds, and helping Miami finish with 43 victories – 28 more than in the previous season. In the first round of the playoffs, Miami played the Atlanta Hawks, and with the Heat trailing the series three games to two, Dwayne Wade implored his young teammate to rise to Atlanta's challenge.
"Wade spent two days imploring his teammates to match the Hawks' challenge," wrote Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. "Beasley listened. Two hours before game time, he was out on the court, taking shot after shot after shot. Something must have clicked."
Coming off the bench, B-Easy scored 25 points and collected 15 boards, extending the series to a decisive seventh game. While Miami would lose that contest on the road, Michael had shown an ability to rise to the demands of the moment. He also ended the year on the NBA's All-Rookie Team.
In Mike's second season, Miami had an even better finish, ending the year with 47 wins. He also started to show an ability to take over a game, with six regular season games of 25 points or more. Though the Heat fell in the opening round of the playoffs to the 2008 NBA Champions, the Boston Celtics, in five games, it appeared that Michael was off to a good start two years into his NBA career.
Things would change dramatically in a few short months.
On July 8, 2010, Michael – like millions of Americans – had his television tuned to ESPN when LeBron James announced his decision to join the Miami Heat. That evening, Mike went to bed thinking believing that he would be teaming up with another NBA superstar.
"Once he said he was going to Miami, I fell asleep," he told Dime Magazine. "Then I woke up around three, four in the morning and I had a million text messages! They all said, "Oh man, we're here for you … We'll come out and see you…" I'm thinking, "What is everybody talking about?" I turned on NBA TV and it said, "Beasley traded to the Timberwolves."
While the move took him by surprise, Michael said he was happy with how the Heat had handled it.
"Pat Riley stayed honest with me the whole way through," he explained. Even before the season was over he told me, ‘I don't wanna trade you, but if something goes down I might have no other option.' I mean, it was me or LeBron James…So I understand."
But as B-Easy began his first season in Minnesota, he felt that he had something to prove. While his first two seasons had been decent – particularly for what would have been his sophomore and junior years in college – they had not met people's expectations. Many in the media believed that Michael would never realize his potential.
He strongly disagreed.
"I feel like everybody in the NBA, just because I didn't do what I did in college, everybody counted me out," he said. "It hurts me because I put my whole life into this game. I put blood, sweat and tears into this, and then people smack me in the face by calling me a bust and saying I'm going nowhere. I would never talk about somebody like that about their craft, and I don't want anybody talking that way about me."
Michael showed the doubters what he was capable of, turning in the best season of his young NBA career. He finished the year with 16 games of 25 points or more, maintaining a high level of play for the 73 games he played in, and averaged 19.2 points per game: his best output ever.
Playing for a 17-win Minnesota team, however, B-Easy grasped first-hand how meaningless personal statistics can be in the face of losing. Next season, he explained, his goals are simple.
"Whatever I can contribute. Whatever I have to do to get a win."
But the next season was another long one for Michael and the Timberwolves. After waiting out the NBA lockout, the Wolves improved, but still went 26-40 in the shortened season, leaving them short of the playoffs for the second straight season.
Michael dealt with injuries all season, a consequence of the condensed schedule and played in just 47 games with seven starts. He averaged 11.5 points and 4.4 rebounds in a career-low 23 minutes per game. Following the season, No. 8 and the Wolves agreed mutually to part ways and Mike became a free agent.
SUN ON THE RISE
But it didn't take long for B-Easy to find a new home. He visited Phoenix shortly after free agency opened and decided then and there that he belonged in the desert.
“Phoenix is the first and only team I met with this summer,” he said.“What really drew me was that I was No. 1 on their list. Once the meeting was over, once the day was over, I felt good about coming to Phoenix and I didn't have to meet with any other teams. I really feel like they are sincere in everything they say. It makes me feel good that someone actually believes in me and someone is willing to give me a chance."
Mike joins a Suns team that has re-tooled after the departure of future Hall-of-Famer Steve Nash. This offseason alone Phoenix has add Michael, point guard Goran Dragic and power forward Luis Scola. The three are expected to combine with returning center Marcin Gortat and swingman Jared Dudley to make a formidable starting five. Beas, who will don the No. 0 representing a new beginning is thrilled at the opportunity.
"I'm just excited to get a [fresh] start, excited to play basketball. I've really realized my potential. I've really realized what I can do," Michael said. "In my mind I'm going to be an all-star this coming season. All I want to do is win. Whether I get the recognition for what I do on the floor or not, as long as we're winning I'm okay with that."