More Than What Meets The Eye: Chris Douglas-Roberts
If there was ever a time when the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” could be used, this is as good a time as any. Chris Douglas- Roberts, who seemingly is an arrogant “thug” with too much time on his hands, is a perfect blend of a wise Renaissance man whose contradictions make him simultaneously intriguing and mysterious. If you, perhaps by living under a rock, don’t know who he is—he was the starting shooting guard for the New Jersey Nets for much of last year’s NBA season who developed a “bad boy” image that Roberts says can be credited to the fact that “people fear what they don’t understand”. And what is there to be feared, you may ask? Douglas- Roberts stands at a self-diagnosed 6’7 ½, is awe-inspiringly handsome, creatively covered in tattoos, impressively intelligent and boldly honest. But he simply defines himself as “real”.
Raised in Detroit, MI, Douglas-Roberts has an unshakeable air of toughness and amazing confidence; one cannot help but think that there is no way he could have chosen to do anything other than what he’s doing now—he is simply too big of a presence to have a 9 to 5, unless of course he were running the joint. And Roberts will tell you that he never saw himself doing anything other than this either. “When teachers would ask me what I wanted to be, I’d say an NBA player” he says “and then they’d ask what I’d do in case that didn’t work…I never had a “in case that didn’t work” answer”. And this is the “bad advice” that Roberts says he gives whenever he speaks to kids looking to follow in his footsteps, “it’s very rare that you’re going to the NBA”, he explains, “you can be THIS or you can be an astronaut—no plan B, I tell them that Plan B’s get in the way when you’re really serious about your Plan A”. Serious is possibly an understatement for the passion Chris has for basketball. Bypassing the life of the average young athlete, Douglas-Roberts sees basketball and the talent he’s been given as a blessing rather than a burden. In an industry where the lives of the rich, fast, and flashy are easily desired by young men rising from poverty to wealth, a player going into his junior season in the NBA is seldom as focused on getting better as he is making his mark on the party scene. While many players are enjoying the luxury of the aforementioned newfound wealth and (as Chris says) “trying to keep up with the Joneses”, he centers himself saying, “basketball isn’t my job at all, it’s my life. I cherish it…I know I wouldn’t be living like this—doing interviews and things would be out of the question if it wasn’t for ball, that’s what separates me from most of the young guys in this league”. Being completely comfortable standing out and the idea of being true to himself is something that Douglas- Roberts mentions so often during the course of our conversation, but only about five minutes in, it becomes apparent that he is so remarkably authentic that I had written “strong sense of self” long before he’d even listed it as one of his chief virtues. It is undeniable that this young man knows more about himself than people twice his age, and after listening to his answers to my lead in questions, it had become obvious that his “image” was ONLY that.
Roberts would probably agree that in a way the miscommunication and, dare I say, stereotype that he has become synonymous with in the media, can be traced back to the faux reputation he gained with his fellow teammates at the University of Memphis. Although the team finished their season with a record 38 wins and a Final Four appearance, it was their “gangsta” image that became the talk of the town. Drawing parallels between their starting five and that of the original bad boys, University of Michigan’s Fab Five, the young Memphis team found themselves defending their appearance more often than talking about their amazingly talented squad, which featured 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year, Derrick Rose. With that said, Douglas-Roberts understands that he can be viewed as a poster boy for negative stereotypes. When I asked him what he’d think of himself from the outside looking in, he candidly answered, “I’d probably think I was unapproachable. I don’t know if I would like me or not. It’s natural for people to make assumptions. I don’t blame people for that. I intimidate people and I exude confidence—a lot of people don’t like that. I probably would turn the average person off…plus I can be pretty hard-headed and stubborn” he admits with a chuckle.
But one must attribute much of his misrepresentation to his killer instinct on the court. Despite a poor season that led the Nets to finish the season with the worst record in the league, as a premiere basketball player, Douglas-Roberts continued to show incredible skill, integrity and leadership as a teammate. Admittedly always chasing redemption for the NBA’s slighting of him when he was drafted in the second round, Chris displays a willingness to continue to get better and better each year and to ultimately become unstoppable. Douglas-Roberts, whose way of speaking is calm yet very matter of fact, becomes intense when describing his feelings on the court. “I hate other basketball players, I HATE them on the court. I have no feelings for them…I really hate my opponent” he admits, “I’m a fierce competitor in everything”. Seconds later his cool returns when I ask what he’s adding to his arsenal on the off-season, “can’t say that…it’s a secret” Douglas- Roberts says.
As a man who’s been nicknamed “Fresh” for most of his life for his sharp sense of style and good looks, there is no doubt that he may know a thing or two about women and relationships. Chris does not shy away from talking about his experiences with matters of the heart. In fact, he speaks with the wisdom and knowledge of someone who has been here before. “It’s real” he says, “but people use that word too loosely…a lot of people aren’t in love they just really like the person, some people can’t be alone…people who always have to have someone—it’s like, for what?” He continues, “Don’t rush into that stuff. You rush into it and get your heart broken and you’re f***ed up for the next three relationships”. So I know what you are all wondering—has Mr. Fresh ever been in love? “Yeah” he admits, “that’s when I learned that the word is used too much. I learned that you have to make sacrifices that you wouldn’t normally make, when you put yourself aside for someone else then you can start saying “ok. I love them”…when people start to know the difference between liking someone and loving someone the world will be a better place” he laughs delighted with his own poetry, and finishes “it will truly be a better place.” So are you completely in awe of him yet? Well don’t go hearing wedding bells because Douglas-Roberts won’t be walking down the aisle with anyone if he has his way. “I’m scared of two things: God and marriage” he says as we both burst into laughter “I really never use the word. It’s the least used word in my vocabulary. If people get married I think they should be forty or older when they do it…I mean it’s a beautiful thing, it’s just not for me”. And what does a young and confident man like Chris Douglas Roberts look for in a woman one may wonder. “She has to understand that she can’t understand me. I could wake up and not want to be bothered; but it’s not personal” he explains, “she has to have ambition, don’t just sit around waiting on me to buy you a damn purse. She’s gotta be strong and have a nice sense of humor, and I hate to sound shallow, but if I can’t look at her I can’t date her. People always say it’s the inside that counts but they don’t believe that”.
Keeping busy away from relationships, Douglas Roberts stays active on Twitter, and has used his social networking skills as a way to connect with and encourage other young men and women. Any fan of Roberts’ knows that he’s recently started a movement via Twitter cleverly entitled “Fly School” that on the surface looks like a braggadocio of sorts. “Fly School” is seemingly made up of people praising themselves on their ability to afford the latest in expensive designer trends with Chris leading the way as the President of all things ‘”fly”. But he insists that it’s more than what meets the eye, “it’s a confidence, self-esteem, and integrity booster for people who lack it or are out of touch with it. It gives them a chance to relate to me and to be a part of something.” In his candidly honest manner, Roberts admits that he has to remember that it is more than bragging rights, “I say some arrogant s*** on there sometimes, but it’s not supposed to be like that—or be taken that way. Just because you don’t have something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel good about yourself.” This is yet another message that he takes to the schools and recreation centers he frequents when he’s back in his hometown, which is where he chooses to speak rather than in the ritzy neighborhoods vying for his presence now. Chris admits to being biased towards public schools and poverty stricken environments since those places shaped his childhood and taught him valuable lessons he has never forgotten. “ You really learn to appreciate s*** when you’re coming from that. You learn on the fly. I can see through people…through BS. A lot of my business savvy comes from the hood, everybody learns from each other—there’s more positive than negative”. He slips back into his poetic tone when I ask him how he measures his success, “By respect. Respect. Things are just things. When I was driving a commander in college I felt the same way I do driving a Benz coupe. Once you get those things you realize they don’t mean anything, but I also measure my success by the love people who don’t even know me, have for me. That’s respect.” And as far as legacies go, the mature NBA star wants people to not only remember him by the organization he was affiliated with, but also for his character. “He (Douglas-Roberts) told the truth. That’s it. No matter how blunt it was. I spoke that s***. I kept it real. I don’t want people to just know me as a basketball player. I want them to know that I affected people, I helped people”.
And that is the reason why Chris Douglas-Roberts is timeless. He is not what you expect and nothing like what you want him to be. He is simply him. Unforgettable. Real. Fresh.
Written By: Iman Milner
Photos By: Ashley B. Nguyen